Following an extensive nominations process, Asia Business Law Journal reveals the A-List of Vietnam’s legal profession. Putro Harnowo reports
One of the few countries that have survived the global pandemic with a minimum of casualties, Vietnam also managed to be among the fastest-growing economies, with a GDP increase of 2.8%, in the past year. The government has imposed a national lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak, followed with an acceleration of public investment to support affected businesses. As a result, most industrial activities rebounded swiftly as domestic consumers and investors regained confidence.
The country will be one of only three Asian jurisdictions that expect positive growth (alongside China and Myanmar), according to the World Bank’s December 2020 Taking Stock report. Although its growth rate is lower than 2019, Vietnam is still a bright spot compared with a global economy set to contract 4.4%.
Bolstering its competitive advantage within international treaties, including the most recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Vietnamese government has also recently adopted the Investment Law and the PPP (public-private partnership) Investment Law to enhance the legal landscape for attracting foreign capital.
The country has also risen as a regional startup hub following the commitments of an alliance of venture capital firms to pledge US$815 million at the Vietnam Venture Summit 2020, which will be invested on startups in key sectors including fintech, e-commerce and enterprise solutions in the next five years.
However, the havoc caused by the pandemic still looms over many sectors. Tourism, which had enjoyed double-digit growth in recent years, plunged nearly 77% year-on-year, while its economic growth last year was the weakest in three decades, according to the General Statistics Office.
It is against this mixed backdrop that Asia Business Law Journal presents its A-List of the top 100 lawyers practising in Vietnam (see the list of all 100 lawyers and the key practice areas for which they are endorsed here). The A-List is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel based in the country and elsewhere, as well as Vietnam-focused partners at international law firms based outside the jurisdiction.
Nearly all of the A-List lawyers are located in the national capital, Hanoi, and commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, two centres that have shaped the country’s transformation in past decades. As the financial hub and largest city, Ho Chi Minh City has developed rapidly to attract startups with a great investment environment and strong entrepreneur community. In the north, Hanoi is the second-most economically developed city and home to most of the legislative and government bodies.
To comprehend clients’ opinions on what it takes to be a first-class lawyer in Vietnam, we sought answers from a large number of professionals, mainly experienced in-house counsel and corporate legal managers. From these recommendations, it is possible to derive a portrait of the exceptional Vietnamese lawyers that make up this elite group.
Comments submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by clients suggest that they not only look for lawyers with vast experience, but those that are also providing comprehensive analysis and strategies to accelerate their clients’ business and protect their best interests.
Vietnam’s rapid development was accelerated since it joined the World Trade Organisation in 2007. The rising industrial output and strong foreign investment has been driving the demand for legal services, and many A-List lawyers have shored up impressive client bases, anchoring themselves as long-standing legal advisers.
Dang The Duc, the founder and managing partner at Indochine Counsel in Ho Chi Minh City, is one of them. He receives praise from his client for 20 years, Ton Nu Ngoc Bao, general director of Jebsen & Jessen Vietnam.
“To me, Dang The Duc has great relational abilities. His wide knowledge and dedication on diverse issues make him a reliable lawyer to his clients,” says Bao.
Le Thi Van Anh, legal counsel of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation in Ho Chi Minh City, compliments Dang The Duc as a talented lawyer, saying: “He has a magical capacity to structure complicated deals by single and simple tasks. It is my pleasure to work with him.”
Bryan Tan, a partner at Pinsent Masons in Singapore, says Dang The Duc has the “hands-on experience to provide international clients with a wealth of expertise in the mergers and acquisitions [M&A] and tech space”.
“He communicates well, is very responsive and takes a commercial view, which clients are appreciative of,” says Tan. “We have used him for over a decade and he has built up a steady following in the critical technology space.”
Tony Foster, a Hanoi-based partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, is another notable advocate as described by Alain Cany, country chairman of Jardine Matheson Vietnam, who has been working with him for more than 17 years on M&A and investment transactions.
“Tony is our first choice due to his experience, deep knowledge of securities law and the market, and his accurate interpretation in more complicated cases where Vietnamese law is somewhat unclear or not precise enough,” says Cany.
Kenneth Atkinson, founder and senior board adviser at Grant Thornton Vietnam, supports Nguyen Gia Huy Chuong, a managing partner at Global Vietnam Lawyers in Ho Chi Minh City, for his staunch support.
