Finding and dealing with a lawyer can cause you a headache. I have been though that before when I moved to Thailand during my few first years. Problem does not only come from the language barrier alone. Unlike other problems, you cannot find much information about hiring a lawyer online. And using a bad lawyer can make the whole situation even worse.
The article aims to guide you through what you should do when hiring and dealing with a lawyer, including general price tags. It is written based on my 10+ years of experience running a company, other entrepreneurs, and insider people. If you’re looking for recommendations of specific law firms, you can check out my articles on law firms in Bangkok and Phuket (I’m still in the process of collecting recommendations for firms located in other parts of the country).
Heads up: I'm very detailed. This article is approximately a 43 minute read. No time? No worries. You can email the ad-free version of this article to yourself and read it later.
You’ll find some basic background information about the different fields to the extent that those are within the scope of this article and I’m familiar with them. While not technically being a guide-to-hiring-a-lawyer, these tidbits are often interesting know-how that might help you make a more informed decision. As so often, there are no magic bullets, but I can share some experiences that might prove helpful in achieving what you’re gunning for.
- 1 First Things First…
- 2 Legal Emergencies
- 3 Working With Lawyers
- 4 Types of Law Firms
- 5 Lawyer Rates
- 6 Lawyer Rankings and Lists
- 7 Lawyer Recommendations
- 8 Contracts and Other Legal Documents
- 9 Comments, Corrections and Changes
First Things First…
I’m not a lawyer. Nor do I have any other legal or academic qualifications that enable me to provide qualified opinions on legal matters in Thailand or any other country for that matter.
For this article, I’ve received a lot of input from entrepreneurs, private individuals and industry insiders (my thanks go out to a lot of people). Most of them prefer to remain anonymous though. In addition, I incorporated information provided publicly by various embassies in Bangkok.
The listings of firms in different categories is done alphabetically and not intended to imply a ranking. While the companies and lawyers listed in this article were mentioned to me in a positive context, I’m unable to provide personal endorsements of individual firms.
As I’m not in the legal field myself, I can’t verify professional qualifications or comment on them. Absence of a firm on this article does not imply any comment – most likely I just haven’t met anyone who used them yet. Mentioning of a firm in one category doesn’t mean they’re not good in any others – it’s just the context in which they were recommended to me.
The provided information is not legal advice and can’t replace professional consultation. I do my best to ensure an accurate description of the matters at hand, but mistakes are unavoidable and as far as the law permits I can neither take responsibility nor accept liability for any consequences of you reading this. You are responsible for any costs or damages that arise out of any action you take (or refuse to take) based on what you read here.
The somewhat-legalese-disclaimer-thing aside, let’s get started with the possibly most pressing matter…
Most tourists and expats have a perfectly uneventful stay in Thailand. Sometimes things do go wrong and sometimes they can’t be resolved by just paying a fine. In case you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly in a serious situation where you require legal assistance, there are few sensible steps you might want to consider taking.
At this point I need to add a disclaimer. This is a public blog post that’s published under my real name. Unlike anonymous forum posters, I can’t advice you to take any actions that are considered illegal (even if it were in your best interest).
That said, here are a few rules of thumb:
Involve a Third Party
The first person you contact doesn’t have to be a lawyer. A trusted friend or family member can do this and meet you. It provides you with a link to the ‘outside world’ and allows you to relay and receive information via them which might otherwise be difficult. They can also organize legal representation on your behalf and contact your embassy as your access to communication may be restricted.
Consider Calling Your Embassy
The moment you call your embassy, things are more likely to follow the letter of the law – including the due process and legal costs associated with it. Whether that is to your advantage (or not), depends on the circumstances of your situation.
If you do decide to call your embassy, try to do so without disclosing that you are doing so first. This gives you more options and you can also base your actions on their recommendations. Many embassies operate emergency contact numbers. I recommend you take a minute to look them up right now and save them in your phone (or in your wallet). You might not have internet access in a situation like this. In theory, your embassy gets contacted the moment you are detained. I still recommend keeping their emergency number on file yourself as well.
Embassies can’t give legal advice or offer recommendations for specific lawyers, but they may assist you by providing a list of lawyers, facilitating the transfer of funds to pay for your lawyer and otherwise serve as observers, increasing the likelihood of fair treatment. They might also be familiar with different kind of emergencies and might advice you on how to best conduct yourself.
