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Macfarlanes has been forced to close its Tokyo office. The firm claimed that it could not find a replacement for resident partner Julian Howard, who returns to London after a five-year stint.
Senior partner Vanni Treves said the move comes at a time when the office was enjoying its busiest year since opening in 1992. However, he said there would be "no diminution" of the firm's Japanese practice. "It's a hiccup, but does not change the emphasis of our Japanese practice," he said.
Treves explained that the firm had been open with its Japanese clients who had been "very supportive".
"The Japanese practice will continue from London," he stressed. "We have 10 lawyers in our Japanese practice including a Japanese solicitor and another fluent Japanese speaker."
Treves said that it was always understood that Howard would return after five years, but there had been problems finding a partner who met all the "right specifications".
"Japan is very far away, so it is difficult to move a family out there," he said, highlighting the problems that narrowed down the selection process. "Our Japanese practice is corporate and banking, so there is no point in sending a property partner. We are also very busy, so some of our partners are very difficult to spare."
The firm did look outside its existing partners and even hired a headhunter, but Treves said this was unsuccessful because "we are very fussy and well-known for running a very tight partnership".