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The Rich Lawyer Interviews Lee Phanurat-Bennett

Lee is a former Barrister and Attorney who now lives and works as a businessman in Thailand. He works with all kinds of international clients, arranging and providing a wide variety of professional services.

 

Profile

Lee Phanurat-Bennett

Managing Director, Barrister, Attorney & Counselor At Law (New York)

Accordant Co., Ltd

Based in Bangkok, Thailand.

 

Hi Lee, can you describe Accordant Co., Ltd?

We do business with, and act for, clients internationally, including high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth persons, corporations, SME’s, startups, and others.

We are a Thai company involved in the import and sale of high-end products and professional services. We have our own client base and deal flow, and additionally we work very closely with the family companies in Asia. As part of our group we have a substantial network of salespeople across Thailand and other countries in ASEC. Our team of experts works across our portfolio of professional services. Additionally, I also have a dedicated team of four support staff who makes up my personal office and who assists me directly as necessary.

We arrange, project-manage, and oversee our clients’ various deals and business interests, including negotiation and settlement of contract terms, providing counsel, due diligence, creating and implementing action plans, instructing and overseeing other professionals on our clients’ behalf, acting as our clients’ advocate and representative, and ensuring our clients’ objectives are achieved according to specific criteria and within their desired timeframe. We also match high quality startups and established businesses with high value investors globally.

Part of our portfolio of services also includes helping our clients (up to C-suite) to harness their communication and public speaking skills to deliver effective pitches, presentations, and keynote speeches, to achieve their goals (including gaining traction with investors, customers, and others). With our internationally renowned business psychologists we also provide bespoke selective psychometric tests and in-depth profiling tools to assist companies in the recruitment, retention, and training of their staff right up to C-level. These tools are also used to assist with public speaking, pitching, presentation skills, leadership, teamwork, and motivation.

 

What work do you perform in your organisation?

I lead the day-to-day management, operations, and strategy of the company, and its relationship with the family companies, clients and business partners. I counsel on domestic and international strategy, marketing, business development, and negotiation and settlement of commercial terms with our partners, suppliers, and clients.

I have also partnered with Gavin Opaswongkarn on various global business projects. Gavin has previously worked at Morgan Stanley, Abraaj Group and Asia Plus Group Holdings. We currently both represent our mutual client Mr Itthipat Peeradechapan, CEO of Taokkaenoi Food & Marketing Plc.

 

Lee Phanurat-Bennett and Gavin Opaswongkarn at the offices of Asia Plus Securities

 

What is your educational background?

The usual path in the 1980’s: ’O’ levels, ‘A’ levels, Law LLB in London 1987-1990. BVC at Inns of Court School of Law.  Then New York Bar Course.

 

When did you qualify?

I graduated law in London in 1990. I then attended the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law. I was then called to the Bar in England and Wales by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, and also went on to pass the New York Bar examination and was then admitted to the Bar of New York state.

 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Variety. I may be in a meeting discussing a $100m investment deal one minute, followed by a marketing session for one of our product lines, followed by a meeting where I am negotiating and settling Heads of Terms for a potential investment deal on behalf of an investor client, followed by a meeting with a CEO of a Plc to discuss status on their company projects; and then move on to a pitch or public speaking session with a C-suite client who needs help with public speaking or pitching, or a company who wants an assessment of their investment decks and team pitch.

I also attend around 5 or so trips a year that are arranged by the family company to various countries around the world. They will take clients, salespeople and staff on a tour abroad; many countries have been visited including Japan, USA, UK, Austria, Czech Republic, India, Switzerland, Laos, and Myanmar. We were in South Korea in January of this year with 50 of the team from Laos. While in South Korea the company finalised a contract with Julia Cosmetics Co., Ltd to add their beauty and skincare products to the family company’s portfolio of products sold in Thailand and other countries in Asia.

As well as key events throughout the year where I will deliver various company presentations, I also attend the company’s annual conference and themed gala dinner and party which takes place over the course of a weekend in January each year.

I have a presentation to deliver this coming weekend to the Thailand sales team at our weekend conference. I will be talking about one of our new well-being products the company has imported to Thailand and which we have exclusive rights to sale. I sourced the product after meeting the CEO of the company in London, and I then negotiated, brokered, and settled the contract terms for the companies. The product is a unique soft gel turmeric lozenge that has so many health benefits – and tastes delicious!

 

Describe your typical day? Wake up and bedtime times?

Typically, I am up at 7.00am followed by gym. I have always been an early bird and having two Scottish terriers who need their morning walk has enforced this habit!

I will have meetings throughout the day with clients, partners, prospective businesses, and with family. I have a very flexible regime and I am not ordinarily tied to our office buildings, and will have meetings wherever I happen to be, which may be in a hotel bar/restaurant or poolside. Evenings may involve the inevitable business dinner and drinks, but I try to be home in the evening for dinner and relaxation with husband and family; family is very important to me.

 

What is the hardest part of your job?

Not being available to speak with everyone who wants to speak with me.

 

What is the most memorable case you have worked on?

I spent several years working on a substantial £1.59 billion confiscation case which was certainly one of the largest cases I have been involved in.

