Baker & McKenzie has been granted regulatory approval by the Ministry of Justice to operate as a foreign law firm under its own name in Japan, while continuing a relationship with its former joint venture Tokyo Aoyama.
The firm has had a presence in Japan since 1970 when it opened an office and shared a building with close Japanese associates which formed a separate firm, Tokyo Aoyama.
As a domestic firm with Japanese partners Tokyo Aoyama is allowed to practise domestic law, and continued to do so after the Baker & McKenzie office was forced to close in 1979 when the Japanese Federation Of Bar Associations (Nichibenren) managed to ban continuing relationships between domestic and foreign law firms.
It has been suggested that Nichibenren regarded Tokyo Aoyama as a way for Baker & McKenzie to get round the domestic restrictions and operate in Japan.
In 1986 the rules were changed to allow foreign lawyers to practise domestic law subject to restrictions preventing partnership in domestic firms. Thus Baker & McKenzie has only been able to use senior staff as visiting associates to the Japanese firm.
Hugh Stewart, partner in charge of the Japanese practice in London, said that the granting of approval gives Baker & McKenzie the “best of both worlds” with the retention of the domestic firm.
But he pointed out that the firm “works within the restrictions” on relationships between foreign and domestic firms.
Stewart added that although the firm has awaited approval for a long time the delay is simply an example of how slowly matters move in Japan when the authorities are faced with a “unique situation”.
He said that the firm is looking to expand its Japanese operation and is recruiting lawyers.