Fear of foreign firms fuels merger that creates Japan’s largest firm

Japanese powerhouse Nishimura & Partners and Asahi Koma Law Offices are set to form the biggest law firm in the country following the firms’ shock announcement that they are to merge.

Nishimura and Asahi signed a merger agreement in principle last week (as first revealed on www.thelawyer. com, 17 April), but the name of the combined firm and the date for completion has yet to be determined.

Nishimura managing partner Akira Kosugi said: “As international law firms begin to develop a Japanese law capability, we were determined the firm’s success would be further entrenched if it could offer greater depth.”

Nishimura and Asahi also hope that the merger will help to attract more associates.

The merger marks an emerging trend among big Japanese law firms to merge with smaller firms in a bid to remain independent. A number of smaller Japanese firms are understood to be searching for local merger partners to protect against foreign merger attempts. This follows regulatory changes that have opened the door to integrated partnerships between Japanese and foreign lawyers.

One source told The Lawyer that many Japanese firms were “spooked” by Linklaters‘ capture of two of Japan’s leading bengoshi, Mitsuhiro Yasada and Akihiro Wani, along with 20 associates from domestic firm Mitsui Yasuda Wani & Maeda.

“The competition between law firms is viewed slightly differently in Japan,” the source said. “It’s not just about being the biggest law firm, but keeping and attracting associates. The big question is whether this is a precurser to more Japanese firms establishing foreign offices.”