But I would choose a case I worked on a few years back where I represented around 20 companies and the directors of those companies who were threatened with substantial claims for alleged breach of contract and misrepresentation; the potential consequences were very serious for all.

After detailed preparation, I conducted a one-day negotiation session with the other side and their lawyers on behalf of my 20 company clients and the directors who were squeezed around the boardroom table. I successfully halted all action against my clients and the matter was ended to their relief and satisfaction.

 

Lee Phanurat-Bennett and his husband Nuk (5th from right in purple),  his mother-in-law Mrs Rudi Rungklin, President of MLH (6th from right), and some of the team donning traditional costume for the company AEC Summit dinner.

 

What would your clients say about you?

One of my clients (partly in jest) would refer to me as “the smiling assassin”.  My clients would say that I am dedicated to achieving their objectives in the most effective and ethical way possible.

 

And what would your competitors say about you?

Probably “the smiling assassin”!

 

What have you found to be the greatest myth about being a lawyer?

That lawyers fight for truth and justice.

 

What advice would you give to your pre-law school self?

Go away and study something interesting first and come back in a few years time.

 

Do you have any tips for handling difficult clients?

Always remain calm, diplomatic, in control, and reasonable; and put everything in writing. If you demonstrate a thorough grasp of your case, both factually and legally, and clearly present the most viable solutions, then you are less likely to encounter a difficult client.

 

What’s the longest day you’ve ever done?

5.30am – 9.30pm, meeting clients and travelling with them by train to a Court hearing while working with them en route; and then a post-hearing conference that evening with the legal team to carry out a post-mortem and prepare for the next day at court.

 

What case do you find most memorable in your jurisdiction?

Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] S.C.(H.L.) 31.

 

Do you have any advice for lawyers just starting out?

Don’t presume that you are entitled; there is no shortage of lawyers out there, so you have to work hard and remember that you work in a business whose aim is to acquire clients and then retain them by impressing them with your quality service. You must be commercially minded, charming, credible, and honest. Perfect both your legal skills and interpersonal skills.

 

Do you do any volunteering/pro bono work etc?

I am a Trustee of the Aanchal Women’s Aid, a UK charity that assists women affected by physical as well as mental, financial, sexual and emotional domestic abuse. As a law undergraduate I did my thesis on domestic violence.

 

What has been your worst day in the job?

When I was with a QC working on papers and found a discriminatory homophobic note written by one of the partners in the law firm (Bivonas LLP) whom I worked for at the time.

 

What has been your best?

Successfully winning my claim for discrimination against Bivonas LLP, Anthony Brown, and John Bechelet (who wrote the discriminatory note) with the three judges unanimously finding in my favour.  Unfortunately, they appealed against the unanimous judgment against them. But they also had their Appeal unanimously dismissed by the three judges in the Appeal Court. My personal case made me truly appreciate the emotional roller coaster ride that clients go through, and just how long the journey to victory can take.

 

What do you consider to be the secret to your success? 

My ability to connect with people from all cultures, putting them at ease and quickly building up a genuine rapport and mutual respect. Whether I am with a CEO of a Plc, an Ultra-high-net-worth individual, an SME, the founder of a startup, a politician, or someone who sees themself as ordinary and just trying to survive each day in our crazy world, I always treat everyone with the same courtesy and respect. I expect the same!

 

Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?

Yes. I always wanted to pursue the law as a discipline. I also enjoyed lecturing law at postgraduate level too. But I have always been more attracted to the business world.

 

What would you say is the best tool you have at your disposal?

The ability to put things into perspective and see the bigger picture.

 

Which key skill is most essential for your success as a lawyer?

The ability to communicate effectively.

 

Who is the lawyer you most admire and why?

The late Sir Desmond Da Silva QC KStJ, former United Nations Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leone, who sadly passed away recently. I was fortunate to have instructed him on several large cases. I also had the pleasure of dining with him as his guest on several occasions, including at the Cavalry and Guards Club and the In & Out Naval and Military Club in St James’s, where we shared a few bottles of wine and anecdotes. He was a man of great integrity and humanity who possessed a wicked wit and super sense of humour, and he was always willing to provide advice and assistance to others, to pass on his experience and wise counsel.

In 2015, when I was Chair of the Advisory Board of an international leadership magazine covering business, politics, and the law, I asked Sir Desmond if he would be willing to be interviewed by the magazine and to be featured in the next issue. At that time he was advising the government of Sri Lanka on allegations of War Crimes against its forces in the war that ended in 2009. He was very busy working with his secretariat on preparing a report to go to the UN that year. Notwithstanding his very busy schedule and commitments he put aside time to be interviewed by the magazine, where he talked about human rights, pursuing Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, and his time as a UN Prosecutor. He sent an email to me afterwards saying he looked forward to having a bottle or two with me in Blighty on his return from Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, I relocated to Thailand later that same year and we never got to crack open those bottles.

 

What makes a brilliant lawyer?

Identifying the key issues in a case and effectively communicating the potential solutions to your client in the most appropriate and understandable way possible no matter how complex the case and irrespective of whether your client is a CEO of a FTSE company, owner of an SME, or an individual employee seeking to enforce their legal rights against their employer.

