Best of Both Worlds: Practicing Corporate Law in Vietnam

Downtown Ho Chi Minh City. (RobertDodge/iStockPhoto)

Thanh-Tam Ho talks about her job as a paralegal for an international law firm in Vietnam.

Could you describe what a paralegal does?

I research laws for lawyers to use in presentations, memos to clients, etc. I draft summaries of laws, such as a memo on how foreign businesses can establish a presence in Vietnam under such and such new law. I also do intellectual property investigations, which involve making phone calls, going to the stores of the infringers, taking photographs and making purchases and writing reports on what I find for clients.

What do you consider to be the most interesting or creative feature of your work?

Working as a paralegal in Vietnam is more fulfilling than working as a paralegal in New York (as I did previously) because the work I do, and the work we do as a firm, generally benefits Vietnam. It’s not your standard “soulless” corporate job. Helping companies conduct business in Vietnam means that more money is invested in Vietnam, jobs are created, people are trained and exposed to different ways of doing business... I can see that the work I do directly contributes to the development of Vietnam’s economy and it makes everything more meaningful. The field of law in Vietnam is also fairly new and our firm helps contribute to the evolution of law in Vietnam.

How does working for an foreign law firm in Vietnam affect your day-to-day tasks?

Although the firm is American in origin, the majority of the staff in our Vietnam offices are Vietnamese. As a result, my work environment is both American and Vietnamese. It’s sort of a “best of both worlds” situation--every day I get to practice my Vietnamese and learn about Vietnamese culture and ways of doing business and at the same time there are so many things that seem American about the workplace and my job that it’s still comfortable and familiar.

Our clients come from all over the world and it’s interesting to learn about the complexities of international law. Working in Vietnam gives you a new view on everything, as “local issues” become Vietnamese issues, and you start to see things from another point of view. Being constantly forced to think from and take into account other perspectives makes everything I do, even the tedious tasks, so much more worthwhile.

How difficult is it to get a position as a paralegal?

You need to have a college degree and decent grades. Finding a paralegal position in Vietnam is harder because there aren’t that many positions available. Generally speaking, however, there seem to be a lot of opportunities for interesting jobs for young Americans. In particular, there are great opportunities for trying out jobs in fields that you might not have been able to enter in the US.

Could you share some advice for students interested in international law or paralegal work?

International law has a lot of different meanings... but in general, it helps to try to add an international aspect to your life. That may mean reading books (fiction and non-fiction) about other countries, watching foreign films, keeping up on the news, learning foreign languages--anything that makes you think about and try to understand other parts of the world will prepare you for working with laws and people from other countries or living abroad. Travel, if you can. Or even better, after graduation take a year and live abroad. You can make a very comfortable living teaching English and the experience of living abroad will totally change you and open the doors for further international experiences, be it getting jobs and internships in college or applying to law school for international law.

Author: Interview conducted by Lawrence Dabney