Interview with: Kudun Sukhumananda and Troy Schooneman

Kudun & Partners | View firm profile

The Legal 500 sits down with Kudun Sukhumananda and Troy Schooneman of Kudun & Partners, following the firm’s recognition at The Legal 500’s inaugural Southeast Asia Awards 2020/21.

Being recognized in multiple regional categories really highlights the strength in depth of the firm’s services. How important is it to have the right team around you?

Kudun:

Simple. Having the right team is the bedrock on which all successful businesses are built. When I originally started, I only had myself, and my two other founders, Kongkoch and Ekachai.  We shared a vision to develop a paradigm-shifting approach to legal offerings; that is, to provide business solutions rather than just conventional legal advice.

I knew that if I put the best team members in the right positions, they would tell me what is needed and how to get there. Ideas and circumstances may change. Neither will matter if you wake up every day and have to spend time with people you don’t respect or enjoy working with.

With that in mind, I was able to convince a number of senior partners from other firms whom I respect and attracted some of the best and brightest associates and business professionals who hail from some of the largest firms to join us.

Troy:

As a leader, there is nothing more important than being surrounded by a team of passionate and capable people who share your vision – which, in our case, is to provide innovative, commercially sound, solution-oriented advice to our Thai and international clients.  We take great care in ensuring that our lawyers and non-lawyers are chosen not only for their individual strengths but also their ability to strengthen the firm as a whole.

Please tell us a little bit about your practice.

Troy:

Although we are the “new kid on the block” – with the formation of the firm in 2015 – all of our partners and senior lawyers are well-known, respected professionals in their respective fields, many of whom joined us from other top Thai and international law firms.  This, together with our overall strategic vision, is one of the reasons we have been able to grow so quickly and to position ourselves as one of Thailand’s top law firms.

Our experienced team of international and Thai lawyers, comprised of 12 partners and more than 50 associates, act as trusted advisors to a range of government entities, financial institutions and private equity funds, as well as leading Thai and international private and public corporations, on both domestic and cross-border transactions in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia, covering the full spectrum of industry sectors.  As a full service law firm, our key practice areas include corporate and M&A, debt and equity capital markets, tax and corporate restructuring, litigation, arbitration, and dispute resolution, foreign direct investment, intellectual property, banking and finance, real estate, fintech and digital law, as well as a practice group dedicated to startups through our KAP-X brand.  We are also the first independent law firm in Thailand to establish a dedicated China Practice to serve the unique needs of Chinese corporations and individuals on both inbound and outbound investment transactions in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia.

What do you see as the main points that differentiate your firm from your competitors?

Kudun:

We stay true to our vision; that is, to provide business solutions rather than just conventional legal advice. The phrases “exceeds customer expectations” and “provides an amazing customer experience” are frequently used to describe how we achieve organizational excellence.  In today’s competitive industry and continuously changing environment, however, we must go one step further and assist our clients in meeting or, if possible, exceeding their own objectives.

In a year full of business disruption across the region, what’s the main change that you have made in the firm that will benefit clients?

Troy:

One of the hallmarks of any successful business is the ability to pivot with agility and to continually evolve to meet changing client needs and market developments.  Over the past 12 months we have made a number of changes that will benefit our clients, both in terms of the services that we are able to offer, as well as the way that those services are deployed. For example, we have invested significantly in a number of new technologies that allow us improve internal efficiencies which, in turn, allows us to be more responsive to our clients at reduced costs.

In addition, we have deployed a number of new service offerings as a direct response to both clients’ needs and market developments.  Over the last 12 months, we have established several new practice groups, including a dedicated digital law, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology practice group, a startup and entrepreneur practice group, and a practice group dedicated to personal data privacy.  We are also planning several new and very exciting client initiatives over the next several months – but I don’t wish to let the cat out of the bag on those just yet!

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

Troy:

New technologies, including specific legal technology solutions, were already available as tools for law firms when the pandemic struck last year.  The pandemic has, however, led to an acceleration of our technology deployment schedule, especially with respect to our AI document and contract production systems.  Historically, one of the key requirements of law firm clients, apart from the provision of excellent and commercially sound legal advice, is responsiveness.  Client’s expectations about responsiveness have been enhanced during the pandemic, particularly given the more frequent use of alternative modes of communication, i.e. instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp, LINE, LinkedIn and WeChat, all of which have grown extremely popular since the beginning of the pandemic.  Our firm has been recognized for its responsiveness and we are always seeking alternative and innovative technology solutions to further cement our excellent reputation for being one of Thailand’s most responsive law firms.

Video teleconferencing technologies like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, Cisco Webex, and others have removed the requirement for travel and face-to-face interaction. Convenience in interaction has unquestionably risen, but the complexity of these exchanges has also increased. In our view, only by adopting the right technology now will help organizations position themselves for future growth.

Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?

Kudun:

With the impending Personal Data Protection Act set to be enforced next year, we have organized one-on-one training and seminars for our clients. We help our clients by transferring knowledge and skills into their organizations, leaving them better equipped to respond to future challenges.

We conduct annual startup and legal clinics for aspiring startups seeking legal advice, financial advice or guidance in the startup ecosystem. By engaging more startups, we can help connect our corporate clients and investors who are looking for startup ideas that can add value to their businesses.

Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms?

Troy:

We pride ourselves on taking the time to acquire a deep understanding of our clients businesses.  By doing this we are often able to play a very important and active role not only in providing our clients with legal advice but also advising on business strategy and commercial direction.  The holy grail in the legal profession is being viewed by our clients as trusted advisors – someone who not only provides commercially sound legal advice but who clients can also turn to for advice on non-legal matters, including important business and strategy decisions.  It takes time to develop such deep relationships, but it is ultimately very rewarding for us, as lawyers, and for our clients.  We encourage our lawyers to think strategically and to acquire deep knowledge of our clients’ businesses, including their strategic goals and pain points – and by doing so we are more able to distinguish ourselves from many of our competitors.

This recognition signifies years of hard work. What is the most valuable lesson you can share with young, aspiring lawyers?

Kudun:

Do not try to strike a work-life balance. Instead, attempt to achieve your own version of work-life harmony. It’s all about you when it comes to work-life harmony. It’s about your energy and where you invest it to enrich your life. Ultimately, it’s about aligning your passion with your work.

Troy:

To develop a long-lasting career, be humble and choose a mentor you admire and learn from others. As your career progresses, you’ll discover your secret sauce — the thing that sets you apart from the competition. Take a chance and don’t be scared to try new things and push yourself out of your comfort zone.