Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Pushing legal frontiers

The latest outpost in Myanmar of one of the largest international law firms was born out of a sense of adventure and despite being small in size, Baker & McKenzie has big plans, managing partner Christopher Hughes said.

“This is a country in transition and there is optimism that follows that,” Mr. Hugh’s told The Myanmar Times from the firm’s recently opened offices in Yangon.

“I don’t think there are too many places like [Myanmar] right now. From a lawyer’s point of view, there are very significant reform efforts going on,” he said.

Mr Hughes was made partner in the Sydney office three and a half years ago and began turning his mind to where his next venture would lie.

“Australia is a long way away from a lot of places,” he said. “One of the drivers for me doing law was to have international experience ... I’d always wanted to spend more time living up here.

“The law reform agenda is ambitious and it is going to take a little while to completely fill in the regulatory framework. Lots of good primary legislation and detail and implementation of that will follow,” Mr Hughes said. “With an agenda of that size, obviously there is a bit of bandwidth issue. So much is happening and so much happening at once. The logic of the change is very good, but it will take a bit of time.”

The office currently has two foreign lawyers, including Mr Hughes, and five Myanmar lawyers who are focusing on the firm’s intellectual property practice and a commercial and corporate advisory practice mainly working for regional multinationals looking to enter the Myanmar market, he said.

“[The advisory work] is something we can do for our clients, explain the dynamics of what it’s like to work here,” he said. “Some of the doing business indexes and transparency indexes and so on have come out and shown Myanmar is moving in the right direction but it is also at the lower end of those indexes, so while the raw materials and opportunities here are great, the ease of doing business is still a little difficult and part of that is driven by unfamiliarity.

“People are naturally worried whenever they invest in new jurisdictions around compliance and doing business issues there,” he said, adding that navigating the legal framework and currently financial system of the country were often cause for pause among foreign investors.

“The reform agenda of the government, particularly in the area of improving and modernising the commercial laws that are going to drive investment here, is very positive,” he said, adding that he expected the volume of business to increase dramatically once important infrastructure and legislation was in place.

source: The Myanmar Times
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