Surprise move by Japanese Bar

Confusion reigns over an announcement by a leading Japanese lawyer at the IBA conference that foreign lawyers would be allowed to enter partnerships with Japanese lawyers.

A Nichibenren (the Justice Ministry and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations) review on liberalising the rules concerning foreign lawyers was completed last month, and initial reports suggested that foreign law firms would not be able to hire Japanese lawyers.

But Toshiro Nishimura, former chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations' international relations committee, announced in New Delhi last week three major changes that would affect foreign firms.

Partnerships would be permitted between foreign and Japanese lawyers in all areas of law, including litigation but excluding purely domestic matters.

The experience required by foreign lawyers to be reduced from five to three years.

Foreign firms would be allowed to advise on third country law.

Nishimura said Japan was committed to liberalisation, although “our overriding obligation is to protect the independence of the association”.

Pierre Verkhovskoy, a Paris-based Clifford Chance partner who launched the firm's Tokyo office, said he was “surprised but delighted” at the announcement.