Nhi Mai is an experienced lawyer specializing in IT, telecommunications, data center, and cybersecurity. She has been involved in several data center construction projects and possesses the ability to advise and obtain investment licenses and tax incentives for such projects as well as other science and technology ventures. Specifically, she has experience in advising on projects licensed by the Ministry of Information and Communications and the Ministry of Science and Technology.
In addition to her expertise in the technology industry, she also has experience in finance, banking, and credit card issuance, providing her with a comprehensive understanding of both the financial and legal aspects of business projects.
You are currently Deputy Head of Legal and Compliance at CMC Telecom in Vietnam. Tell us about this role.
As the Deputy Head of Legal and Compliance at CMC Telecom in Vietnam, I have extensive experience in legal consulting, particularly in the field of information technology, telecommunications, software, and cloud computing. I have participated in various projects involving data center construction and tax incentives for science and technology industries. Additionally, I possess strong knowledge in network security, cyber safety, personal data protection, and e-commerce. I am also capable of obtaining licenses for various types of activities approved by the Ministry of Information and Communications and the Ministry of Science and Technology.
While legal tasks are my primary responsibility, I am also in charge of other important duties such as risk management, procedure control, audit, and company-wide compliance programs. I work closely with the Head of Legal and Compliance and assist in managing the legal team across Vietnam, as well as the procedure control and audit teams in the southern region.
You previously served in corporate counsel roles in the Vietnamese financial services sector. Tell us more about this.
I have gained extensive experience working in various companies in the finance, banking, and fintech industries.
At ABBank, I worked in wholesale banking, specializing in lending to Vietnam Electricity (EVN) and real estate projects. At OCB, I was involved in restructuring projects and provided in-depth legal advice on processes and personnel. My responsibilities included conducting legal due diligence, advising on labor laws and regulations, and reviewing contracts and agreements. My experience at VietCredit was focused on consumer finance, specifically the issuance of credit cards for lending purposes. Finally, at Finstar, I worked with a group that invested in peer-to-peer lending and microfinance companies. This experience allowed me to gain knowledge in non-bank lending, including managing loan portfolios, assessing credit risks, and ensuring regulatory compliance.
In addition, I have also worked on various foreign loan registration and repayment procedures with the State Bank of Vietnam during the time.
What unique challenges do in-house counsel face in Vietnam today?
The difficulty of providing legal advice as an in-house lawyer in Vietnam is that the current legal regulations have many limitations and unclear provisions, while businesses are always innovating and moving forward in terms of technology and operational methods. This situation requires in-house lawyers to constantly adapt to this innovative spirit and provide advice from the perspective of the economic interests of the business.
For an external lawyer, they can focus solely on legal issues and provide recommendations on what to do or not to do. However, as in-house lawyers, we cannot simply say “no” or “should not do” to our employers. We must provide practical solutions to minimize risks and ensure that the desired outcome can be achieved. In-house lawyers must always stand with the company and are not a neutral party.
What inspired you to pursue a career as in-house counsel?
As an in-house lawyer, I feel encouraged, energized, and motivated to work alongside talented business owners and managers. Not only have I developed my legal skills, but I have also gained valuable insights into management practices, company operations, and business strategies. Working closely with these individuals has allowed me to learn and grow in ways that I never could have achieved on my own.
In addition, as an in-house lawyer, I have a deeper understanding of the legal issues facing the company compared to external lawyers. This is because sometimes businesses do not share all the details with external lawyers, but they trust their in-house lawyers to have a thorough understanding of the company’s legal matters.
Have you seen an increase in the use of technology by in-house counsel?
As an in-house lawyer working in the technology sector, I am exposed to technology-related matters on a regular basis, so it is natural for me to apply technology in all aspects of my work. Other in-house lawyers in technology companies also do the same. However, for lawyers in other fields and external lawyers, the application of technology is not yet fully integrated, but almost 100% of lawyers use technology to some extent.
Nearly 100% of young Vietnamese lawyers today know how to use applications or software to look up legal documents, search for articles, use smartphones and support software to schedule appointments, hold online meetings, send emails, or record, capture, scan and store documents when necessary. Some lawyers only have basic knowledge of technology, while others are proficient. However, almost no lawyer does not use technology at all.
How important is the use of technology to legal practice today?
In my personal opinion, applying technology to legal practice is extremely important, as it determines the effectiveness of lawyers’ work. With technology, searching and storing information becomes easier. Today’s lawyers are different from previous generations – we no longer need to spend too much time figuring out how to do something or who to meet to get the results we want. However, the current challenge is the mindset of applying technology and how to ensure that the latest technologies, especially AI, can do what we require accurately. It all comes down to the art of asking questions.
If you ask the right question, you will have everything you need. If you ask the wrong question, you will go far off the path you need to take. The question today is not whether we should apply technology or whether technology affects the work of lawyers or not. The question should be how should lawyers use technology? What should we apply it to? What is the level of implementation? Are the security levels of current systems safe enough for lawyers to use? How do we choose from many providers and platforms?
What is your most important criterion when selecting outside counsel?
When choosing an external lawyer, I prioritize lawyers who understand the industry we are in, have worked for government agencies or have a good relationship with government agencies. The reason is that Vietnamese law currently has many unclear points, and a lawyer with close relationships with government agencies and always updates market trends will give us the most appropriate advice that can somewhat predict the management views of government agencies. With the same issue, the way lawyers understand or interpret it is not as important as the way regulatory authorities understand and apply it. If there are differences in understanding and application, even if we are right, the company will still suffer losses and damages if we do not anticipate and prevent different understandings of related parties.