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THE LEGAL 500 > EVENTS > GC Summit Thailand 2019

GC Summit Thailand 2019

On Tuesday 25 June 2019, over 80 leading figures from South East Asia’s in-house community convened at the Radisson Blu Bangkok to take part in the Legal 500’s inaugural GC Summit Thailand.

As the only country in Southeast Asia with no history of European colonial rule, Thailand evolved a complex and unique legal culture that has, until recently, been dominated by local firms. The role of in-house lawyers in this culture is even more complex. While the larger Thai conglomerates have employed teams of lawyers for several years, most companies continue to operate with a headcount that is far below the benchmark for businesses of equivalent size in other markets. But with new data privacy and anti-bribery laws, a new competition act and ever more complicated trade agreements, the demand for internal legal advice has grown sharply in the last three years. It was the perfect opportunity for The Legal 500, along with headline sponsor Clyde & Co, and co-sponsors Tilleke & Gibbins and Thanathip & Partners, to bring together some of the country’s leading GCs to discuss their role.

The Summit opened with Krisda Chugh, digital solutions engineer at Philip Morris International (PMI), sharing his thoughts on digital transformation, how new technologies will shape the way we work, and why intelligent and highly-trained people often make bad decisions when it comes to managing business functions.

Chugh opened by reflecting on the culture shock he experienced moving from software engineering to business. ‘The first thing that struck me is how process oriented everything is [in a large organisation]’, he commented. ‘Many business processes have stayed essentially the same for the past five to ten years. Outside business, so much has changed in that time. The iPhone and Android were both new releases ten years ago. Companies that had yet to launch are now valued at $10bn plus. All of this has changed the way people interact with each other, and produce and consume information.’ Yet, when those people enter the office they forget it all and go back to email.

This led Chugh to consider digital transformation and ‘the profound restructuring of business and organisational activities, processes, competencies and models that will be needed to fully leverage the changes and opportunities presented by a mix of technologies and their accelerating impact across society.’ While most businesses recognise this will change how they operate, he continued, too often their strategies focuses on mega-trends such as AI and machine learning rather than examining the business case for a particular transformation. ‘Digital transformation is not a sure-fire path to salvation, of course, but there are ways to do it well. It’s not something you can buy and plug in, which is why a lot of businesses’ strategies fail to take off. You need to calibrate to your industry and take responsibility for governing digital discipline internally.’

The solution, according to Chugh, is to draw from the concept of the hackathon, which looks to test systems and processes out in a small, controlled environment. ‘Corporate hackathons are typically run as 25-72 hour events in which a number of people organise into small teams to conceptualise, test and present solutions to a distinct business problem. It all runs to a tight timeframe with a defined outcome in mind.’

After Chugh’s fascinating presentation, the Summit opened with a session exploring how GCs and their advisers can successfully manage international disputes. Sapna Jhangiani of Clyde & Co was joined by Jesse Lieberman of Minor Hotels, Supaporn Kookai Wonganan of Wind Energy Holding Company and Jasreen Singh of dwp to discuss dispute resolution mechanisms, and to share best practice when handling regional and international disputes.

The publication of Thailand’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) just days before the Summit made our second session highly topical. To discuss the challenges of conforming to the recently-passed law, Athistha (Nop) Chitranukroh, joint head of Tilleke & Gibbins’ technology industry group, was joined by Desarack Teso of Microsoft, Thitiwat Wisarath of Central JD Fintech, Palmar Jack Perkin of DIAKRIT International, Yulia Askhadulina of Minor Hotels, and Saovapa Tungphaisal of Pfizer.

The expansion of Thai business nationally and globally, increased investment from private equity funds, and strategic corporates seeking new markets and value have all helped push Thailand’s M&A markets to new highs. As such, the second half of the Summit was devoted to the subject.

First, Benjamin Hirasawa of Clyde & Co led a discussion of cross-border M&A dynamics. He was joined by seasoned deal lawyers Jirasak Latada of Siam Cement, Vincent Siaw of Thoresen Thai Agencies, and Rachael Bewsey of Ophir Energy.

Following this panel, Thanathip Pichedvanichok, Nat Boonjunwetvat, and Kornjan Tangkrisanakajorn of Thanathip & Partners gave a joint presentation on how business can stay ahead of Thailand’s Competition Act in the context of M&A.

The Summit concluded with a speech from Dr Munin Pongsapan, associate dean of Thammasat University and director of international programs in the university’s faculty of law, on the role of education in shaping the future of legal teams in Thailand. Dr Pongsapan began by reflecting on his role as director at Thailand’s oldest law school. With an alumni that includes some of the country’s most powerful people, it is certainly a position of great responsibility:

‘It is the responsibility of the legal profession to act as a safeguard for society, and we expect leaders of the legal profession to maintain the very highest standards of integrity, professionalism and to be role models for the values which the law protects. Our methods of teaching over decades have produced many fine examples of great statesmen, officials, and judges of the Supreme Court. We hope to continue this, and we hope to ensure that tomorrow’s graduates are every bit as upstanding as those of yesterday.

However, and more importantly in the context of today’s Summit, we also must look to the future. Legal professionals in every context must be flexible and adapt to the challenges of today and tomorrow. I believe that legal educators have perhaps an even greater task. We must anticipate not only what faces the lawyer of tomorrow, but what will face the lawyer of future decades.

Therefore, to fulfil the responsibility that we educators carry to our students, the legal profession, and society, we need a clear picture of the young lawyer of twenty years in the future. She may still be in kindergarten, but we must imagine what life will be like for her when she is giving her first pieces of advice to clients as external or as in-house counsel. What will her client be asking her? What tools will she have available? What kind of business will she be working for, and what kind of client will she be advising?

Second, we need to anticipate what skills and knowledge she will need. What will be the most important legal issues in twenty years’ time? How can we make sure that she has everything that she needs to deliver the advice that her clients need? How can we give her this knowledge and these skills in the most efficient way? Can we use advances in technology, for example, to enhance her learning experience, to reduce the costs and obstacles of her education, and to provide access to the latest knowledge and the best teaching expertise available?

Third, do we, in legal education, have the courage and the belief in our view of the future, in our students and in ourselves, to convince decision-makers at every level to support us? Do we believe in our vision of the future with sufficient clarity and conviction to overcome the hurdles and obstacles that stand in our way?

It is my belief that to generate the confidence needed to create courses for the next generation of law students, we need a really clear vision of what the legal profession will require in the decades to come and what businesses will look for in their legal advisers. We need to truly understand the expectations and challenges for the next generation of lawyers. We at universities are used to teaching, but we also need to learn. We need to listen to the legal profession, and understand what they are telling us about the way that the future is heading. We need you to teach us about the lawyer of the future.’

Sincere thanks go to our panellists, and to Clyde & Co, Tilleke & Gibbins and Thanathip & Partners for making the event such a resounding success.

Please scroll down to see pictures from the event.