Thao is an Associate in the Trade Marks Group in Hanoi office, providing trade mark advisory and prosecution services to a wide range of clients.
Words are a lawyer’s tools of their trade. Laws are set down in words and legal arguments are crafted in words. Court decisions often turn on subtle interpretations of words, and lawyers rely on words to communicate with their clients. A lawyer who loves words, and knows how to use language effectively, has a head start. It wasn’t Thao’s love of languages that drew her to the law initially, but it has proved to be an enormous advantage, particularly now that she is working in the field of trade marks, where the registrability of word marks depends on their distinctiveness and arguments for both registration and infringement often involve a careful and subtle analysis of the meaning, effect and reputation of words.
It was Thao’s father who initially suggested she study law – and not at all because of her language skills. He had run two successful hotels in Hanoi before settling down to life as an individual stock trader and while running the hotels he had inevitably come into contact with many aspects of the law. He told Thao that whatever field she ultimately decided to enter, it would be important to know the law. He probably wasn’t, at that stage, thinking that she would necessarily end up a practising lawyer; he just thought it important to know the law.
She was a good student at school and her love of language was obvious early on. She loved reading, just about anything she could get her hands on, and at the age of six, had started learning English. Before long she was reading in English, learning the lyrics of English and American songs, and watching English language films and television series. Her parents considered being fluent in English was absolutely essential for her future and they also sent her off to English-speaking summer camps in Thailand and America. Given all that, she would probably have been fluent in English anyway, but the fact that she had a real interest in, and feel for, words and language meant that she has become unusually comfortable speaking and communicating in English. She also studied Mandarin for a short time in high school, but was not able to continue it then. It’s something she would like to pick up again as soon as she finds the time.
When she finished school she applied to study at Hanoi Law University. She did not particularly enjoy the first two years there, but that all changed in her third and fourth years when she began to study Intellectual Property, participating in some mooting activities and competitions, which she enjoyed, and meeting people who gave her invaluable professional guidance and assistance. She also obtained a GES – a scholarship that provides financial assistance and professional mentorship by Vietnam-leading lawyers and law firms – in her case the firm was VILAF – one of the most reputable law firms in Vietnam. There, she had the opportunity to work with top lawyers and network with a wide range of associates. She also joined the Asian Law Students’ Association (ASLA) and went on study trips and attended conferences in various Asian countries. In her final year she became President of the Vietnam chapter and, through the Association, she also met her husband, Linh , who succeeded her as President the following year and now works as a commercial lawyer.
When Thao graduated she had nothing particular in mind, but wanted to try as many things as possible. She took a gap period of a few months to gain experience and moved to Ho Chi Minh City to work for Citibank. It didn’t take her long, however, to realise how much she had enjoyed IP as an undergraduate and she decided to contact Rouse, which she remembered had been one of the sponsors of her internship scholarship.
Now, working in the Trade Marks Group, she says that her interest in language is invaluable: in this field you really need to understand language and be sensitive to the different layers of meaning. Thao is always checking the dictionary for the most appropriate word, and making sure that arguments are crafted in the best, most persuasive, way possible. The process excites her and gives her great satisfaction.
Not surprisingly, Thao’s love of language has led to a love of literature, novels in particular, and, if perhaps not as obviously, her experience of literature too feeds directly into her work. Apart from improving vocabulary, reading novels broadens the mind and expands horizons, enabling a greater understanding of a range of people, places and situations. Thao’s all-time favourite novel is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, but there are plenty of others, including Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader.
One of her other passions is cooking. She loves it and is happy that, busy as she is at work, it’s a passion she can indulge in regularly as eating is an essential part of daily life. She learned from her mother and grandmothers, all excellent cooks, but also from her grandfather who was responsible for meals and accommodation for foreign guests of the Vietnamese government and subsequently published a cookbook. Thao is following in their footsteps. She’s an excellent cook and loves cooking for family and friends. She also has a cooking blog.
Now that Thao and Linh have a two year old daughter, Minh (known as Hi), plus three dogs and three cats, life is full, with little time for travel, but they do travel round Vietnam when they can. In any event, probably consistent with her love of language, reading and cooking, Thao’s idea of travel is not moving round from place to place, but experiencing one place in more detail; for instance, a couple of years ago she went on secondment to Cambodia for two months and learned how to cook local Cambodian food. That was perfect. These days life is too busy for that kind of travel, but Thao is an excellent time manager and able to fit everything else in without too much difficulty.