If you are doing business in Thailand, or buying real estate, getting a divorce, filing a prenuptial, or any one of a number of civil actions, you need to have a Thai lawyer. And if perhaps you were smoking something in Thailand that you shouldn’t have been, you probably need a lawyer to get you out of a jam and keep you out of the Bangkok “Hilton”. But like everywhere, there are a few good lawyers and lots of bad ones (in the US, only a very tiny minority are “good” lawyers).
In general, I am not fond of attorneys. This is from a lifetime of experience in the USA. In the West, there are simply too many lawyers and this has led to a culture where lawsuits are the norm, and not the exception. Need money? Sue somebody. Anybody. Attorneys will line up to represent you. You don’t have to pay them anything, they will gamble on winning the case and taking a huge cut of your award.
Fortunately Thailand does not have an abundance of attorneys. Why? Thai people don’t often sue each other. Disputes in Thailand are usually settled between the two parties by themselves. If they cannot come to an agreement, they will go to the local police and ask them to mediate the dispute. If that does not result in a settlement, only then would the parties hire attorneys and go to court.
So what do Thai attorneys do? Well, real legal work. Like preparing wills and legal contracts. Like helping farang navigate the complicated world of Thai visas and work permits. Like helping companies complete mergers or acquisitions. Yes, when it comes to the legal “profession”, Thailand is much more professional and civilized than the west.
But still, when you find yourself in trouble or needing some contract work quickly, how do you find a decent attorney in Thailand?
Like back home, referrals are a good start. If you are connected to businesses in Thailand or professional people, seek their advice. Also check out the expat forums (like Thai Visa Forum) for some recommendations. But when you use a referral, you need to know a little particular secret system with Thailand. Thai people in general, and especially Thai people that hang around farang, use something they call nai nah in Thai. That is the expectation of getting a little commission for referring a farang to a Thai professional or business. They won’t talk about it, but it means the price you pay to the lawyer will be a certain percentage higher because of the nai nah. So when a Thai recommends a Thai lawyer to you, the lawyer has to pay back some nai nah to the referrer. It’s the secret system, and it happens all over the place without farangs ever realizing it.
In the smaller cities of Thailand (anywhere outside of Bangkok) you will find that almost all lawyers know each other. Some lawyers will not event take the case if they know a powerful lawyer on the other side. And some lawyers will take the case knowing that they will lose (but fail to mention that to their client). Remember, as in any Thai profession, it is about who you know and how powerful you are that counts.
Most Thai attorneys do not speak excellent English. If you insist on having an attorney that does speak English well, or has an American or British associate to interface with farang clients, you will pay dearly for that privilege. There are plenty of ads in the Bangkok Post for attorney offices with English speaking associates, but understand that it will cost substantially more than the typical Thai attorney, even really good ones. If you have a very trusted and well educated Thai friend, it would be good to employ them to work as an interface between you and your attorney that does not have a command of English.
There are lists of lawyers on the internet, but don’t hire an attorney based on a good website. You are not hiring their genius IT department for good legal help. The US Embassy lists a few attorney offices, and you can bet they are the most expensive in the country. Link to that list is HERE.
After you have narrowed down the field, or found one that sounds pretty good, you need to interview them to determine if this is the office you should hire. As in any country, it is better to have many to interview to be able to choose the right one, but reality seldom gives you that chance. A friend of mine suggested that there are 3 classes of Thai attorneys:
- Those who aren’t very knowledgeable and will need to “get back to you” on even the simplest questions. Prepare some questions the lawyer should know. Ask them, and if get this “I need to check into it”, give the lawyer a pass.
- Those with not too many clients just waiting for the odd farang to victimize. There are two clues, not having many other clients and when you ask how much anything is you will be told “not expensive”.
- Those that are competent and busy. This is the one you are looking for.
Here is another maxim you should live by when it comes to attorneys: when you have a legal matter to handle in Chiang Mai, get a lawyer from Bangkok. Find one outside of the good ole buddies network where you will be going to court. Actually, there are much more lawyers in Bangkok, so availability and pricing will be best there.
You will find the best lawyer in Thailand probably by coincident or through close friends. If you know a friend that has a good lawyer, ask for his number and visit him and maybe buy him dinner.
When you meet with a prospective attorney, you have got to do the following:
Request the Lawyer to show you his license. Believe it or not (if you know Thailand, you will certainly believe it), there are many that say they are lawyers that are not. Some are “legal consultants” that will charge the same as lawyers but will be much less qualified. Don’t expect the person you are interviewing to be forthcoming. You have to ask.
Make sure the lawyer you are considering is focused in the area of law that you are concerned with. You don’t want a real estate attorney representing you in a drug bust case, and you don’t want a criminal lawyer working on a real estate contract for you. Don’t rely on them to be forthcoming; you have to ask them and get good answers.
Ask the lawyer if they know the opposing party or if they are relatives, distant or close (it happens a lot). Make sure your prospective attorney does not represent the opposing side (this happens!). It is best to find an attorney that is in no way connected to the opposition.
Get a specific price estimate before they begin working for you, and ask them if it includes court costs or any other costs that crop up, like perhaps translation services. Realize that all Thai lawyers have a belief that all farangs are rich and they should try to get as much as possible for them. Never mutter that the price is lower than you expected; always indicate the opposite.
And good luck.
Here are some law offices that have contacted me that speak English and do work with non-Thais in business and personal matters:
http://www.kittilaw.com/ – Thanakrit Law Office, Bangkok