At the time of writing, emergency contacts of major embassies are as follows (as mentioned above, best check their website yourself to ensure correctness). Please note that these numbers are for urgent emergencies outside of office hours (e.g. severe injuries, arrests) and not for visa inquiries.
- Australia: +66 23446300 (select option ‘1’)
- Austria: +43 5011504411
- Canada: +1 6139968885 (they also have a teletypewriter service for deaf people at +1 6139441310)
- Germany: +66 818456224
- India: +66 618819218
- Norway: +47 23950000
- United Kingdom: +66 23058333
- United States: +66 22054000
- Singapore: +66 818443580
- Switzerland: +66 818224921
- … additional numbers as well as during-office-hours contact details are available on the respective embassy pages.
The first one to inform your relatives back home is usually your embassy (unless you’ve done that yourself already or asked a friend to do so). If anyone else calls your parents or other relatives without you having asked them to do so, this might be a sign of foul play at work. You might want to proactively instruct your relatives to contact your embassy immediately in case they hear from anyone.
Consult a Lawyer
I’m currently not aware of any law firms on this list offering a 24-hour hotline to new clients for criminal cases. This means you may have to wait things out until you can reach someone during office hours. Embassy emergency contacts may have the mobile phone contacts of some criminal lawyers, so you might be in luck there.
Many lawyers advise their clients not to sign anything until they arrive. You might find yourself in a lot of pressure in a situation like this. Having a friend, your embassy or a lawyer available to consult and support you can be very helpful in that scenario.
I’ve provided a list of criminal lawyers in the criminal law section below which can serve as a basic starting point to find lawyers who have a criminal law practice.
Be Aware of Differences
Thailand’s laws and procedures can differ from your home country. What might be legal back home can be illegal here – and vice versa. I’ve compiled some particularities in the ‘must know’ section below. Again, an actual lawyer can tell you more.
Working With Lawyers
The role, responsibilities, and qualifications of lawyers and other legal professions in Thailand can vary from what you might be used to back home. In general, it’s recommended to go through a more extensive vetting process with lawyers in Thailand to ensure they’re a good fit for the issue you’re dealing with.
While in rough terms, the legal system in Thailand isn’t too different from what you might be used to back home, there are some specific and important differences that you should be aware of. It helps to familiarize yourself a bit with some basics of the Thai legal system so you can have a more informed conversation with your legal representative.
What You Can Do
A significant part of a lawyer’s performance depends on what you provide them with: the more insight, understanding, familiarity and preparation you bring to the table, the better the overall outcome. It won’t turn a struggling lawyer into a legal genius, but it’ll allow you to work more efficiently with competent lawyers.
Read Up on Lawyers
Many law firms put the resumes of their lawyers online. It’s always a good sign if the lawyer handling your case has at least five years of experience working in that field. Reading up beforehand can help you select a specific lawyer at a firm.
Contact Individual Lawyers
When first looking up a law firm to assist you, it’s often a good idea to e-mail the lawyer you want to talk to directly. Going via ‘general’ contact e-mails runs a higher risk of the message landing on the wrong desk or in the spam folder. Of course, you can pick up the phone. I prefer to give a rough description by e-mail though before talking shop on the phone.
Talk to Junior Lawyers
In many cases, your initial meeting is with a senior lawyer or a partner in the firm. The ‘actual work’ then gets done by a more junior lawyer. I recommend asking to meet the person who’ll actually handle your case to see if they ‘get it’ (important) and if you are able to communicate with them in English (rarely an issue at major firms). It’s a reasonable request, and many lawyers will bring them in on the initial meeting anyway.
Prepare Your Documents
Lawyers are expensive, and making their life easier by keeping and organizing all the relevant paperwork for them makes things a lot easier. You might want to write out your concerns or questions as bullet points before a meeting, and stick to your points to avoid inflated costs caused by meetings that drag on.
Evaluate Skills, Language, Ethics, and Communication
In a preliminary meeting, you often have the chance to ask lawyers various questions before hiring them. Here are a few sample questions to get a rough idea of …
- … their skill level: ‘How have you handled similar cases in the past?’
