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.
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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.
Complex, 17th Floor
191 Silom Road, Bangrak