Our business development mission to Tokyo

Law Society business development mission to Tokyo

Together with the Dai Ichi Tokyo Bar Association, we gave our law firms the chance to gain a better understanding of the Japanese legal services market and provide an insight into the opportunities available during our two-day business development mission in February 2020.

The mission was an opportunity to help our members build business connections and understand the market.

We also engaged with the British Embassy in Tokyo, our members in the market and relevant stakeholders ahead of trade discussions between the Japan and UK governments.

What we did

Five members from firms across England and Wales joined our business development mission in February.

This was a longstanding commitment under our Friendship Agreement with the Dai Ichi Tokyo Bar Association, one of the three Tokyo Bar associations.

The Dai Ichi Tokyo Bar Association’s International Exchange Committee was established in August 2003 to help its members gain international experience, respond to international issues and serve across borders as international contributors in the legal field.

We've worked closely with the committee in providing these opportunities for our members.

The mission programme included visits to the national regulatory body, the Japan Federation of Bar Association (JFBA) and the Tokyo and Japan Chambers of Commerce, where our members received an update on developments in the market.

Delegates also joined a roundtable at the British Embassy in Tokyo with members operating in the market to discuss practice in Japan.

The delegation also met with law firms:

  • YUASA and HARA – one of the oldest and largest law firms in Japan
  • Nagashima, Ohno & Tsunematsu – a leading law firm and one of the foremost provider of international and commercial legal services in Japan
  • Atsumi & Sakai – the first Japanese law firm to create a foreign law joint venture

The delegation also had a private meeting with Justice Kohichi Kusano. Justice Kusano has been a justice of the Supreme Court since February 2019 and has held various positions as lecturer and visiting professor at Universities in Tokyo, Kyoto and Harvard Law School.

As part of the joint programme, we held a seminar with the Dai Ichi Tokyo Bar Association to showcase the skills of our delegation and to discuss current issues facing lawyers in practice in Japan.

The event was held with the Dai Ichi Tokyo Bar Association and co-hosted by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce. It was attended by over 50 Japanese lawyers.

Members of our delegation and a member based in Tokyo spoke at the seminar on topics such as international arbitration, artificial intelligence and immigration law.

The mission was described as "a good opportunity to give us an understanding of the Japanese legal market and its main players".

Japan market insight

Japan is the high-tech powerhouse economy of Asia and the third largest economy in the world. It's considered a competitive and stable business market with an increasingly globalised outlook.

Further, our members, the UK government, and the Law Society of England and Wales recognise that economic power is increasingly shifting East. Japan and the UK benefit from a strong relationship and we know that the future Japan-UK bilateral trading relationship is a priority for the UK government.

Japan and the UK governments have announced their decision to negotiate a new bilateral agreement with Japan. We understand these discussions will use the existing EU agreement as a base, looking for opportunities to enhance areas of mutual interest, with legal services one of the six priority areas in these discussions.

We'll continue to work with our members and counterparts in Japan, including the JFBA and Dai Ichi Tokyo Bar Association, about how we can ease regulatory barriers across both our professions in light of these developments.

We also learnt that the proposed amendments to the Act on Special Measures concerning the Handling of Legal Services by Foreign Lawyers (Foreign Lawyers Act) is expected to pass the Diet later this year. These amendments will:

  • lessen overseas experience requirements for foreign registered lawyers
  • facilitate joint venture foreign firms opening subsequent branches
  • encourage international arbitration in Japan

The Fourteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice will be held in Kyoto.

What they said

Positive feedback has been received from our delegates:

  • “The seminar itself was very positive and it was greatly appreciated to be given such a platform“ [joint seminar]
  • “These types of firms have the greatest potential to be referrers and therefore of most benefit to members” [meeting with Japanese law firm]
  • “Good to understand the difficulties they have also had in registering foreign lawyers and that the issue applies not just to foreign law firms in the region. Very open discussion” [meeting with Japanese law firm]
  • “It is really [a] rare opportunity to be able to meet Justice, and able to listen to his views and personal stories” [meeting with justice Kusano]
  • “This was one of the highlights of the trade mission. Justice Kusano spent more than two full hours exchanging with us about the Japanese judicial system in his office and was keen to speak with every members of the mission” [meeting with justice Kusano]
  • “Very useful to glean the current status re: amendment to the legislation governing foreign lawyer registration in Japan. It was also good to hear from various stake holders in the region about the difficulties they have experienced in registering foreign lawyers” [roundtable with members based in Tokyo]
  • “The various meetings arranged were of the highest calibre. There is not a single meeting that felt unnecessary"

We wish to thank the delegates for their contribution to our mission and our colleagues in Japan – in particular, the Dai Ichi Tokyo Bar Association – for their assistance in arranging this event.

We look forward to receiving a reciprocal visit.