- … their language abilities: ‘How would you summarize the problem I’m facing?’
- … their ethics and values: ‘What other ways are there to make this go away?’
Their responses give a rough idea of their predisposition in regards to those points.
When messaging with lawyers before a meeting, notice their response speed. While fast responses might not be indicating much about their communication once you hire them, issues with communication (slow, not addressing your points, etc.) beforehand could be reason for concern.
Read Up on the Law Yourself
Lawyers don’t know the intricacies of your business or problem as well as you do. If you read up on the legal issues involved yourself, it can give you additional ideas what details or information you can provide to your lawyer on top of what s/he asked for. Another advantage is that you are more likely to notice if a lawyer promises something that sounds too good to be true.
A good book to start with for commercial law matters is David Tan’s primer on Thai Business Law.
Anything involving a lawyer should mean you handle it yourself (ideal) or something you are very hands on with. Delegating the issue or relying solely on a business partner to handle it bears risks and can cause problems you may not notice until several years down the road.
Manage Your Expectations
A common misconception by new arrivals is that the rule of law does not apply in Thailand. While there are well publicized anecdotes of exceptions to the rule, it’s not the norm. The legal system may not be on par with that of your home country, but at the end of the day, the rule of law still applies very much so. Lawyers will not look favorably on you expecting them to come up with solutions ‘outside of the system’.
Another misconception is that trials resolve things fast: Court cases can drag on for years. If you go that route, you should be prepared for a significant time commitment. As a defendant this can result in you being unable to leave the country while the case is ongoing.
There are a few common things that should be reason for concern. If you encounter them, that should give you reason to pause and maybe consult another lawyer for an opinion. I can’t offer a legal opinion or even list out all of the potential issues you may encounter. There are some though that you are more likely to encounter than others.
- Your lawyer offers to be a nominee shareholder in your company. The potential risk is that you might lose control over your company further down the road.
- No conflict of interest check. High end law firms will check this proactively for any client before they accept them. On the lower end, you might have to ask them. You don’t want to have a lawyer who’s related to the guy who’s suing you.
- Illegal or unethical suggestions. If your lawyer suggests something that’s illegal or unethical, be aware that this may indicate not a particular level of helpfulness, but a disregard for the law or ethics in general. It may backfire on you.
- Difficulties in switching lawyers. If you’re unhappy with service, switching lawyers is not uncommon and reputable law firms deal with this professionally. You might not notice this until it’s too late, so keeping this possibility in the back of your mind might help to spot potential problems early on.
- Lawyers contact you proactively. Usually if there’s an issue involving someone you know (e.g. where you are an emergency contact), the embassy would be the first person to contact you.
Your own embassy might have additional pointers and guidelines. It’s best to contact and involve them if you think you are or will be involved in any serious legal proceeding.
Types of Law Firms
From my observation, there are a number of common ways law firms position themselves. These are different than ‘fields of practice’ (the topics on which lawyers consult) which I cover in a separate section. Keep in mind that these aren’t official categories, and there might be many firms that fit more than one (or none) of the below categories. It helps as a general overview though.
Differences between different types of lawyers and law firms can include language skills, ethical points of view and values, legal proficiency, business processes, communication habits, and of course the rates they charge. In general, there is a positive correlation between rates and everything else, but that doesn’t mean all cheap lawyers are problematic and all expensive lawyers are amazing.
‘Catch All’ Firms
Catch-all firms offer small companies anything from accounting to incorporation to work permits. They tend to be local companies that focus on standardized fix priced work at affordable prices. They tend to be less familiar with more complex legal topics and might have limited English skills.
General Expat Firms
General expat firms specialize in consulting expats on anything from prenups to incorporations. Their big advantages are comparatively low rates and English-speaking staff. Downsides can include a limited familiarity with more technical business issues and limited resources for consultations of individual clients.
Commercial firms have specialized lawyers on payroll with hourly rates to match. Their clients range from start-ups to multinational corporations. These are also the firms you’ll most likely engage for litigation. Some of them are Thai-managed, others are more dominated by foreign lawyers.
‘Big Law’ Firms
Big law firms in Bangkok might not be the typical 1,000 lawyer, London-based, mega firms that people usually associated with the term. In Bangkok, even the biggest firms have less than 200 lawyers on payroll locally. What sets them apart (aside from their rates) is representative offices not only in Thailand but in the region and on other continents. Multinational corporations make up the lion’s share of their work volume.
