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Following an extensive nomination process, Asia Business Law Journal unveils the top performers of Japan’s legal profession. Lim Miran and Nguyen Yen report

Since fully reopening last year, Japan’s economy has been experiencing moderate growth, strengthening the prospects for a long-term economic revival and expansion, and legal professionals are essential in helping Japanese companies soar at home and when venturing abroad.

Amid the headwinds created by a sluggish global economy and interest rate hikes in the US and Europe, Japanese companies are looking for growth overseas in Southeast Asia’s emerging markets, and in the US. The startup ecosystem is set to receive vigorous support from the Japanese government, which has pledged to increase annual startup investments to JPY10 trillion (USD69.5 billion) by 2027.

The country’s legal sector is also adapting to align with the evolving business landscape. In April, the parliament approved a landmark amendment to Japan’s Arbitration Act, marking the first major revision in two decades. Alongside this amendment, an implementing act for the Singapore Convention on Mediation was passed to enhance accessibility to Japanese courts for the enforcement of arbitration awards and settlement agreements resulting from mediation, fortifying the country’s alternative dispute resolution framework.

On finance stimulus, Japan’s tax reform package was unveiled in December 2022 and submitted to the parliament in February 2023, and encompasses measures designed to bolster the Japanese startup ecosystem. The government also plans to establish a strategic council dedicated to exploring the application and regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) in light of the rapid advancements in generative AI technology.

Against this challenging yet exciting backdrop, we present our annual A-List of the top 100 lawyers practising in Japan – including foreign legal consultants, advisers and counsel. The A-List is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel based in Japan and elsewhere, as well as Japan-focused partners at international law firms.

Nearly all of the A-List lawyers are strategically located in Tokyo, the epicentre of country’s legal and commercial activities.

Comments submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by clients suggest that they look for experienced lawyers who are not only well-versed in their respective fields but also demonstrate a client-centric approach, providing personalised attention and proactive guidance.

Strategic counsel

With extensive expertise and a deep understanding of the intricacies of business law, many lawyers in the A-List are recognised as businesses’ trusted guides in navigating the complexities of corporate transactions, financial regulations and compliance.

Akira Ehira, a partner at Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, is one of them. He is nominated by Yuka Ono, a partner at Brazilian law firm Pinheiro Neto Advogados in Sao Paulo.

“Akira Ehira has great expertise in the banking area. He is very client-oriented and assists clients to navigate through the complexity of financing and banking regulatory matters,” says Ono.

Ehira is also recommended by Hisashi Ishihara, finance manager at corporate credit card issuer Upsider in Tokyo. “Akira has a high understanding of our company at a management policy level. He is an essential partner whom we can rely on with peace of mind,” says Ishihara. “We received highly feasible advice for our negotiations that make the stakeholders understand our business intentions. As a result, we were always able to negotiate with confidence as a company.”

Hisashi IshiharaEfficient services and long-term solutions are mentioned by Ishihara as other essential elements contributing to Ehira’s success.

Ehira’s colleague, partner Katsumasa Suzuki, is praised by Takashi Unoki, senior manager of the legal department at electronic payment services developer PayPay in Tokyo.

“Katsumasa is a top-tier practitioner with particular expertise in the M&A transactions and capital markets sector,” says Unoki. “Having worked with Katsumasa and his team for several transactions, he and his team always support us with precise and useful advice. Although our requests are sometimes, or always, rushed, he and his team provide us with punctual, solution-oriented and insightful service, which is highly helpful to us.”

Keigo Kuroda, CEO at investment management solutions and real estate advisory services company Crosspath Advisors in Tokyo, recommends Baker McKenzie partner Seishi Ikeda for his outstanding performance and skill set.

“His exceptional legal skills in the real estate area that he focuses on are matched by his impressive work ethic and dedication to achieving the best possible outcomes for his clients,” says Kuroda. “In addition to his legal expertise, Ikeda is an excellent communicator who is able to explain complex legal concepts in a clear and concise manner. He is not only an outstanding lawyer, but also possesses a remarkable sense of business matching.”

