Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has shut down its underperforming Tokyo office, bringing to an end the US firm's 18-year local presence in Japan.
The one partner, five fee-earner office closed officially at the end of April. All of the firm's lawyers have left, with 56-year-old corporate partner Tsunemasa Terai retiring from Cleary to focus full time on academia.
The move is the first time Cleary has closed an overseas offices and coincides with an upturn in the Japanese economy.
Cleary presiding partner Mark Walker said the firm had been "frustrated" in its inability to grow the office "to meet internal objectives". Instead, the firm has been servicing the Japanese market from outside the country, primarily from the US and its other Asian offices.
"Long term, just having a few guys in a market is not a model that interests us," Walker said. "The retirement of Tsunemasa is not the reason we're closing the office, but was an added complication."
Cleary's Japanese outpost, which opened in 1987 and which counted Sony among its clients, handled a mixture of inbound investment work and international corporate and finance work. Terai joined in 1981, becoming a partner in 1990.
The news comes as Cleary focuses its attention on its new office in Beijing, which is due to open formally later this month. The firm also has a six-partner office in Hong Kong.