Somphob Kongwan, a Nakhon Pathom native, didn’t set out to be a lawyer. He originally studied forestry at Kasetsaert University, but soon found that the sciences weren’t his cup of tea, so he switched to studying law at the prestigious Thammasat University (the alma mater of many of Thailand’s great legal scholars including Chuan Leekpai, and former PMs Kukrit and Seni Pramoj.)         

Why did he switch to the law? “I grew up in the country and I saw a lot of poor people and the injustice committed by a lot of police officers and village chiefs. I wanted to do something about that,” he says.

Why Thammasat? “I chose it because the university always talked about helping the poor people and the injustice in society. The university taught us to be aware of the people in the country, in the rural areas.”

Somphob notes some fundamental difference between studying and practicing law in Thailand compared to many Western countries. “You don’t need an undergraduate degree to study law here. You can go right from high school to law school. You study general law for four years, then you practice with the law society for one year and you get your license, which states you can practice as both a barrister and a solicitor. The two roles aren’t separated in Thailand.”      

After graduating from law school in 1987, Somphob went to work for the Kasikorn Bank for a year, then he went to work for the Consortium in Phanat Nikhom for another year. His next stop was Baker & Mackenzie, where he stayed for 3 years, and just before he left them 11 years ago to form Somphob and Associates, he headed up their immigration section.    

Many farangs are mystified that rich or influential Thais are seemingly able to commit crimes and never be charged with them, or brought to justice for their nasty deeds. Somphob says the system is in place to prosecute rich people but “it is the culture of Thai people to help each other out even if some of the people we help shouldn’t be receiving assistance. Relatives and friends will assist those in trouble as if they are naughty boys who were just misbehaving, despite the seriousness of the crimes.”         

What would Somphob like to see done to increase legal awareness in Thailand? “We have to better educate people about the law from the beginning. People should know their rights, and how to protect themselves. They should be made aware of the simple laws, and they should know their duties. We should also promote the awareness of law in schools and universities, even for students not studying law. Even the police must learn more about the law because sometimes they are not even aware they are breaking it.”      

In 2000, Somphob increased his legal education by completing a Master’s Degree in Business Law (LL.M.) from Chulalongkorn University. He graduated in the top of his class in the international program, which was conducted in English and featured an academic partnership between Chulalongkorn, the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria and the University of Kyushu in Japan.

Today, Somphob’s firm is made up ten lawyers (half graduated from Chulalongkorn and half from Thammasat) and ten support staff. He has one other partner, Supawadee Chaibunchakij, who specializes in immigration work such as visas, work permits, Thai residency and attempts to obtain Thai nationality. This type of work accounts for about 30% of the firm’s billings.

Another 40% of the firm’s work deals with corporate matters including setting up new business entities and helping foreign investors set up joint ventures and then drafting shareholders’ agreements, including relevant agreements e.g. management services agreements and technical assistance agreements to remit service fees as well as royalties to head offices. The firm can also help you with structural changes in your company including the increase of capital, a change of address or change of directors as well as the establishment of either a branch or representative office. The other 30% of the firm’s billings deal with trademark registration and also the acquisition of properties including condominium units, and land transaction.

So what advice does Somphob have for those of you in the process of setting up a small business? “Now when you form a company you have to inject two million baht in registered capital in a company bank account to get your work permit. Previously, the government would consider the amount of tax you paid, but not anymore.  

 “Also you should register your company address in a proper business building, not an apartment or house because when you apply for a work permit the labour inspector may come to inspect that area, then making it difficult for the inspector to grant a work permit.”  

In conclusion, Somphob and Associates offers personalized and speedy service, its lawyers are accessible and its rates are reasonable. Most of Somphob’s clients come by word of mouth but they all have something in common - they are all foreigners. And the firm’s specialty is helping foreign SMEs get set up and established in the Land of Smiles.       

 

Contact Info 

Tel: 02-632-1051-4

Fax: 02-632-1055

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

 

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