Anderson Mori & Tomotsune recently broke ground as the first Japan Big Four law firm to allow foreign lawyers to become equity partners. Atsutoshi Maeda, partner at the firm, recently spoke to ALB about why adaptability is critical for law firms in the country, and more broadly in the region.

ALB: Anderson Mori & Tomotsune was recently recognised as the first Japan Big Four firm to allow foreign lawyers to become equity partners after launching a foreign law joint enterprise. I’m curious to know what led to this decision, and whether this might encourage other Japanese firms to consider a similar arrangement?

MAEDA: AMT has always been the most internationalised Japanese law firm with quite a number of foreign lawyers. With the close and embedded cooperation between our Japanese and foreign lawyers we have strived to establish a unique position in the Japanese legal market. With this Foreign Law Joint Enterprise scheme, we intend to hire more skilled and experienced non-Japanese lawyers at all levels, from partners, counsel to associates who are focusing on M&A, banking, and arbitration. In order to attract these talents, we need to be able to offer partner positions to non-Japanese lawyers despite the fact that Japanese law firms are under stringent restrictions of the Lawyer’s Act and Foreign Lawyer’s Act. One of the routes to do so is to register as a Foreign Law Joint Enterprise. As of January 2021, four of our senior foreign lawyer members were made partners and we hope this will encourage our foreign lawyers as well as any other non-Japanese lawyers outside our firm who are willing to commit to the Japanese legal market to build their professional career with us. We are now opening our doors to foreign lawyers too. I believe it will be sensible for our rivals to consider this route as more and more Japanese companies are looking into globalising which will, in turn, increase the number of cross-border transactions. They will require a Japanese law firm with high-level capability of handling cross-border transaction like us. We are proud to be the first firm out of the Big Four to make this decision and we will continue to lead this trend.

ALB: On the subject of diversity, increasing the number of women in the workplace is a point of focus for many firms in Japan at present. What is your firm’s approach to achieving greater gender inclusion?

MAEDA: Yes, it is an important issue for our firm as well. In Japan where the gender equality gap widens despite global trends proves it challenging to attain the same equality ratio as our international counterparts. We are currently engaging and encouraging more diversity and inclusion of people from all backgrounds. The percentage of female partners and newly qualified female lawyers joining us has been increasing in the past few years.

In 2019, 28 percent of the newly recruited associates were women and this figure grew to 42 percent (16 out of 38) in 2020. We consistently work towards attaining a legal workforce comprised of 30 percent women and above. We offer shorter working hours and childcare and domestic help subsidy to allow more parents to retain their professional career while taking care of their family. We also expanded our Knowledge Management team, which allows us to retain many lawyers who are unable to perform the usual time-demanding legal work due to personal issues but are interested to put their expertise to good use.

ALB: In 2021 what are your priorities for the business?

MAEDA: Despite the unprecedented difficulty we all are facing, our firm is on growth track in terms of number of lawyers, revenue and geographical expansion. We now have formal associations with an Indonesian local firm in Jakarta, H&A Partners in Hong Kong, and a formal alliance with a Singapore law firm, DOP Law Corporation. We continue to grow and expand as before. The particular practice areas we are pouring our efforts on this year in conjunction with the Foreign Law Joint Enterprise are cross-border M&A, International project finance and International Arbitration this year.


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