Boutique firms tend to have only a handful of lawyers in the country and specialize in one or two fields of practice. In many cases, the fewer fields of practice they list, the more competent coverage they provide. One benefit of them is that you are more likely to see the actual partners carrying out the work you hired them for.
What firm works best for you depends a lot on the amount at stake and the complexity of the topic. My personal preference is to have competitive priced outlets do the ‘procedural’, fix-priced work that crops up on a regular basis and hire top-tier lawyers from commercial and boutique law firms for anything that requires consultation (labor, intellectual property, equity, taxation…).
Rates for lawyers vary a lot. It is very hard to provide estimates – especially without any specifics being known. What holds universally true though is that if you can solve a problem in an acceptable manner without involving a lawyer, that’s often a very financially rewarding course of action.
Proper legal consultation can save you a lot of money down the road. Lawyers know that more than anyone else and charge accordingly. Not every lawyer who charges a lot will be great, but most lawyers who are great are able to charge a lot. Whether their rates are worth it will depend on the specifics of your problem.
The information provided below is meant to give you a general idea of the ballpark you may be looking at. While I say ‘consult a lawyer’ a lot in this article, this is one issue where the actual firm you’ll end up hiring may be the only one that can give you an actual cost estimate.
There are no binding legal fee tables in Thailand. Renumeration is agreed upon by the client and the lawyer on a case by case basis. Depending on the type of problem and your law firm, payment is either a fixed fee (very common for standardized procedures and some private law matters), hourly (in case of unpredictable work load – e.g. complex criminal law cases) or success-based (rare).
As a rough frame of reference, rates at the lower end range from 1,500 to THB 5,000 per hour. This is mostly for procedural work though, simple consultations or very standardized work.
Large firms and boutique lawyers handling commercial cases often price their lawyers in the range of THB 10,000 to THB 16,000. These rates are excluding VAT, so if you hire them as a private individual, you usually have to add 7% on top.
Costs in Different Fields of Law
The following gives you a rough idea what legal representation can cost in different fields of practice and different types of cases. The numbers are mostly just a rule of thumb to give you an idea how much money you can save by avoiding having to hire a lawyer.
Most consultations in commercial law are billed on an hourly basis, and overall costs depend on the complexity of the issue, the law firm hired and the seniority of the lawyer.
For standardized work with a predictable work load, fixed prices are common. This can include incorporations (THB 35,000 to THB 100,000), BOI applications (THB 20,000 to THB 240,000), as well as visa and work permit applications (THB 20,000 to THB 40,000) among others. Keep in mind that those are just rough estimates and firms may end up charging significantly more (or less) than mentioned here.
When looking at prices (and especially fixed prices), be sure to ask firms to if it includes government fees and out of pocket expenses.
If there’s a criminal case against you, the cost of your legal representation depends on how far things go. Going by the official ways of reaching a positive outcome, the following scenarios are possible. Prices are based on a top tier firm representing you:
- A non-prosecution order by the police due to their prosecutorial discretion (they basically don’t consider it necessary pursuing). Lucky you.
- A non-prosecution order by prosecutor. This means things went a step further. Your legal fees for this can be a few hundred thousand Baht.
- A non-guilty verdict by a court. If it’s not a super complex case and without any appeals, an international law firm will cost you in the range of THB 1.5m to 2.5m.
If your case goes to court, even when hiring a cheaper firm, you are likely to spend at the very least THB 100,000 in legal fees to avoid getting completely railed. More realistic estimates from international law firms put the total cost of representation at THB 1.5m+.
If representing an employee in a labor dispute, top tier firms might charge an upfront fee in the range of THB 50,000 to THB 100,000. On top of that there’s another 20% to 40% of the settlement, depending if the case gets settled or goes to trial. The best approach to potential labor disputes is avoiding in the first place. Becoming familiar with the most common cross-cultural management issues does help with that.
For most employees, retaining a top tier lawyer isn’t worth it. There are other ways you can go about it that can make things worth pursuing even when there’s smaller amounts at stake.
If you buy a condo and want to involve an international lawyer, costs can be in the range of THB 40,000 to THB 120,000.
