Vovan & Associes should hang a shingle outside its office on the second floor of the Bank of America Building on Wireless Road saying: “Bring us you’re fed up and disappointed.” Because that’s the type of clients it deals with: those that are frustrated and at their wits end with the services and invoices of so-called “worldwide” law firms.  

vovan


This French boutique law firm has been operating in Bangkok for four years now and has quickly established itself as one of the best in business. What sets Vovan & Associes apart from its competitors is the quality of its service; you see it cares about its clients.

It set up shop in Thailand originally to support its existing offices in Vietnam. But now its Bangkok office has become the hub for its South-East Asia operations. It had thought of basing in Singapore, but decided on Bangkok because of the size of the firm and the costs involved in operating out of the Lion’s City.

With its regional offices, the firm can offer cross border legal services, meaning that it has the ability to follow its clients from Thailand throughout Indochina. Most of the firm’s Thai clients use Vovan for legal work related to Vietnam, as they have their own law firms here that handle their domestic work. But Thai law firms don’t tend to venture abroad, because Thai lawyers generally don’t like being posted out of the country. As a result, most Thai law firms cannot support their clients when they travel abroad.

The key to the firm’s success is that it develops personal relationships with its clients; it doesn’t just view them as billable hours. Vovan’s core business is a general commercial practice and business consultancy, but it helps its clients in many different issues going beyond legal matters. It likes to establish one to one personal relationships, so that its clients will feel free to talk with them about non-legal business matters.

Luc Metivier, a senior member with the firm, and Vovan’s representative to the TCCC explains, “The other day during a meeting with a client and we talked about the legal requirements to set up his corporate structure. But in the conversation we went even further by discussing the business and commercial issues. We came up with a tailor made solution to our client. In other words, we don’t just sit down with someone, hear their problem and say, “Well, that sounds like solution 47B, which I just happen to have in the third drawer of my desk. We’ll just put your name on the document and all you need to do sign it. We treat each case on an individual basis and try to accommodate our clients’ needs and wishes. That’s why we spend lots of time with them … and not necessarily billable time. We need to understand the nature of their business, so we work on the whiteboard with them, try different scenarios. Then we look at it together again, polish it and the plan is custom made for them. It’s their deal, not ours”.

“Bangkok is a mega-city but sometimes it feels like a village since everyone knows everyone. The competition between law firms is quite severe, so we had to determine our potential, our limitations and decide on how we were going to succeed in Bangkok. Moreover, while most of our lawyers are Thai, we also benefit from the knowledge and experience of our lawyers from France Canada and the United States. So we were able to take advantage of all our different backgrounds and cultures and come up with a way of doing business that differs from that of our competitors’. If we hadn’t done that we wouldn’t have been able to grow the way that we have.”

Vovan sees its specialty today as being a deal maker and negotiation facilitator. That is why the firm places so much importance on its relationships with its clients. People approach the firm seeking a complementary investor. Their clients show them their corporate analysis and ask Vovan to perform a matchmaking service for them. So the firm is like an information crossroad.

Or as Luc puts it, “They come to us and say, ‘We have money to invest in a project, do you know if any of your clients have a project that needs financing?’ or vice versa.”

While some other law firms complain that the firm doesn’t charge enough; Vovan & Associes prides itself on being cheaper than the so-called “international” firms while maintaining a high standard of service.

A few years ago, Luc moved over from being an in-house counsel and then a senior executive in a large multinational engineering firm. He compares the two and how his previous employment helps him at Vovan: “A big firm is very impersonal, and you have to work in a rigid structure whereas here you have more possibilities to be creative and establish your own program and strategies. There’s a lot more leeway in a firm like ours, which makes working more enjoyable.

“But having worked in the legal department of a large engineering firm, I am in a position to provide services to clients who are involved in infrastructure projects and project financing. I have also been exposed to mergers and acquisitions, arbitration as well as other means of dispute settlement mechanisms. Even large companies understand the price of litigation and businessmen being businessmen, they prefer to settle disputes through either “assisted” negotiations or conciliation.

“On many occasions, the emphasis in a big company is not to sue when it doesn’t get what it wants but to “make a deal”. As a lawyer you have to actively participate in finding a solution so the deal goes through and the company can resume its activities. So the mindset developed, while working at a big firm, is very useful for our clients.

“It’s ironic because before I was the one consuming the services of law firms. Sometimes I was very rough on them because they were not delivering with a personalized approach and they did not try to understand our particular needs. That’s exactly what we try to correct here.”

“Building relationships with clients doesn’t always need to be serious undertaking. In my opinion, a game of golf from time to time can be very effective.”

Enforcing laws through the court system in Thailand is not always easy. Therefore, business people look for alternatives to the classic court case. One of these alternatives is arbitration. Luc is a certified arbitrator from the Institute of Arbitration and Conciliation in Canada as well as a Director at the Arbitration Committee of the Board of Trade of Thailand. He is a good person to comment on how arbitration is enforced in the Land of Smiles.

“Thailand is becoming an interesting venue for arbitration. Here you can have recourse to arbitration under the Rules of the Ministry of Justice, institutional arbitration under the aegis of the Board of Trade of Thailand Arbitration Committee or private arbitration. The problem lies more in the enforcement of the arbitration award” says Luc.

“No one likes losing face anywhere in the world, but here the matter is particularly sensitive. So courts are very cautious in enforcing arbitration awards. Many of the cases deal with very technical issues and the courts just don’t know how to deal with them from lack of experience on these matters.

“Judges must understand that their role, in recognizing an arbitration award, is limited to examining whether the arbitration process was followed properly, without any regard to the evaluation and analysis of the facts and technical information already performed by the arbitrator. The court must only decide if the arbitrator came to his conclusions according to recognized procedural rules and based on principles of law or equity, as applicable.”

“In simpler terms, did the arbitrator execute his mandate properly by giving both parties a chance to present their case? Did he listen to all the witnesses? Did he evaluate all the evidence? Did he write his award as prescribed in the relevant rules?”

“The problem arises when Thai courts tend to reexamine the whole case. They substitute themselves to the arbitrator, and re-hear the case all over again.”

But how can the disadvantaged in this society better use the law to their benefit? “The Thai population must understand that there is a legal system here to protect them. But many don’t know that legal institutions exist or they simple think it’s useless to fight the big companies so they take a “mai pen rai” attitude. Also there are a lot of cases where the parties choose to compromise.”

“That’s not always the case though. If you remember a few years ago a block of concrete fell from the Skytrain during its construction killing a taxi driver, and the responsible party offered his wife a very small compensation. So she sued. This action caused the construction company to sit with her and negotiate a satisfactory out-of-court settlement.” mm

So summing up, whether you see it as a “Carrefour” for information or a symbolic legal Statue of Liberty, for those disgruntled and dissatisfied with large law firms, Vovan & Associes, is a multifaceted and multinational firm that provides you with two essential things: trust and good service.

Visiting a law firm can be a painful experience, much like going to see a dentist, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With Vovan, it can even be fun.

Contact Info:
Silom Complex, 17th Floor
191 Silom Road, Bangrak
Bangkok, 10500

Tel: 02-632-0180
Fax: 02-632-0181

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website: www.vovan-associes.com

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