 

What’s the most amusing anecdote you have about the law?

It comes from my own personal claim for discrimination that I brought against Bivonas LLP, Anthony Brown, and John Bechelet. During the trial Anthony Brown of Bivonas LLP tried to persuade the three judges to watch the Ali G DVD, Ali G IndaHouse, as part of his defence. He turned up to court with the DVD and a DVD player and wanted to play it to the judges at Court to demonstrate, as I understood it, that the phrase “batty boy” was not necessarily discriminatory. The judges quickly declined this request to watch Ali G.

 

Then Anthony Brown, while still in the course of giving his sworn evidence, asked the judges if he could be allowed to speak with his barrister. Needless to say, the three judges also declined this request. The requests did cause some amusement both during and after the hearing. So I have to say this has to be up there in terms of amusing legal anecdotes. This is the first and only time I have ever heard of a witness ask a judge for permission to speak with their lawyer while they are in the course of giving evidence. I also believe it to be the only time that a party has tried to introduce an Ali G DVD into evidence as part of their defence.

 

What would you say is your greatest achievement?

Marrying the love of my life.

 

Lee and his husband relaxing in Halstatt, Austria

 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Enjoying life to the full. This is no dress rehearsal; so I will continue to make every second count.

 

What is your morning routine?

Check emails. Gym. Watch UK news and business and swiftly read over several newspapers online while eating breakfast and then checking more emails.

 

What is your bedtime routine?

Reading for pleasure and/or watching Netflix with my husband. Usually go to sleep around midnight or later.

 

What do you do to keep healthy? What are your habits regarding exercise and nutrition?

I go to the gym at least 5 times a week. I eat very healthily. A very good friend of mine in London is a nutrition and health expert who provides me with excellent guidance to ensure I maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Living in Thailand means I have some of the best seafood in the world to choose from every day.

 

If you weren’t a lawyer what would you be?

I guess what I am now; involved in business and entrepreneurship. But if I weren’t a lawyer or involved in business then I would definitely have pursued acting and/or writing fiction; writing is still a possibility – and I have plenty of experiences and raw material to draw upon.

 

What do you believe that nobody else believes?

4 + 4 = 5

 

Is there a quote which defines you?

“It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” – Winston Churchill

 

Which book have you found most influential?

Too many to choose from for so many different reasons but…:

The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli.

Autumn of the Patriarch – Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

1984 – George Orwell.

Nicholas Nickleby – Charles Dickens.

I will happily read anything by Shakespeare, Dickens, or Trollope.

 

Do you have any political aspirations? 

As a student I was selected to represent Inner Temple for the UK in the world debating championships at Trinity College, and then again at the International Debating Championships at Yale University. The debating crowd had quite a few political aspirants. At one time I toyed with the idea of politics. I am not impressed with the quality of politicians in the UK generally, and also very mindful of Enoch Powell’s view (which other politicians have subsequently quoted) that “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure,….”.

 

Who do you admire most and why?

My husband who uplifts me every day, and can also bring me down to earth if need be.

 

What 3 things would you take with you on a desert island?

My husband. My iPad. A 177ft motor yacht fully equipped with crew, food, and a fully-stocked bar.

 

How do you think practising law has changed you as a person?

Law undoubtedly makes you cynical; after all you become privy to the darker side of human nature as you peek beneath that thin veneer of respectability that hides the truth. Some of the cases I have been involved in over the years have involved some very unpleasant and traumatic facts. However, as well as witnessing the worst side of human nature you also see the best side of it too.

 

If money was no object, how would you spend your time? And would you still be a lawyer? 

I am currently blessed to be involved in business and to a large degree I have the independence and control to do as I please.

 

What is the step/change you are most glad you’ve taken in life?

Leaving the law full-time and going into business. Business is much more fun and relaxing; the rewards are greater and one doesn’t have to worry about billable hours.

 

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘lawyer’?

Jarndyce v Jarndyce.

 

What does a lawyer represent to you as a concept?

The potential to do a lot of good or a lot of bad; and often times a mixture of the two.

 

What is the best lawyer joke you’ve heard?

I don’t know if this is the best joke I have heard.

Q: What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer?

A: A bad lawyer makes your case drag on for years. A good lawyer makes it last even longer.

 

How do you balance home and family life with your job?

I don’t consider what I do as a job. I am lucky that I can balance my life and time as I wish. My husband, who is a senior executive at Saint Laurent in Thailand, has a busy schedule so we have to make sure we have time to relax together; we indulge in our mutual love of fine wine and dining, and we spend time at our place on the beach, on the islands, as well as trips abroad, including visiting family and friends in the UK. It’s important that we ensure quality time together is built into our schedules as I may be away on business trips abroad for several weeks at a time and my husband may also fly off to Paris, Hong Kong, or Singapore for Saint Laurent business as well. Fortunately, I have a very good team around me, and I strongly believe that good leadership is about many things, including delegation and empowerment.

 

Thank you very much for your time, Lee.

 

To find out more about Lee and his work through Accordant Co., Ltd, visit the Accordant Co., Ltd website.

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