Amended Law on Lawyers causing potential troubles for foreign law firms in Vietnam

Last week, the National Assembly just passed the amended Law on Lawyers, which amends various provisions regarding the scope of operation of foreign law firms and foreign lawyers in Vietnam. Before being adopted, the amendments have raised alarms to foreign law firms in Vietnam (see this Article) although technically the amendments just repeat what were passed 5 years ago when Vietnam joined the WTO.

Under the WTO Commitments of Vietnam, foreign law firms are not allowed (1)    participation in legal proceedings in the capacity of defenders or representatives of their clients before the courts of Viet Nam; and (2) legal documentation and certification services of the laws of Viet Nam. While foreign law firms have widely accepted restriction (1) regarding appearing before the courts, no one pays attention to restriction (2) on “legal documentation and certificate” and what that means.

The repeat of the same restrictions in the amended Law on Lawyers has brought up this matter. In particular, one could make an argument that restriction (2) on legal documentation and certification services could prevent a foreign law firm in Vietnam from drafting or giving opinions Vietnamese governing law contracts. If this interpretation is taken by the Government and the MOJ then it will substantially restrict the scope of operation of foreign law firms in Vietnam unless they can find a local associated firm. It will be interesting to see what will happen when the implementing decree and circular are issued.