A foreign law firm recently expressed its desire to acquire a Vietnamese company and its intent to pay a snappy US$1 million a month to a local Managing Partner. According to some, however, a million a month is not an exorbitant fee, given Viet Nam is seriously short of competent lawyers.
In Ho Chi Minh City, for example, there are reportedly less than 100 lawyers with skills and experience sufficient for the post Morris has open. Most are partners of domestic law firms in high demand already. Luring them away is neither as cheap or easy as it once might have seemed.
Not only experienced solicitors, but trainee lawyers, assistant lawyers and legal advisers are also in great demand, said PBC Partners law firm Director Tran Thanh Hai.
Some lawyers working for VHD Company in Saigon Tower, District 1, ‘complained’ to Sai Gon Giai Phong that they are regularly ‘harassed’ by headhunters offering extremely attractive wages.
According to a law office head in District 3, “it is the order of the day” for him to lose staff to bigger firms. Some only work a month or two before being snatched by others.
It’s not that Viet Nam doesn’t have a big enough legal workforce. Universities nationwide churn out thousands of law graduates each year. However, only three percent have the English skills needed for foreign law firms.
Similarly, interpreters for court proceedings are increasingly hard to hire. Government limits translation fees to VND500,000 (US$31.20) per interpreter per day. But they can earn no less than US$100 an hour working for private contracts, said Bui Hoang Danh, head of the HCMC People’s Court.
Curricula at law schools is also apparently seriously inadequate and many graduates require a lot of additional training when hired by firms.
Law is a lucrative business in Viet Nam now. WTO membership has brought both massive foreign investment and complex legal issues. Yet Vietnamese legal system remains relatively indistinct and somewhat disorganized compared to other WTO members.
It’s notable no local law firm in Ho Chi Minh City has yet established a partnership or joint venture with any foreign company.