CAMBODIA: Global Integration Challenges Local Legal Professionals
CAMBODIA: Global Integration Challenges Local Legal Professionals

Guest commentator Vicheka Lay,* a legal consultant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, reflects on Cambodia's changing legal market…


Cambodian legal practitioners face many new challenges brought on by the nation's increased participation in regional and global trade, as well as the influx of foreign-owned businesses. Cambodian lawyers must be aware of the latest developments in legal scholarship to understand recent changes in international laws and treaties, whether or not Cambodia is bound by them.

Cambodian lawyers' participation in the global market is limited to some extent by language barriers, but as an attorney in Cambodia, I've observed that Cambodian lawyers are not even able to take advantage of increased global business opportunities in our own country. Although multi-million-dollar joint ventures, corporations, and banking opportunities have been starting up in the Kingdom of Cambodia, their legal services are usually referred to more sophisticated high-profile law firms in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Malaysia. For example, when Shinhan Bank recently needed assistance on complex legal cases, including a substantial loan for the development and construction of a major mining project, they were referred outside of the Cambodian legal profession to a sophisticated regional firm, Allen Arthur Robinson.

Cambodian law firms and attorneys are viewed as being less-sophisticated and less knowledgeable and are therefore less likely to be trusted. Attorneys often lack a basic understanding of international business, financial operations, and trade, and are therefore unable to address many legal issues and challenges arising in today's global economy.. Some lawyers struggle with drafting contracts, an area of practice which involves not only legal issues in other nations, but the ability to strategize and assess risks surrounding those legal issues.

There are many skills that have become necessary in today's sophisticated international legal market, and those skills have become necessary in order to fully participate in Cambodian business opportunities as well. To be successful, lawyers have to understand the laws of other jurisdictions and international trade patterns, adapt to a more competitive working environment, and integrate more sophisticated legal tools to more effectively address issues which might arise abroad. In order to make their legal practices sustainable, Cambodian practitioners must continuously enhance their lawyering skills and develop a sophisticated understanding of democratic marketplaces.

It is not an easy task for Cambodian legal professionals to catch up on all these skills. However, to survive in today's "always-on-the-go" legal market, acquiring sophisticated international lawyering skills is a must.

* The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any entity with which the author may be affiliated.

Photo credits: Dorothy Miller, University of Wisconsin School of Law, JD 2011

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.