Twitter Logo Youtube Circle Icon LinkedIn Icon

Japan > Legal market overview > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings

Editorial

Japan's corporate culture continues to adapt to the regulatory requirements of an international market which places an unfamiliar emphasis on corporate governance and transparency, specifically with regards to disclosure obligations.

The recent reforms to Japan's employment law are one facet of this cultural shift. Prime Minister Abe's 'work style reform' restricts long working hours and seeks guarantees of equal pay for equal work, thereby improving wages for non-regular workers. Meanwhile, firms are noticing an uptick in employment disputes that increasingly revolve around harassment claims arising from allegations of abuse of power and bullying by senior team members.

Another illustration of a shifting corporate world can be found in the M&A space. Heavyweight Japanese companies such as Toshiba, Panasonic and Nissan recently illustrated their break from the tradition of only selling in situations of distress by disposing of non-core assets to foreign private equity funds which, historically, would have been a rare occurrence at best. This is one of the factors which led to a perceived uptick in inbound M&A work, another being the appeal of Japanese energy projects.

In the renewable energy space biomass and energy-from-waste prospects appear here and there, but they face too many logistical challenges to become as popular in other markets. Investors prefer to intervene in solar and offshore wind projects which currently saturate the market.

The pickup in the global oil and gas market is also noticeable in Japan where the banks – sometimes discouraged by the pressure of international environmental activism – back LNG and coal-fired plant projects with the blessing of the government. On the infrastructure side, the government's recent decision to privatise Japan's airports generated concession mandates such as the one for Kobe Airport for a handful of domestic and international law firms.

Where there are cross-border transactions there tends to be international dispute resolution work. This also plays a partial role in the 'tightening up' of the local corporate environment. Japanese companies are beginning to become more comfortable using litigation and international arbitration as legitimate business tools. This is mirrored by the government's eagerness to turn Tokyo into a top seat for international arbitration. 'Too little, too late', commented one partner who believed the state's efforts would not be able to trump the established popularity of Hong Kong and Singapore for such matters.

International law firms like Herbert Smith Freehills, King & Spalding, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, and Linklaters , along with Japan's 'Big Four' – Anderson Mori & Tomotsune, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu, and Nishimura & Asahi – find strong work highlights in the project and energy space where construction, contract and a variety of other disputes arise from the development of assets. And with several significant M&A deals in the pharmaceutical and medical devices space, both Japanese and international firms have the opportunity to showcase impressive intellectual property litigation capabilities.

The antitrust space, however, is comparatively less busy. The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) has reportedly been noticeably passive on the cross-border front in past months but has made a point of announcing its resilience in attacking domestic cartels, particularly in the technology and electronics sector. This was clear in its recent move on Apple and Amazon. The longstanding landmark 'autoparts cartel' case has come to a standstill at the time of writing but the success enjoyed by one defendant as a result of its assertive stance against the US Department of Justice leads some to anticipate a change in attitude by other defendants.

Japan is no stranger to the host of legal questions that come with the 'ink stain' spread of new technologies across practice areas and lawyers are finding more and more demand for GDPR and data privacy expertise. Banking and financial experts, especially, are finding themselves exposed to such questions with the gradual introduction of innovative fintech projects in Japan. On the traditional banking front, the 'Big Four' still dominate the scene, leaving the large international firms to compete for leveraged financing deals such as Bain Capital's acquisition of Toshiba's memory flash business. As these are still scarce, firms pitch for more consistent work streams such as asset financing in the shipping and aviation sectors or project financing in the booming projects and energy sector.

Real estate financing also remains reliable in Tokyo's thriving market. Ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japanese lawyers are optimistic that the nation's capital will – like London – be an exception to the 'Olympic rule' which stipulates that real estate markets tend to slump in the years before and after the games. However, some confessed to fears of the bubble popping. Although high prices mean there is little transactional work, foreign investors nevertheless still see opportunities in the leisure and hospitality space. Low interest rates also make the J-REIT market a relatively doubtful affair but it remains stable at the time of writing.

International comparative guides

Giving the in-house community greater insight to the law and regulations in different jurisdictions.

Select Practice Area

Tokyo Anti-Corruption Forum 2018

  • China and Hong Kong GC Powerlist

    In May, The Legal 500 and GC Magazine in partnership with Morrison & Foerster co-hosted the first in a series of Anti-Corruption Forums set to take place across Asia. Held exclusively for senior in-house counsel, the event brought together 25 leading general counsel, heads of legal and heads of compliance from across Japan to discuss current anti-corruption trends and share best practices to mitigate emerging risks.

    Tokyo Anti-Corruption Forum 2018

Press releases

The latest news direct from law firms. If you would like to submit press releases for your firm, send an email request to

Legal Developments in Japan

Legal Developments and updates from the leading lawyers in each jurisdiction. To contribute, send an email request to
  • Taking control of a Japanese publicly listed company:

    Introductory notes for successfully completing an M&A
  • Yuasa and Hara Business Law News

    Contents of the Issue Law on liability for breach of contract Review on the amendment to the cabinet office order on Corporate Disclosure
  • NEW WHITE COLLAR CRIME BILL

    The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter (“the Minister”), has published the Criminal Justice Bill 2011 (“the Bill”). The main purpose of the Bill is stated to be “…to amend the criminal law to improve certain procedural matters and strengthen Garda investigative powers. The intention is that such improvements will assist in reducing the delays associated with the investigation and prosecution of complex crime, in particular white collar crime.”
  • Japan: New legislative framework for Sukuk

    The new framework passed in May 2011 will provide a solid legal platform for issuing Sukuk Ijarah under Japanese law. NAOKI ISHIKAWA highlights key legal structures and tax treatment in respect of the anticipated Sukuk issuances in Japan.
  • Yakult Bottle Acquired Distinctiveness

    Do you know about Yakult's delicious lactic acid drink which is contained in a small bottle? Yakult's lactic acid drink (hereafter referred to as "Yakult drink") is the most famous lactic acid drink in Japan and today is also being sold in many countries around the world. When you are enjoying Yakult drink, please keep in mind the case mentioned below.
  • Tax: Japan: International Joint Ventures

    Tax on international joint ventures. Country Q&A (Japan).
  • Japan: Recent Developments in Practice and Law

    The successful closing of two Islamic fi nance transactions which was announced in July 2010 by Nomura Holdings have paved a concrete path for Japanese corporations to consider overseas Islamic fi nance markets for their fund raising activities. The fi rst transaction was in Asia for the issuance of Sukuk Ijarah and the second was in the Middle East for the establishment of a Commodity Murabahah facility (Nomura Deals).
  • Renewable energy takes off in Japan

    Like many other countries, Japan has decided to reform its renewable energy (RE) policy, to dramatically increase the use of renewable energy. The core policy mechanism is a feed-in tariff (FIT). This chapter summarises the contemplated Japanese FIT and its practical impact on existing and future investment in this sector, providing an overview of:
  • Licensing - 2010

    Q & A on Licensing in Japan 
  • Law on the Civil Jurisdiction of Japanese Courts over Foreign Countries, etc.

    The Law has been enacted to clarify the scope of application of the civil jurisdiction of Japanese courts over foreign countries, etc., and set exceptions to civil preocedings involving foreign countries, etc., based on the United Nations Convention on the Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their property (UN Convention on Immunities) (see Article 1). 

Press Releases worldwide

The latest news direct from law firms. If you would like to submit press releases for your firm, send an email request to