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Thai Law Insights

Summer Internship Program at CSBC Law Offices: Perspectives from an American Law Student

Amorn Bholsangngam (B.A. - magna cum laude - UCLA, J.D. - Layola, LA)

Every ex-pat that finds himself in the midst of Bangkok's crowded, bustling metropolis for the very first time is invariable overcome with some combination of the same feelings: awe, excitement, anxiety, heat exhaustion, and perhaps most strongly of all, culture shock. My summer interning for CSBC Law Offices, which also happened to be my first experience with Thai law, was full of those same feelings, as I navigated my way through a legal system previously foreign to me. Thankfully, I had the benefit of some incredibly knowledgeable and patient guides in CSBC's team of lawyers.

This was not my first time in Thailand. I had visited Bangkok every summer for as long as I could remember and as a result, became well acquainted with the way life is lived in this simultaneously beguiling and bewildering city. I knew to never hop into a taxi with its meter off, never to settle for the first price offered by any street merchant, never to make any plans more than a kilometer away when it's raining. I knew that traffic cops had a particular affinity for pink bills when it comes to forgiving traffic violations. What I didn't know, however, was how this town, this country, operates, what rules govern life inside of it, and how those rules influence the choices people make.

I spent my summer becoming intimately familiar with the Thai law, experiencing that same sense of culture shock in a legal context. I immediately noticed the differences between Thai and American law: Thailand has an inquisitorial system, while the United States utilizes a primarily adversarial system. Thailand uses civil law, in which court decisions are not binding precedent, while the United States uses common law. Thai courtrooms are filled with appointed counsel clad in robes that make each hearing resemble a scene set in Hogwarts, while American courtrooms only require judges to commit such fashion faux pas.

The Thai Criminal Code imposes penalties that are lenient relative to the American Criminal Code, which made consider whether such sanctions are effective in deterring criminal conduct. Many offenses are punishable by fines so insignificant that I couldn't imagine them discouraging anyone. Given the vast discrepancy in wealth in Thailand, however, I could understand how difficult it must be for the Thai Parliament to craft laws that are both firm and fair to people of all classes. What may be an insignificant fine to one person may be excessive punishment to another.

Another striking aspect of Thailand's legal system is how it expressly seeks to protect the interests of Thai nationals. Having been only familiar with American law, which seeks to constantly maintain its sense of political correctness, I found it refreshing how Thai law overtly gives priority to its nationals over foreigners. The Thai legal system confers many advantages in property and business ownership to Thai nationals without flatly excluding foreigners, whose contributions may be imperative to the country's growth. I feel like Thai law has struck a fine balance between allowing Thai nationals the chance to equitably compete with financially privileged foreign investors and giving foreigners freedom to bring capital into Thailand's economy.

My summer at CSBC was an eye-opening and enlightening experience that gave me deep insights on how the law is used and what it is used for in Thailand. Thai law is a system that demands mastery of its nuances in order to employ it successfully for the purposes of justice and social wellbeing, and I look forward to further exploring its complexities in the future.