With well-known developers, people often opt to not hire a lawyer and rely on the developers reputation to not take advantage of them. There are a number of issues when it comes to condo ownership (e.g. transfer fees shouldn’t exist anymore) where if you run into problems, you might want to consult someone though.
If you’re looking for someone to help you out as a tenant, things look a bit gloomy. Most rental disputes (e.g. non-repayment of your deposit) are unfortunately not worth involving a lawyer. Unless there’s at least THB 100,000 on the line, it doesn’t make financial sense to go down that route. The ‘sternly worded’ warning letter by a lawyer isn’t much of a thing in Thailand either. From what I gathered, the tone of them is rather soft (e.g. an ‘invitation to negotiation’) and might not help much with more scrupulous landlords.
Cost Containment Strategies
There are a number of ways that can help you keep your legal costs in check. Here are a few strategies I’ve seen people employ over the years.
As with any major purchase or hire, it pays to shop around. Meeting up with a number of lawyers gives you not only a better idea of rates and qualifications, often you can pick up some interesting tidbits in these conversations. Lawyers might not be thrilled about it, but they also are aware that you have to look out for yourself and find a good deal.
Understand that lawyers have to justify to their bosses when spending time with a client without billing them. Many will do so by marking it down as ‘business development’. If you phrase your specific legal inquiry as part of a bigger picture, that may make the process easier for them as well.
Lawyers Formerly Known As…
When looking for a lawyer, keep your eyes open for local lawyers who used to work for big name firms for a few years before they set out on their own. You can often double-check this by looking up the LinkedIn profiles or resumes. For a small company with a limited budget, this can be a good strategy to get quality representation without breaking the bank.
Some firms do not negotiate on their rates, others are willing to offer a discount or may even be willing to do something that’s usually billed at an hourly rate for a fixed price. You won’t know until you ask and no one is offended if you do.
Multinational corporations tend to negotiate discounts in the range of 10% to 15% even with high end firms. While you may not fit that profile, it does hint at some billing flexibility on part of your lawyer. Making a compelling case for your cash-strapped startup or being on a fixed income may not always work but is worth a try.
Bangkok has no shortage of networking events. In most cases, it’s safe to skip the open and free ones considering the signal to noise ratio you’ll encounter there. Lawyers like to hang out at the AmCham and BTCC events. It’s a good chance to get to know them in a slightly more casual environment and some may even be willing to chime in with thoughts on legal topics. Lawyers you meet there are not vetted and asking them over a beer does not replace a professional consultation, but it’s a way to test the waters for issues where you are not at the point of hiring someone to work on it quite yet.
Academics and Law Clinics
Universities like Chiang Mai University operate law school clinics that aim to help out the local community who might otherwise not have access to legal consultations. I’m not sure to which extent these are open to foreigners or what issues they can consult on, but if you’re otherwise out of options, this might be worth a try.
There are also academics who provide legal advice. One way to go about finding one is to look in book shops for books about the topic you need advice on. Google the authors, and e-mail them to see if that’s an option. Again, I can’t comment on the quality of advice given, but if you’re super cash-strapped, it’s a path worth exploring.
Lawyer Rankings and Lists
These are general lists and rankings provided by third parties. No list and especially no ranking is without criticism: many lawyers I talked to had one or another reservation about them. That said, these still offer a good starting point, though you might have to take some entries with a grain of salt.
Legal 500 ranks law firms in different commercial law categories, based on the self-assessment of firms and their peers. There is some criticism of their ranking, mostly due to it being based on feedback from lawyers rather than clients. Some people in the industry argue that the extensive surveys Legal 500 uses favors firms with extensive marketing departments. However, at the end of the day, it’s a list of firms that have gathered a reputation in their respective fields, regardless if the specific order in which they’re ranked is accurate or not.
Unsurprisingly, most firms listed are also among the most expensive providers. Aside from a few boutique law firms, smaller firms and companies with lower rates might not have the necessary resources or exposure required to obtain a ranking.
Embassies are often a first source of information on lawyers. A number of embassies provide a list of lawyers who either worked with the embassy in the past (and didn’t get blacklisted) or who are in general known to have worked with their nationals in the past.
