Foreign firms in Japan struggle with local law practice

July 18, 2013 When foreign legal practices were granted the right to hire local lawyers (bengoshi) in Japan in 2005, many firms jumped at the chance, but the local practices at many of those firms has since withered, reports The American Lawyer.

The scaling back of local practice groups can be partially attributed to the ongoing effects global financial crisis and the weakness of the Japanese economy, but observers say that cultural differences and an inability to attract the best local talent also play a significant role.

Piyasena Perera, who was a partner at Allen & Overy in Tokyo between 2004 and 2011 and is now a senior foreign counsel at Japanese firm Anderson Mori & Tomotsune, said that some international firms, notably Morrison & Foerster, have managed to achieve a measure of success with their bengoshi practice. He says that MoFo’s top bengoshi, Fuyuo Mitomi, was the rare big-name Japanese lawyer willing to move to a foreign firm.

“Other places haven’t been able to attract that caliber of person,” he says.

Nishimura & Asahi partner Yoshinobu Fujimoto says Japanese lawyers are generally very loyal to their firms, and many are worried about facing cultural or language barriers at large international firms.

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