Japan to Allow Foreign Law Firms to Open Second Office


Posted on May 20, 2010 at 10:05 PM

The Japanese Ministry of Justice has announced that it will ease restrictions on foreign law firms operating in the country by allowing them to establish corporate bodies and open multiple offices in the country. These proposed amendments will probably be submitted to the Diet in the fourth quarter of this year and come into effect in January 2012.

This move is believed to be in response to the number of foreign law firms who are rumored to be looking at places like Osaka as a possible location for a second office. Cities like Osaka which is home to quite a few major Japanese companies like Panasonic, Nippon Life Insurance, Sharp and Itochi and cities like Chiba home to AEON are not fully serviced by US and UK law firms. According to Mark Weeks, Managing Partner of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in Tokyo, "there are a lot of manufacturing clients in that [Western] region and it would therefore be an obvious place for foreign firms to consider opening a second office, if and when the market opens up". For most US and UK law firms any decision to open another office in Japan, or elsewhere in Asia, is usually driven by client needs and, as Weeks admits, the decision to open an office and/or expand depends on the talent that a firm is able to bring in to service existing clients or an opportunistic hire from.

Many believe that finding the right people to anchor an Osaka office in an international law firm could be difficult, especially due to the difference in quality of life and education between, for example, Osaka and Tokyo. Other feel that the changes won't have any significant impact at all on local firms since major matters for Osaka and clients from other cities are handled out of Tokyo already.

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