Southeast Asian firms Rajah & Tann and ZICOlaw will open offices in Myanmar.

Singapore’s Rajah & Tann has announced a merger with local firm NK Legal, while Kuala Lumpur-based ZICOlaw has set up a Burmese firm that will be led by a Myanmar-qualified lawyer.

A number of international firms — Baker & McKenzie, Allen & Overy, Mayer Brown JSM, and Herbert Smith among them — are serving clients interested in Myanmar now that the country is opening after 60 years of military rule. However, none so far have set up an in-country office. And only Baker & McKenzie had hired a Myanmar-qualified lawyer prior to the arrival of Rajah & Tann and ZICOlaw in Yangon.

The newly merged Rajah & Tann NK Legal will open on March 1 and be led by NK Legal founder U Nyein Kyaw, according to a statement released by the firms. He will be the sole partner in the five-lawyer office, and there are no immediate plans to relocate another Rajah & Tann partner to Myanmar.

In addition to the new office in Yangon, Rajah & Tann also announced that it was merging with Cambodia’s Sok & Heng, with which it had a previous association. The firm’s namesakes, partners Sok Khavan and Heng Chhay, will head the newly created R&T Sok & Heng, with Heng serving as managing partner. There are 10 lawyers in Phnom Penh, including the two partners; the office opened February 1.

"Our goal has been to create an Indochina network of law practices so that we can serve our clients seamlessly regardless of where they are based in the region. These recent expansions are in line with this regional strategy," Rajah & Tann Managing Partner Lee Eng Beng said in the statement.

In addition to Yangon and Phnom Penh, the firm currently has offices in Singapore, Vientiane, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai. Within the region, Rajah & Tann also has association partnerships with firms in Indonesia and Malaysia.

At the same time, ZICOlaw senior adviser Stephen Maloy confirmed that the firm has received a license to open an office in Yangon and plans to do so "within 30 to 45 days." He was unwilling to name the Myanmar-qualified lawyer who will head up the operation in lieu of an official announcement coming from the firm, but he did say another "ASEAN-qualified lawyer" would relocate to Myanmar as well.

Maloy said the country offers "substantial long-term opportunities," and the opening in Yangon is part of a larger strategy to expand the firm’s footprint in the region. In addition to Kuala Lumpur and Yangon, ZICOlaw has offices in Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Melbourne and Sydney, as well as associated firms in Indonesia and Cambodia.