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Japan saw an increase in outbound transactions, as limited domestic growth opportunities, a strong yen and low interest rates remained prevalent factors in the market. These factors were most noticeable across the industrial and chemical, mining and utilities, technology, pharmaceutical, business services and food and beverage sectors, particularly in the first half of 2012. Another trend has been that of Japanese financial institutions purchasing Western bank assets abroad and expanding operations in Southeast Asia. Law firms have adopted different strategies to cope with the changing workflow – some international firms have downsized their bengoshi capability and are focusing only on core practice areas, while others have retained their numbers but reduced fees. Competition is fierce for mandates, particularly now that the top Japanese firms are keen to take major roles in outbound transactions.
There are new sections in the chapter this year: Labour and employment law, reflecting the increasing importance of this area of law, and Antitrust and competition law, arising from increased cartel prosecutions and greater international co-ordination of enforcement efforts. Other growth practices include international arbitration, which is an increasingly popular alternative to litigation, and international project finance and development, which has created a source of desirable work. For example, in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, LNG in particular is a key area of focus and growth.
Several recently announced mergers and associations with Australian firms are being watched closely, particularly given Australian expertise in the energy, mining and infrastructure sectors. Ashurst’s merger with Blake Dawson, the Herbert Smith Freehills’s merger, and Linklaters’ formal integrated alliance with Allens will all be under scrutiny over the coming months.
There have also been various notable partner moves across the market, including a considerable number of bengoshi partners either moving firms or establishing new enterprises – for example, former Allen & Overy Gaikokuho Kyodo Jigyo Horitsu Jimusho partner Nobuo Nakata formed his new finance firm Hibiya-Nakata. In addition, a significant number of foreign lawyers have relocated back to the US, the UK or Australia, or launched new offices across the region.