My 20 Years in Thailand
We are continuing a series of profiles to help you get to know fellow AMCHAM members, their stories, business ideas, victories and challenges. Michael Doyle has been a member of AMCHAM Thailand since 1999. Here he talks of the journey that brought him to
Ifirst came to Thailand in 1996 when I accepted a job with a small law firm in Bangkok, only a few months after my law school graduation in my home state of Arkansas. My brother was in the jewelry business in Thailand at the time and had always told me what a great place Thailand was and encouraged me to try to work there after I finished school. I was already looking for an opportunity to work overseas so I gave him my resume and asked him to see what he could do ; as it turns out, I had a job in Bangkok within a week.
I loved Thailand from the very beginning, but my legal career did not exactly skyrocket from the day I got off the plane.
My first job was not a great fit, but I really wanted to stay so I stuck it out until 1998 when I met a well- respected Thai lawyer named Manop Nagadatta. Khun Manop was the managing partner of a wellknown business law practice in Bangkok with a good reputation. He offered me a job and I immediately accepted.
My plan was always to build my own list of clients over time because I did not want to be in a position where I would be waiting for someone else to put work on my desk. However, there were some big challenges. I was only 27 years old at that time, had very little experience, and there was stiff competition from both established global law firms and local ones. Below are some of the things I did over the years to try to overcome these challenges and effectively position me and my law firm in the market over the long term.
The first thing that I did was get involved in the community by joining the American Chamber of Commerce and a local Rotary Club which helped me plug into what was going on in the market and the foreign business community.
I also had an idea to write a book. At the time, there were no good books on Thai investment law in English in bookstores, so I set out to write one. My concept was to write a straightforward book written for business people that had lots of examples. In 2004, I published Doyle’s Practical Guide to Thailand Business ( now in its 4th edition and available in English and Japanese) and from that point on I became ‘ the guy who wrote the book.’ As soon as the book hit the market, I started receiving public speaking invitations from chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs and other organizations which further helped me get my name out in the market.
The success of the book inspired another project. I worked with colleagues in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia to produce and publish Doyle’s Practical Guide to Business Law in Asia ( now in its 2nd edition) in the U. S. My strategy was to use this book ( which uses the same format as my Thailand book) as a tool to develop a regional practice. Another important thing that I did was get serious about learning the Thai language. As I surveyed the other foreign lawyers in Thailand at the time, I observed that few, if any, were comfortable enough in their Thai language ability to participate in business meetings in Thai, and I saw that as an opportunity. I had seriously studied another language in the past so I had a good idea of what it would take to achieve that level of fluency and knew that it would be well worth it. So I hired a teacher and started studying first spoken Thai and then later reading and writing as well which I continue to this day. Gradually, I became confident enough to do presentations and publish legal articles in Thai language and I am now working on a project to publish my first book in Thai.
I also looked for ways to position both my firm and myself globally. It would have been just about impossible for me to directly compete with the big global law
firms with offices in Thailand at the time so I instead reached out to their global competitors that did not have an office in Thailand, such as Skadden, KL Gates, Dentons, Ashurst and others, and tried to build relationships so that when their clients had projects in Thailand those firms would use our services. As I was still a relative unknown, implementing this strategy took time, but I was persistent, and eventually work started to come in.
We also joined U. S. and European- based international legal networks and started building relationships with successful U. S. regional firms such as Baker Donnellson, Husch Blackwell, Nixon Peabody, Sheppard Mullin, Barnes Thornburg, Nelson Mullins and others, and work started to come in from them as well. As our reputation grew, we also started receiving work from firms in the UK, Singapore, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and, most recently, China.
Over time, things worked out. It was definitely never a ‘ floodgates’ situation, but every year we had more and more oppor- tunities to build long- term relationships with clients and partner with law firms around the world and we worked hard to keep them happy.
My primary market is not Fortune 500 companies, but rather the big small companies in the U. S., Canada, UK, Japan and China that generate between USD 50 to 400 million annually. These companies are typically either small listed or private, entrepreneurial companies that have resources but do not have an in- house legal team, and I ( in my humble estimation) understand their needs and objectives better than any other legal service provider in Thailand.
Our firm has now grown to 24 lawyers advising both foreign and Thai investors in the areas of foreign direct investment, corporate law, finance, tax, real estate, banking, securities, aviation, energy and dispute resolution. I feel very fortunate to work with a team of very talented and motivated Thai lawyers.
The road I have chosen has not always been easy and would definitely not be for everyone, but I have always been very happy with my decision to make Thailand my home.
Michael Doyle is Senior Partner at the law firm of Seri Manop and Doyle. He can be contacted at michael@ serimanop. com.