The biggest issue with embassy lists is that they are usually not meant to be endorsements or recommendations, but more of a yellow pages overview. Just because a law firm is listed in an embassy list, doesn’t mean they are any good.
Some lists are curated, others have less stringent criteria, and some may not be up to date anymore. Several industry professionals are critical of the lists provided by embassies: Cited reasons include a a lack of vetting, transparency and updates (e.g. to remove firms that no longer warrant a listing). You can always ask your embassy how the list of lawyers was selected if in doubt.
Embassy lists are very useful for issues that require specific knowledge of a non-Thailand jurisdiction in addition to local laws, especially taxation: moving your residence to Thailand, drawing income from abroad or operating a business in another country. Not all lawyers and firms on the list will have intricate knowledge of the embassy’s countries, but many that do are found on those lists.
Not all embassies maintain lists. The ones I know of I included below. If you are aware of any others, please let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.
- Australia requires you to send an e-mail to email@example.com in order to receive their lawyer list.
- Belgium is working on an updated list. In the meantime, Belgian nationals in need of legal assistance are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Canada has a list on their website
- France has a list on their website. In addition, you can check out the Canadian list above which also lists French-speaking lawyers.
- Germany has a list on their website.
- Ireland doesn’t have a list on their website anymore, but sends you an updated list of lawyers on request by e-mail.
- United Kingdom has a list on their website.
- United States has a list on their website.
- Singapore has no list on their website, but there’s a remark that a lawyer list may be available upon request.
- Sweden has a list on their website, but unfortunately no Swedish-speaking lawyers are listed.
- Switzerland has a list on their website.
A lot of embassies in Bangkok (including Russia’s) specifically state they don’t provide a lawyer list. The ones I found to be publicly available are included above. I assume lots of them maintain internal lists that are available upon request (or once you’re in trouble…), so contacting them is always a good idea.
One tricky part about lawyers is to figure out who to work together with: Usually it’s a question of who is the best lawyer you can afford. While it’s often easy to find the best (and most expensive) lawyer in a given field, finding one within your budget for a specific problem can be more of a challenge. Below you’ll find a selection of firms that is meant to provide individuals as well as small and medium-sized firms with a starting point when researching options for legal assistance.
Lawyers in Bangkok
Based on talking to a lot of fellow entrepreneurs, managers, lawyers and even academics, I’ve compiled a list of law firms in Bangkok. Sorted by field of practice it provides recommendations for who you can contact for what kind of problem. It’s a great starting point if you are facing a legal problem and try to figure out what lawyer you should get in touch with.
Lawyers in Phuket
Aside from Bangkok, Phuket is the only major hub of law firms in the country. Focusing mostly on real estate, the list of firms in Phuket is a lot shorter. If you have a more unusual issue (e.g. a copyright dispute), you might be better of contacting one of the Bangkok-based lawyers.
Contracts and Other Legal Documents
Often you don’t need a lawyer, but just a contract template without much customization. Major law firms like Lorenz & Partners offer standard document sets at fixed rates that cost a fraction of custom created ones. Definitely worth the investment – especially when the alternative is to cobble something together from the internet.
ThaiContracts allows you to purchase and download form contracts for personal (and some business) matters in Thailand right away. A quick and easy fix, especially if you just need something basic in written form where customization isn’t worth the money involved. Isaan Lawyers also offers some contract templates for download on their website.
I’ve heard of people who hired lawyers from major firms on a ‘freelance’ basis on the side to help out with smaller legal issues and documents. It’s not a route I would choose (it does require the lawyer after all to violate the non-compete agreement they have with their firm), but it’s not unknown for people to rely on the help of friends and acquaintances in this form. Of course that only applies to ‘paperwork’: Having a lawyer represent you in court ‘on the side’ is an absolute no-go (and a fast way for a lawyer to get disbarred).
Comments, Corrections and Changes
I hope this article comes in helpful next time you have to prepare for a meeting with a law firm.
If you work with any lawyers in Thailand (listed here or not) and feel confident in recommending them to your mom, then I also want to hear about them. I really appreciate any input on this topic, and it would be great if you can take the time to send me your feedback and experience.
Similarly, if you find your own law firm on this list and you notice any inaccuracies (or prefer not to be listed), please send me an e-mail and I’ll gladly update it.