Japanese law firms eye overseas expansion

Tokyo’s Big Four corporate law firms are eying international expansion after eschewing foreign growth for several years.

Nishimura & Asahi, Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, and Anderson Mori & Tomotsune - collectively known as the ‘Big Four’ in Tokyo - are eying overseas markets after shunning global trade for some time. Over the past 18 months each firm has opened an office in Singapore, and Nishimura, which also launched Vietnam offices in 2010, is looking to expand further in Thailand and Myanmar.

The move coincides with a broader boom in overseas investment by Japanese companies, which are looking to escape subdued growth rates at home. The cheap yen policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government - which makes acquisitions abroad more expensive - is doing little to deter these companies from moving overseas, primarily to Southeast Asia and established centres in China and Hong Kong.

Nagashima Singapore partner Yoshikazu Hasegawa told American Lawyer: “To effectively satisfy the needs of our clients we need to be in the [larger] Asia region.”

Fewer deals at home mean his sentiments are being shared across the board in Japan, and the country’s close relationship and cultural affinity with other nations in Southeast Asia is likely to give them a head start against other international firms. Japan is already the largest single source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); in 2011 it invested around $15 billion in the region, compared to $6 billion from America. It also tops the charts in most individual nations in the region, too, often by even wider gaps.

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