Charles Brannen reports from Myanmar
I vividly remember the moment I arrived in Naypyidaw; I was jetlagged from my trip but excited about the next couple of days, looking out the car window on my way to the hotel. It was stiflingly hot. An eerie and beautiful vista of manicured roads, some up to 10 lanes wide separated in the middle by an island lush with greenery, was swishing past us. It then struck me that during the half hour drive to the hotel, I had seen fewer than 10 cars on the roads (and only a few more motorbikes).
I was later told that the Myanmar government moved the capital city from Yangon to Naypyidaw in 2006. Naypyidaw is a brand new city, its construction finishing in about 2012. In many ways, Naypyidaw resembles a ghost town despite a reported population of over 900,000 people.
After a pit stop at the hotel, I was excited to finally meet my co-trainers in person after months of email exchanges. As I made my way to the Union Attorney General’s Office (UAGO) headquarters, I observed more multi-lane roads that were very well maintained (and again with very little traffic). After an unexpected stop by local police to check for seatbelt compliance, we continued on to the UAGO’s headquarters, which I expected would be located in modern offices somewhere in central Naypyidaw. Before seeing anything resembling a CBD, we suddenly turned right off the highway at a small sign marking the location of the UAGO’s offices. We then arrived in front of a building about three storeys high located in a lush forest – a nice change from our office in Sydney.
When Dan Creasey, Partner and Head of Pro Bono and Responsible Business at the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation briefly met Victoria Rios, Executive Manager, Rule of Law at Lexis Nexis Asia Pacific at a conference, neither of them realised that it was the beginning of a great partnership between the two organisations.
LexisNexis’ rule of law story with Myanmar began in 2013 when they started receiving queries from lawyers and businesses about how to do business in Myanmar and whether LexisNexis was supporting the rule of law. Myanmar was very isolated until international sanctions were lifted in 2011 and so the laws and regulations were not always keeping pace with the fast changing economic landscape, fuelled by heavy foreign investments.
Since then, LexisNexis has worked a lot with the Myanmar government, particularly the UAGO. In its strategic plan for 2015-2019, the UAGO highlighted that “to advance the rule of law, the Government at all levels must adhere to the legal framework. This requires more better trained legal advisors with specialised expertise.”
The Foundation is deeply committed to improving access to justice and reducing unmet legal needs. We strongly believe that the rule of law is key to development and we are always interested to hear about pro bono opportunities to support the rule of law, in Australia and overseas.
It is within this context that Dan Creasey and Victoria Rios decided to work together on the pilot of a new initiative led by LexisNexis to advance the rule of law.
Dan reached out to me to create a curriculum for a two-day training program on contract law and negotiation skills to be held in Myanmar for lawyers of the UAGO. Up to the challenge, I started work on the training program and quickly realised it would be ideal to assemble a team of lawyers to join me on the journey. Dan Creasey, who firmly believes in close collaboration between law firms, contacted a few people and that is how lawyers from Colin Biggers & Paisley, Ashurst, Herbert Smith Freehills, and Allen & Gledhill started working together to collaborate on the components of the training program.
Meet the team, somehow posing on the side of the highway.
From left to right: Guillaume Stafford, senior associate at Herbert Smith Freehills (on secondment in Myanmar), Matthew Rickards, partner at Ashurst (Japan), Hannah Lim, senior associate at Allen & Gledhill (Singapore), Victoria Rios, and Charles Brannen, special counsel in the construction and engineering team at Colin Biggers & Paisley.
The brief from LexisNexis was straightforward: legal professionals acting on behalf of the government face new challenges of negotiating contracts with other countries. We had two days to share our knowledge and experience on contract law and negotiation skills.
The following key sessions were designed in a lecture/workshop format to foster collaboration and discussions between legal professionals:
- basics and essentials of contract law
- tips and traps in drafting contracts
- understanding key clauses in contacts
- managing risk in contracts
- tips and traps in negotiation of contracts
On 27 and 28 April 2017, we finally conducted the training program. The event was attended by 50 Myanmar government lawyers (45 from the UAGO and five from other ministries).
I was told that most of the government lawyers attending the training had received little, if any, additional training after law school. The level of enthusiasm of the government lawyers in attendance was unexpected and incredibly rewarding. We arranged the attendees into groups to facilitate and encourage discussion and collaboration. We also walked around the room to ask the attendees questions and talk through case studies. Everyone was actively engaged and clearly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with their colleagues. This was particularly impressive considering that English wasn’t the native language of the participants.
It was a truly humbling and rewarding experience to be involved in this training program. Unlike some training events in Australia – where we as lawyers have multiple opportunities for continuing professional development (and perhaps take those opportunities for granted) – the government lawyers were truly grateful and appreciative of the training.
Once the training was over, it was time for goodbyes. I was sad to leave and regretted not choosing to stay a bit longer to explore more of Myanmar and meet more of Myanmar’s very warm and friendly people.
As my plane took off that evening, I thought, “I really have to come back to do this again.”