Legal market overview in Laos

As markets in Southeast Asia are concerned, Laos is a notoriously difficult one to navigate. The one-party state operates under an extraordinarily opaque and under-developed legal framework, wherein clearances for commercial operations and the early resolution of disputes often occur through direct negotiation with the country’s authorities rather than under a well-defined set of laws and processes. As a result, in speaking with lawyers throughout the region with only peripheral experience in Laos, there is a sense of bemused bewilderment surrounding the country’s regulatory framework and the essentials of getting business done in Laos.

One point to note in 2019 is the rise in Chinese investment into Laos, which is of course a common trend throughout much of the ASEAN. What makes the Laos case slightly unique however is, first, the influence of Laos’ neighbour to the east; and second, the current policy of the Lao government toward the preservation of its wildlife. Laos finds itself between two spheres of influence: one from China and the other from Vietnam. Obviously China carries considerably more weight than the coastal nation of Vietnam, though the Lao government has judged its relationship with Vietnam to be an important one and is, therefore, hesitant to allow China to monopolise its foreign investment market. Further, though Laos is an important market for Chinese infrastructure, the Lao government has set an ambitious goal for the protection of its wildlife, pledging that 70% of the country will remain protected forest lands.

The Lao legal market is fairly small, although given the regulatory quagmire faced by any commercial entity, companies will want to ensure that their lawyers have a real depth of experience in the market. DFDL Legal & Tax, Tilleke & Gibbins (Laos), and VDB Loi were top performers in 2019, while other recommended firms include McDonald Patafta & Associates Lawyers, Rajah & Tann (Laos), and ZICO Law.