6 ASIAN LEGAL BUSINESS – AUGUST 2023 WWW.LEGALBUSINESSONLINE.COM BRI EFS BRANDING, PERSONNEL, BD CHALLENGES AWAIT JAPANESE FIRMS LOOKING OVERSEAS Japanese law firms are now becoming a global force to be reckoned with. While most Big Four firms already have a strong presence in other Asian countries, including many locations within the ASEAN region, others are looking even further afield. Nishimura & Asahi, Japan’s largest law firm, already has offices in Germany and the U.S., while Anderson Mori & Tomotsune and Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu have outpost in London and New York, respectively. Even outside the Big Four, firms are not shy about their overseas ambitions. In March, TMI Associates set up shop in Paris, while Miura & Partners announced new offices in London and San Francisco, aspiring to be a “global partner” for their clients. Masayuki Atsumi, a partner at Miura & Partners, tells ALB that his firm’s long-term is to become a “truly international law firm”. In addition, Ken Shimono, a partner at TMI Associates, would like to see his firm to grow in size and capacity to compete with the established U.S. and UK firms in overseas markets. These overseas forays launched by Japanese domestic legal giants might have been backed by strategic visions, ample resources, and qualified talents. But they could also face multiple challenges beginning with the most basic one, that they do not appear as “international” in the way major UK and U.S. law firms are. Isaac Uchiyama, head of business development and operations at EY Law Japan, perceives an uphill battle for these Japanese outlets to have the same impact as their Westernheadquartered counterparts in foreign markets. “The reason U.S. and UK firms have been the most successful at expanding overseas has much to do with the fact that cross-border business contracts are mostly governed by English or New York law as international standard. Therefore, firms with names that sound traditionally British or American don’t look out of place and are not assumed to have limited capability in a global legal marketplace,” explains Uchiyama. “However, a Japanese firm with a distinctly Japanese name will not easily conjure the assumption that it has international capability as a law firm even if they have a U.S., UK or local law qualified lawyer in their new market office,” he adds, which is the case of many internationally expanding Japanese firms. For instance, Miura & Partners’ U.S. operations are headed by corporate partner Naomi Koshi, a Harvard graduate admitted in both New York and California. Atsumi, who is qualified as a solicitor in England & Wales, is co-leading the firm’s UK office. While the problem of perception could considerably hinder some Japanese firms’ overseas expansions, one other issue is the deepening mismatch between a ballooning vision and a tightening budget. “An international law firm has ‘fullservice capability’ on the ground in the foreign jurisdiction. This means, for example, in Japan, there is a team of locally qualified lawyers in addition to Japanese bengoshi (lawyer) and maybe a UK or U.S.-qualified lawyer as well. Such an investment in necessary talent Image: metamorworks/