This Special Report covers 28 practice areas.

This will search all specialists in Japan.

Japan In Brief

Early 2017 saw the Japanese government revise its assessment of the nation’s economic performance. The re-evaluation foresees the economy, the third largest in the world, enjoying a moderate recovery with positive projections for household spending and a growing demand for Japanese exports worldwide. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic programme, dubbed “Abenomics”, has so far struggled to ignite the growth so desperately needed – but has encouraged a more favourable environment for corporates in Japan.

Outbound M&A has been particularly active over the past year or so due to several factors. Negative interest policies promoting a cash surplus, the abundance of capital, relative weaknesses in certain sectors of the Japanese market and a continuing need to grow are all prompting Japanese corporates to look beyond the domestic sphere and invest abroad. As one respondent claims, “Economic growth is relatively low due to a shrinking population and therefore Japanese companies are seeking opportunities to acquire foreign businesses.” However, another respondent suggested that the pace of outbound investment would begin to slow down in the near future: “We’re going to see a shift back to Japan as the press are encouraging Japanese companies to rethink their outbound transactions and consider returning to the now-fertile domestic market.” The past year has seen heightened levels of activity from Japanese businesses, a trend reflected in the domestic legal market.

The shift towards outbound investment may have tipped the playing field towards the international firms. A respondent from one of the “Big Four” firms mentioned that large corporate entities tend to instruct global firms to handle cross-border transactions, as they prefer to work with firms that have a notable presence in their target region. While the practitioner readily admits that this can make it difficult for national firms, he does emphasise that the UK and US players have enjoyed a presence in Tokyo for many years so this form of competition is nothing new. Ultimately, the “Big Four” still enjoy a considerable share of the Japanese market – as illustrated in our research, where they stand out as the top four firms and comprise almost 40 per cent of the total listings in this edition.

The growth in commercial activity of Japanese companies abroad has fostered an increase in related disputes. With the number of Japanese companies involved in commercial arbitrations outside Japan on the rise, interviewees were also keen to stress that the number of arbitrations seated in Japan has also increased over the past few years. Historically, Japanese businesses were more likely to settle, with very few commercial disputes actually making it through to arbitration. However, increasing awareness and activity on the global stage has naturally led to acclimatisation on the part of Japanese corporates and there appears to be a growing appetite for this type of alternative dispute resolution mechanism. It is therefore unsurprising that during the course of our research, arbitration practitioners were very optimistic in terms of the potential of the practice in Japan over the coming years.

Japanese firms are rarely on the other side of an inbound deal, with international clients happy to use international firms rather than local counsel. Despite Japan setting a record for overseas spending in 2012 with transactions in that year worth US$115 billion, according to a report from Deloitte, it is still known for its fairly closed-shop approach; all 10 of the country’s largest companies are originally Japanese. This speaks to the make-up of the Japanese legal market, where there remains a distinct but healthy difference between the types of work undertaken by Japan-trained lawyers at Japanese law firms and foreign-trained lawyers at international law firms.

When it comes to assessing Japan’s largest markets, life sciences and IP still dominate. IP litigation, once negligible, is growing slowly, while the area of life sciences has a more international flavour – understandable, given its nature and the desire for pharmaceuticals companies to go global. The lawyers we spoke to in Japan talked of issues similar to those occupying their counterparts in the US and Europe – namely the rise of disputes, and increasing issues of compliance and misconduct. Investigatory matters have also crept into this practice area – and, as one Japanese lawyer notes, the conviction rate for criminal cases in Japan is over 99 per cent.

Japan remains a robust legal market; the storms in its own economy are matters of inflation and growth, and do not prevent companies from doing good business – meaning lawyers still need to be on hand to facilitate transactions and consolidations, and to handle disputes. This is borne out by our picture of the national legal market: the “Big Four” firms remain unassailable in both their position at the top of the market and their market share. However, over a generation Japan has presented opportunities to foreign law firms and, despite recent attempts to pass legislation increasing the business opportunities of foreign firms being scuppered, firms such as Allen & Overy, Freshfields and White & Case continue to have a strong presence and do good work in the market. This is all brought into sharper perspective when confronted with the fact that the Japanese legal market accounts for 0.1 per cent of GDP, and that civil cases filed in district courts increased by 2.5 per cent between 2004 and 2014. With PwC launching a legal services provision in 2014, Japan may follow the lead of the US, the UK and other countries in generating a fledgling legal industry for consulting firms. It is plain to see that Japan’s legal market that is nowhere near saturation point.

Japan has demonstrated that it can weather economic storms, and that it has the dynamism to remain attractive to both national and foreign investors. Boasting some of the world’s best-known corporations and most talented lawyers, Japan’s potential to succeed is hampered only by the same problems it has always faced: a need for the reform of its legal rules and a more outward-facing economy. It is hard to advocate for such things, however, when you happen to be the world’s third-largest economy with one of the most successful business communities in the world.

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Analysis: Japan

Japan: Arbitration 2017

Arbitration remains a demonstrably growing area in Japan, with a steady increase of Japanese companies becoming involved in commercial arbitration across borders. This year, 22 practitioners based in the country have been identified as leading experts in domestic and international arbitration across an extensive range of industries and sectors.

Japan: Banking 2017

We highlight 16 leading lawyers in this chapter for their outstanding expertise in regulatory and financial banking matters. 