“I have known Nguyen Gia Huy Chuong for several years, and have worked with him at his current and previous firm,” says Atkinson. “I have used him for personal business matters and have referred clients to him. He is always very responsive.”
Nguyen Gia Huy Chuong is also nominated by Hang Vu, head of legal of Dai-ichi Life Vietnam, for his “solid legal knowledge and rich practical experience, especially in corporate consulting, tax and M&A. He provides the most effective legal advice for businesses.”
Theerapab Punyasakhon, assistant managing director of Gunkul Engineering in Bangkok, vouches for Dang Chi Lieu, the founder and chairman of DNA Vietnam in Hanoi. “He is my trusted Vietnamese legal adviser, with strong knowledge and experience in international M&A transactions and power business,” says Punyasakhon. “His work always exceeds our expectation, and he is very responsive and reliable.”
Pham Binh Thanh, director of strategy and transactions of EY Vietnam, agrees. “Dang Chi Lieu is an exceptional lawyer in multiple fields, with admirable track records in Vietnam’s M&A scenes,” he says. “He demonstrates deep legal knowledge and experience in handling complex issues during deals. He is also very flexible and able to always provide reasonable solutions to address key conflicting matters in the deals. He is also humble and highly dependable.”
Dang Chi Lieu’s work is also commended by Maria Agustin, head of legal and compliance device protection at Bolttech in Malaysia. “In all matters where Lieu has assisted myself, I always consistently find him commercially sensible and a right balance of commercial input and legal input, which I can rarely find with other Vietnamese lawyers,” says Agustin.
“I can clearly see Dang Chi Lieu’s understanding of the law is very exhaustive, hence allowing him to consider the commercial standpoint of a structure or arrangement. Last but not least, Lieu makes a great impression that my objective is being prioritised.”
While many comments are commending the A-List lawyers’ venerability, the influx of foreign investment has resulted in more and more enterprises seeking specialised lawyers who excel in their core competencies.
Mei Jalen, a manager at Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company in Taipei, applauds Baker McKenzie’s partner in Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen Oanh Hoang Kim, for her assistance in establishing its chartered joint venture in 2019.
“We have been operating the chartered business for a year-and-a-half, and are very satisfied with the results,” says Mei. “I am in charge of investment projects globally for my company, and have worked with several law firms in Vietnam. If our company desires to develop new investment cases in Vietnam, Nguyen Oanh Hoang Kim is the one and only we will work with for sure.”
Huong Luong, head of legal department at Novaland Group in Ho Chi Minh City, has this to say about Le Quang Vinh, a Hanoi-based partner at Bross & Partners: “We often use Bross & Partners’ consulting services related to intellectual property. I really appreciate Le’s ability and experience, and his ability to identify problems helps us to solve them in a quick and timely manner.”
Derek Chin, general counsel of Berjaya Corporation in Kuala Lumpur, praises VILAF’s partner in Hanoi, Vu Le Trung. “He is well versed in Vietnamese corporate, commercial and real estate law, conscientious, and always readily available to address clients’ requirements for urgent meetings and assignments,” says Chin.
Daniel Yi Tehyok, a foreign attorney at Yulchon in Seoul, describes Hanoi-based YKVN partner Diep Hoai Nam as “an excellent M&A lawyer who is respected by her peers”, while Bizconsult partner Le Hong Phong in Hanoi is “a dedicated and responsive M&A lawyer”.
Kwong Weng Wan, group general counsel of Mapletree Investments in Singapore, nominates Vu Thi Que, co-founder and partner at Rajah & Tann LCT Lawyers, for being “articulate and thorough”.
Compiling the A-List
The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. To identify the top 100 lawyers in Vietnam, we turned to in-house counsel in Vietnam and around the world, as well as partners at international law firms, and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut. Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Vietnamese and global companies and law firms including Abbott, Agile Counsel, Bayer Group, Berjaya Corporation, Climate Fund Managers, Dai-ichi Life, EY Consulting, Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, GlaxoSmithKline, Grant Thornton, Gunkul Engineering, Jardine Matheson, Jebsen & Jessen Vietnam, KPMG Tax and Advisory, Mapletree Investments, Melchers Vietnam, Novaland Group, P&G, Yulchon and many more. The nominations were supported by detailed research from secondary sources.