Ikeda’s longstanding client for more than 10 years, Ashwin Wagh, vice president of finance at women’s apparel company Tillsonburg in Hong Kong, agrees.

“We are really fortunate to have Ikeda as our lawyer and adviser for all our group’s real estate investment matters in Japan,” says Wagh. “He is absolutely hands-on, with thorough knowledge of Japanese real estate dealings and tax matters, and under his guidance, has helped set up various holding and operating structures, and advised us on various complicated cross-border tax issues.”

For Ganesh Rao, a partner at Indian law firm Trilegal in Mumbai, King & Spalding partner Mark Davies is his go-to lawyer. “Mark is an excellent lawyer with significant knowledge commercially,” says Rao.

Keigo KurodaGaurav Wahie, a partner at Indian law firm JSA in New Delhi, also speaks highly of Davies. “Mark’s experience and knowledge ensure that he is able to anticipate issues and provide focused advice,” says Wahie. “His advice and solutions, which are commercially oriented, pragmatic and legally strong, ensure that the client achieves the objectives and is legally protected”.

Holding the torch

Japan’s legal profession boasts a cohort of esteemed senior lawyers who have dedicated their time and service to the pursuit of upholding the law, shaping the course of Japanese jurisprudence, and inspiring generations of legal professionals.

With decades of practice behind them, these seasoned lawyers have amassed a wealth of knowledge, honed their skills, and navigated the complexities of the legal landscape with finesse. Their expertise spans a multitude of legal domains. Their comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of the law enables them to provide invaluable guidance and counsel to clients, colleagues and the broader legal community.

Fumihide Sugimoto, the managing partner at Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu, has years of experience providing counsel to domestic and international clients for the issuance of securities such as debt and equity. He also offers advice on asset finance and regulatory matters related to banking and securities including capital requirements for financial institutions.

Hiroo Atsumi and Yutaka Sakai, senior partners at Atsumi & Sakai, are acknowledged as prominent finance attorneys in Japan. They possess expertise in banking, capital markets and structured or asset finance, with a track record in representing numerous significant Japanese financial institutions as well as multiple global investment banks in complex and high-value banking and finance deals.

Masakazu Iwakura, a senior partner at TMI Associates, has more than three decades of experience in M&A, general corporate, compliance, startups, insurance, international disputes, venture capital, telecoms and media, and fintech.

Seiji Ohno, managing partner at Ohno & Partners, is highly regarded for his experience in handling IP litigation and patent-related matters. He also specialises in regulatory compliance, licensing, and litigation in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Peter Frost, managing partner at Linklaters’ Tokyo office, is one of the most highly sought-after counsel in Japan, with years of experience in a wide range of debt, equity and equity-linked capital markets transactions in the Japanese market.

Reiko Sakimura and Lai Leng-Fong, co-managing partners at Clifford Chance, specialise in capital markets. Sakimura focuses on international debt and equity offerings, convertible bonds and other equity-linked securities, while Lai is an expert in structured finance instruments including receivables and other asset-backed securities.

Allen & Overy’s Tokyo and Seoul managing partner, Matthias Voss, has more than 25 years of experience advising international sponsors, project companies and financiers on their commercial and financial arrangements for complex projects, with a strong focus on renewables, natural resources and infrastructure sectors.

Rupert Burrows, Mayer Brown’s managing partner in Tokyo, is highly regarded in Japan for his experience in projects work, particularly international infrastructure projects in the energy and chemical sectors, and related corporate M&A.

George Gibson, who leads the Japanese division at Norton Rose Fulbright, specialises in the financing, acquisition, and divestment of infrastructure and energy projects. His particular focus lies in emerging markets, where he brings extensive expertise to the table.

Mangyo Kinoshita, the founding partner at Southgate, focuses on cross-border and domestic business transactions. His main areas of expertise include M&A, joint ventures, strategic alliances, private equity and venture capital. Kinoshita also frequently represents social entrepreneurs and funds, demonstrating a commitment to supporting ventures with a positive societal impact.

Ryan Goldstein, the managing partner at Quinn Emanuel’s Tokyo office, is an expert in complex corporate legal disputes and focuses on a wide range of complex litigation matters. His expertise spans areas such as patent and IP disputes, antitrust issues, class action lawsuits, product liability cases, criminal investigations, defamation claims, and contract or fraud-related disputes.

