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CHICAGO-International law firms in Thailand mainly were closed the day after the military ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s government, and those that remained open said disruptions to telephone communications were the chief fallout from the coup. DLA Piper, Baker & McKenzie and White & Case are three big law firms with sizable offices in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. DLA Piper, which has 23 attorneys in Bangkok, doesn’t see any threat to business as usual at this time, said Nick Seddon, the firm’s managing director for Asia in Hong Kong. The firm’s office in Bangkok closed on Sept. 20 partly because the new military government declared a holiday. Still, some workers did come into the office, which opened the next day. “We’ll see how it develops, but at the moment there’s no panic in the ranks here,” Seddon said. Murky legal issues For law firms dealing with the Thai government, this could make legal issues a bit murky, but there wouldn’t be as many questions for private matters, said Anna Gelpern, a law professor at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Reports from the region said that the Thai army had imposed martial law. “To the extent they’re dealing with private parties, it’s not a concern, but if you’re dealing with the government it might be,” Gelpern said. Seddon considered it a positive thing that the Thaksin government was overthrown because it has been seen as politically unstable for months. Still, he said the longer-term impact is unknown and could be affected by Thaksin supporters based outside of mainly calm Bangkok. DLA Piper and White & Case both said that cellphones and land lines were disrupted in the wake of the coup, though computer communication was unaffected. “Phone circuits were very crowded and it was hard to get telephone communication in and out,” said Roger Cohen, a spokesman in New York for White & Case. The firm’s 57-lawyer Bangkok office remained open last week. White & Case, which has been in the city since 1993, expects the country’s commerce to be unaffected in the short term, with political questions remaining for the long term, Cohen said. “Our lawyers and staff were very busy attending to needs of our clients that were ongoing or emergent as a result of the circumstances,” Cohen said. Baker & McKenzie’s office in Bangkok, where the firm has 56 attorneys, was closed on Sept. 20, but many employees were working remotely for the day, said Doug MacDonald, a spokesman in Chicago for the firm. The firm has had an office in Bangkok since 1977. Judges insulated? The coup won’t snarl the legal profession because it underpins the business sector, and Thais are very focused on maintaining a healthy economy, especially the tourist industry, said Mark Stephens, a partner at London firm Finers Stephens Innocent. In addition, Thai judges should be insulated from the changes because they serve in tenured positions, not at the whim of the prime minister, said Stephens, who undertook a study of the Thai legal system last year on behalf of the International Bar Association. “The country has a very transparent legal system with strongly independent judges,” Stephens said.

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