Japan: Banking Review 2017

Hiroo Atsumi and Yuri Suzuki

Growth Strategy 2017: Fine-Tuning Japan's Banking Act for Fintech

By Hiroo Atsumi and Yuri Suzuki of Atsumi & Sakai, Tokyo

Hiroo Atsumi and Yuri Suzuki at Atsumi & Sakai explore the recent legislative and regulatory developments affecting the fintech space in Japan. 

Japan: Business Crime Defence & Investigations 2017

This chapter identifies four leading individuals who specialise in representing companies, corporate officers and individuals involved in criminal litigation arising from their business activities. In addition practitioners will have experience in dealing with investigations, enforcement proceedings and parallel or related civil litigation, as well as advising clients on best practice and compliance with new regimes. 

Japan: Capital Markets 2017

This chapter recognises 26 leading practitioners, identified for their extensive expertise in a wide range of capital markets transactions including domestic and international debt and equity offerings and international corporate hybrid transactions.

Japan: Competition 2017

In this chapter we recognise 40 leading lawyers known for their excellent work in behavioural and non-behavioural competition law matters, regularly representing clients before the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) and the courts. 

Japan: Construction & Real Estate 2017

In this chapter, we feature 24 leading practitioners who stand out for their exceptional work representing a range of clients including owners, contractors and subcontractors in both contentious and non-contentious work in Japan and abroad. 

Japan: Corporate Immigration 2017

We feature five leading practitioners in this chapter with a proven track record of advising both domestic and international corporations on a wide range of complex immigration matters.

Japan: Corporate Tax 2017

This chapter sees seven impressive corporate tax lawyers recommended for their leading expertise in both domestic and international corporate taxation, handling advisory and contentious matters for their clients.

Japan: Energy & Natural Resources 2017

In this chapter, 13 highly regarded lawyers who focus their practice on energy and natural resources have been selected for inclusion for their skill and expertise in the global market. 

Japan: Franchise 2017

Five pre-eminent franchise lawyers are listed this year for their exceptional expertise handling franchising disputes as well as the drafting, structuring and negotiation of franchise agreements.

Japan: Government Contracts 2017

In this chapter, two leading lawyers are selected for inclusion. The featured lawyers stand out for their exceptional localised knowledge and experience working with both Japanese public authorities and contractors in relation to the drafting and structuring of procurement bids and PPP contracts, as well as disputes arising from such arrangements.

Japan: Insurance & Reinsurance 2017

Our research has identified two prominent insurance and reinsurance practitioners who are highlighted in this section for their outstanding work in the field.

Japan: IP - Litigation 2017

This year we list 35 leading names in this chapter for their expertise in intellectual property litigation, including advisory and representation clients in the highest courts in Japan.

Japan: IP - Patent Attorneys (Benrishi) 2017

In this chapter we highlight 22 Benrishi as the leading patent attorneys in Japan. Their expertise includes patent prosecution, infringement and litigation, copyright and unfair competition.

Japan: Labour & Employment 2017

Four exceptional lawyers are highlighted in this chapter for their strong expertise and experience in labour and employment issues both at the national and international level. 

Japan: Life Sciences 2017

This chapter sees 12 life sciences lawyers recognised as leading figures in the practice in Japan, with expertise in handling transactional, regulatory, patent litigation and product liability matters in the pharmaceuticals, medical devices and healthcare sectors.

Japan: Litigation 2017

This year’s research sees 16 leading litigation experts from across nine firms highlighted for their skills in complex dispute resolution matters for domestic and international companies.

Japan: M&A and Governance 2017

In this chapter we highlight 34 leading lawyers who stand out for their impressive expertise handling public and private M&A, joint ventures, private equity, and cross-border transactions, as well as advising boards of directors with respect to the most difficult and sensitive corporate disclosure, governance and policy issues.

Japan: Private Client 2017

In this chapter, two outstanding practitioners are recognised as leading private client lawyers for their work with domestic and international clients on matters relating to tax, asset structuring and inheritance.

Japan: Private Funds 2017

This chapter comprises seven leading practitioners who play a central role in the growing private funds market in Japan.

Japan: Product Liability Defence 2017

Our research this year has identified three prominent practitioners who are highlighted for their outstanding work in product liability defence.

Japan: Project Finance 2017

We feature 14 practitioners in this chapter who are highlighted for their outstanding work representing sponsors and lenders in project financing and refinancing transactions.

Japan: Restructuring & Insolvency 2017

In this chapter, we highlight seven leading restructuring and insolvency specialists who are internationally recognised for their expertise in areas such as corporate reorganisation and bankruptcy proceedings.

Japan: TMT 2017

In this section, we highlight 12 leading practitioners who are internationally renowned for their extensive knowledge and experience in media, technology and telecommunications. 

Japan: Trade & Customs 2017

In this chapter we feature five leading practitioners who stand out for their exceptional work handling international trade, WTO law, export control and customs law issues.

Japan: Transport 2017

In this chapter, we highlight 17 of the country’s leading transport lawyers. These practitioners excel in aviation and shipping law, advising clients on financing, logistics, transactions, insurance and crisis management.

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Firm Profiles: Japan

2017: Leading Firms

We list 87 law firms in this year’s edition of Who’s Who Legal: Japan; however, over 45 per cent of the listings in the guide are earned by lawyers from just six standout national firms, with the “Big Four” - Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu, Anderson Mori & Tomotsune, Nishimura & Asahi and Mori Hamada & Matsumoto - dominating the research. Here we profile the individual outfits leading the Japanese legal market.

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