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White & Case's associated Tokyo firm is losing its senior Japanese partner to banking giant Citibank.
Hisao Hirose is senior Japanese partner at Kandabashi Law Offices, which became the associated firm of White & Case in 1995. But he is quitting the firm to become general counsel for Japan at Citibank.
Hirose is one of the first senior Japanese lawyers to leave private practice for an in-house role.
White & Case Tokyo senior partner Robert Grondine says the firm is disappointed Hirose decided to leave.
But he adds: "We believe that this position will give him a unique opportunity to influence the direction and substance of the Japanese financial markets and regulatory practices in this time of very rapid change.
"We expect he will become a very active client and will continue working with us on Citibank's challenging projects."
Citigroup, which is the parent company of Citibank, is one of the world's largest financial services providers with operations in 100 countries.
Arthur de Graffenried, Citigroup's country representative, says: "We are extremely pleased to have a professional of Hirose's calibre join us as general counsel. All of our businesses continue to grow at a rapid pace and Hirose's addition to our team will help us achieve our goals in many areas."
Hirose has practised in Tokyo for 21 years and specialises in asset finance, particularly complex cross-border leasing and structured finance transactions.
White & Case first opened in Japan in 1987. Hirose joined in 1998 after merging his own firm, which he formed in 1992, with White & Case-Kandabashi Law Offices.
Currently non-domestic firms that want to operate in the region can only do so through joint enterprises.
But Grondine says that Hirose's new role could make him "a strong proponent for further liberalisation allowing direct partnership by Japanese lawyers as partners and associates in international law firms".
White & Case-Kandabashi Law Offices has 55 legal professionals and is one of the largest operations in Japan. White & Case Tokyo executive partner Gary Thomas confirms a replacement for Hirose is currently being sought.