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

Thai-American Business (T-AB) Magazine - - Contents - Writ­ten by: Michael Doyle

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.

Michael Doyle

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