Asia Business Law Journal reveals Japan’s best private practice lawyers. Putro Harnowo reports
To be one of Japan’s top lawyers, you need to “understand the importance of a close dialogue with the client, to learn about the client’s needs”, says Sergey Milanov, a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner in Moscow, when describing Akira Ehira, a partner at Mori Hamada & Matsumoto. “[Ehira has] excellent skills in the field of finance law.”
Nigel Collins, a partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain in the UK, says his top lawyer has “excellent commercial acumen, client service levels and is building a talented boutique law firm”, describing Mangyo Kinoshita, the founding partner of Southgate.
Comments such as these, submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by the clients of Japanese lawyers, suggest that they not only look for lawyers with a wealth of knowledge and practical advice on legal affairs, but also those who have a proactive attitude towards difficult tasks when handling their clients’ demands.
In addition, most international clients seek out Japanese lawyers who have extensive experience and understanding of the Asian market, as the integral nature of the country’s expansion in the region through the auto, electronics and banking industries makes it imperative for lawyers to acquire such knowledge.
‘ABENOMICS’ AND THE PANDEMIC
Japan is the third-largest economy in the world, after the US and China, with a US$5.15 trillion GDP. It also ranks third in the country breakdown of the most Global 500 companies in the Fortune 2019 edition, with 52 companies across a broad range of industries making it to the list.
Since 2012, so-called “Abenomics” – the economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – has transformed the country’s macroeconomic management based on bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal policy and structural reform to promote private investment. Although growth is visible in many measures of the economy, the debate to assess this policy has begun, as Abe’s term will end in autumn 2021.
The covid-19 pandemic has severely hit the auto and other industries as demand falls globally. The government has provided a stimulus package to battle the financial fallout, but this is bound to hit hard for businesses and enterprises as they navigate the legal landscape in the near future.
Against this backdrop, Asia Business Law Journal presents its A-list of the top 100 lawyers (including foreign legal consultants/advisers/counsel) practising in Japan (see the list of all 100 lawyers and the key practice areas for which they are endorsed). The list is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel based in Japan and elsewhere, and Japan-focused partners at international law firms based outside the country.
Most of the A-list lawyers are located in Tokyo, as the centre of culture, finance and government, as well as the country’s largest major economic zone. This may reflect that the finest lawyers are well placed in the capital to have their ear to the ground with regard to developments among the financial and sector-specific regulators, as well as within business centres where various international companies, universities and research institutions are headquartered.
As would be expected, the A-list comprises the heads of many of Japan’s top law firms, as well as talented practitioners at several smaller and specialist firms. They include: Toshiyuki Arai, the chair of Paul Hastings’ Tokyo office; Hiroo Atsumi, the founding partner of Atsumi & Sakai; Yoshiki Hasegawa, the president of Soei Patent & Law Firm; Kenji Hashidate, the managing partner at Hashidate Law Office; Masaki Hosaka, managing partner at Nishimura & Asahi; Masahisa Ikeda, the Asia regional managing partner and head of Shearman & Sterling’s Tokyo office; Masakazu Iwakura, a senior partner at TMI Associates; Mangyo Kinoshita, the founding partner of Southgate; Yoshiko Koizumi, a senior partner at City-Yuwa Partners; Hideki Kojima, a managing partner at Kojima Law Offices; Eiichiro Kubota, founder and managing partner at Kubota; Shiro Kuniya, managing partner at Oh-Ebashi LPC & Partners; Eiji Masuda, founder and managing partner at Masuda & Partners; Seiji Ohno, managing partner at Ohno & Partners; Fumihide Sugimoto, managing partner at Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu; Tasuku Matsuo, a senior partner at Matsuo & Kosugi; Yoshitaka Sonoda, co-founder and managing partner at Sonoda & Kobayashi; Kentaro Uryu, managing partner at Uryu & Itoga; and Jun Usami, co-head of corporate/M&A practice of White & Case.
ACCOLADES FROM CLIENTS
Mori Hamada & Matsumoto’s banking and finance lawyer, Akira Ehira, received many accolades from his clients.
“Akira Ehira is widely knowledgeable in the field of finance and is the first choice to consult when I have a problem with my work,” says Motomasa Fujisawa, a chief manager of Resona Bank in Japan. “The variety of advice he provides always exceeds my expectations.”
“[Ehira has] a wealth of knowledge and calm analysis in financial legal affairs, and appropriate advice for practical application,” says a managing director of a Swiss private bank who chose to remain anonymous.
“Skilled in communication with clients and overseas offices,” adds Jumpei Ishii, a manager at YKK AP in Japan, when describing Ehira’s colleague, Mugi Sekido. “The claim or evidence analysis is accurate and scheduling is also appropriate.”
Karl Pires, a partner at Shearman & Sterling in Japan, recommends Southgate’s Mangyo Kinoshita. “Mangyo is one of the leading M&A lawyers in Japan, particularly for deals involving venture capital and startup companies in the technology sector.”
Sayaka Nagaoka, in-house lawyer at TOTO in Japan, has this to say about Akira Inoue of Baker McKenzie: “While our head office is not located in Tokyo, he often visited our office and taught us about a wide variety of laws in Japan and overseas. He also taught us about the legal fee system in big law firms, and how to consult with lawyers practically.”
A-LIST WOMEN LAWYERS
Despite the strict gender-biased tradition, more and more women are taking senior positions in companies and the situation is more or less the same in Japanese law firms. According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, there were 8,031 female lawyers in Japan as of 1 June, or 19% of the country’s 42,170 lawyers. Two decades ago, the proportion was about 12%.
Not to be outshone by their male peers, 13 out of the top 100 Japanese lawyers are women. A portion of them are the leading partners in their firms such as: Reiko Sakimura, co-managing partner at Clifford Chance, who specializes in international capital markets; Rika Beppu, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs and the founding member and chair of networking platform Women in Law Japan; Satoko Kuwabara, co-founding partner of Gaien Partners; Yoshiko Koizumi, a senior partner at City-Yuwa Partners; and Miho Niunoya, Yuri Suzuki and Setsuko Yufu, senior partners at Atsumi & Sakai.
COMPILING THE A-LIST
The A-list is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. For this, we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in Japan and around the world, as well as Japan-focused partners at international law firms outside of the country, and asked them to nominate private-practice lawyers including foreign legal consultants, advisers and counsel for the list of Japan’s top 100 lawyers.
Nominations were received from professionals at a wide range of Japanese and international companies, law firms and other organizations, including: Mitsubishi Chemical, Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation, Ezaki Glico, GSMH Law Offices, Citi, the Tokyo Star Bank, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Resona Bank, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, Panasonic, LOD Law, Ram & Rama, Angel Playingcards, Khaitan & Co, TOTO, DIC Corporation, NOF Corporation, Bayer Holding, Nippon Steel Trading, YKK AP and many more.
The final list reflects the nominations received combined with Asia Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 30 years of collective experience in documenting and analysing Japan’s legal market. All Japanese private practice lawyers were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry.
The names and photographs of all 100 A-list lawyers are published here. In addition, each A-list lawyer was given the opportunity to include their biography and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged.
It is important to note that while the compilation of the A-list was based solely on independent editorial research, the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers and the content has not been independently verified by Asia Business Law Journal.