Myanmar in motion

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Having only recently opened up to the Western world, Myanmar is on the brink of major economic change. Australasian Lawyer talks to Jo Daniels, managing partner of Baker & McKenzie Yangon, about the country’s emerging legal market

For the first time in more than 50 years, a civilian government is dominating Myanmar’s parliament, and in just over 100 days in office Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is already proving it can deliver strong economic reform.
 
Baker & McKenzie partner Jo Daniels says that in two months as an official expat in Yangon she’s already witnessed a noticeable transformation.
 
“There is a lot of enthusiasm,” she says, likening the city’s buzz to Zara’s Sydney debut. “But tenfold.”
 
With new restaurants and shops opening up weekly, it’s clear why Baker & McKenzie chose an infrastructure heavyweight to head up the Yangon office.
 
“The very first thing that they really need is infrastructure,” Daniels says.

“We really have seen, since the election of Aung San Suu Kyi, a very significant increase in the number of companies entering into Myanmar or investigating entering into Myanmar. I actually think this government will deliver.”
 
With the increase in foreign investment already evident in Myanmar, momentum is likely to grow as the government looks to make significant economic reforms.
 
“We’ll start to see some of those major infrastructure deals come through,” Daniels says. “And I think we will see the announcement of a number of major projects that are likely to be in the power area, perhaps in renewable power.”
 
Having opened up shop in 2012, Baker & McKenzie is the biggest international law firm in Myanmar, and the only international firm practising both international and local law. Typically, international firms in Yangon have one partner and a handful of lawyers, Daniels says.
 
“We actually have five partners, 10 local lawyers and some expatriate lawyers, so all up there’s about 40 or 50 of us.”
 
Baker & McKenzie has two banking and finance partners and a tax partner in Yangon, allowing the firm to offer the full range of legal work, “on everything from major M&A right through to incorporating subsidiaries”, Daniels says.

“I prefer to inspire people to be the best that they can be, so for me it’s been a really easy transition, mostly because we have an amazing team here and it’s easy, I think, when you have great lawyers to be the leader,” she says.
 
Daniels moved from Allens to Baker & McKenzie back in 2014 in the hope of taking her practice in an international direction. But Myanmar is her first proper taste of expatriate life.
 
“I think the most enjoyable part is walking to the office through such an exciting period in the Myanmar history,” she says. “It’s an enormous opportunity.
 
“The combination of expats and locals is working really well in the office, and I’m really pleased about that.”
 
Expats from England, America, Australia and Norway work together with local lawyers who know the country’s laws and are able to communicate with the Myanmar government officials.
 
“I know it’s a bit trite to say, but one plus one equals three,” she says.
 
“I think this is the perfect time to be in Myanmar.”
 

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