Breaking the barriers

In Japan’s historically male-dominated legal industry, a remarkable shift is taking place as talented female lawyers break through the glass ceiling and make their mark. These exceptional individuals are challenging long-held gender biases and reshaping the industry for the better.

Many women lawyers in the A-List have emerged as trailblazers, defying societal expectations and achieving remarkable success in their legal careers. Their accomplishments serve as a beacon of inspiration, opening doors for more women to enter the profession and bringing a new era of diversity and equality to Japan’s legal community.

Yuka OnoMitsue Aizawa and Mitsuko Miyagawa, partners at TMI Associates, are among these lawyers. Aizawa is highly respected as an insolvency and restructuring lawyer, renowned for her expertise in handling corporate reorganisations and civil rehabilitation cases involving global financial institutions. Miyagawa is a well-regarded IP litigator, noted for her work on a variety of cases including in relation to trademark, copyright and design matters.

Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu partners Kaoru Hattori, Miyuki Ishiguro, Yoshimi Ohara and Yuko Tamai are remarkable lawyers who have continued to inspire future generations of women lawyers to pursue their dreams, with each of them having more than 25 years of legal experience.

Hattori’s main practice areas are antitrust and competition law, merger control and international trade. Ishiguro is widely recognised for her expertise in the field of capital markets. Ohara specialises in international arbitration, international complex litigation and mediation, demonstrating a strong focus in these areas. Tamai advises on various types of corporate transactions including M&A, joint ventures and licensing.

At Nishimura & Asahi, partner Maya Ito has extensive expertise in cross-border project financing for various natural resources and power projects, as well as other infrastructure projects, while partner Asa Shinkawa has a history of advising domestic and foreign private equity firms and corporations on a broad range of M&A, corporate governance and securities law matters.

At Atsumi & Sakai, senior partner Miho Niunoya has extensive experience in handling construction projects in the energy and infrastructure sectors. Another senior partner, Setsuko Yufu, has more than 40 years of experience in cross-border transactions with extensive knowledge of EU competition law, and has acted as a board member of the European Union Studies Association in Japan.

Mori Hamada & Matsumoto partner Eriko Ozawa is an experienced lawyer in real estate, structured finance and banking, while her colleague, partner Chisako Takaya, has more than 20 years of experience in employment and labour law, cross-border transactions, M&A and dispute resolution.

Takashi UnokiJunko Suetomi, a partner at Baker McKenzie, advises clients on trade-related concerns including strategic counsel on trade remedy affairs like anti-dumping measures, countervailing duties, and import restrictions. Suetomi is also adept in customs matters, navigating export control and sanctions regulations, determining tariff treatment, and overseeing antitrust compliance.

Akiko Yamakawa, a partner at Vanguard Lawyers Tokyo, specialises in employment law, dispute resolution and financial regulatory matters. She offers employment guidance to multinational clients and her litigation background encompasses employment disputes and general commercial litigation.

Compiling the A-List

The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. To identify the top 100 lawyers in Japan, we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in Japan and around the world – as well as partners at international law firms – and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut, and why.

Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Japanese and global companies, financial institutions and law firms including AirTrunk, Bank J Safra Sarasin, Citi, Crosspath Advisors, DL & F De Saram, Deloitte Tohmatsu Financial Advisory, Deutsche Securities, Herzog Fox & Neeman, IBM Japan, JSA, Khaitan & Co, Makarim & Taira S, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Morrison & Foerster, NTT Docomo, PayPay, Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer Baratz, Pinheiro Neto Advogados, Recruit Holdings, SBI Shinsei Bank, Tillsonburg, Norton Rose Fulbright, Topaz Capital, Trilegal, Tsar & Tsai, Upsider, Victaulic and many more. Thorough editorial research followed the nomination process.

The final list reflects the nominations received combined with the Asia Business Law Journal editorial team’s extensive experience in documenting and analysing the legal market in Asia. All Japanese private practice lawyers and foreign lawyers based in the country 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 on the pages that follow. 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 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.

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