US firm K&L Gates has quintupled its Tokyo headcount from the same time last year, as ten lawyers from Clifford Chance – the largest group of Japanese lawyers to move en masse between international players in Tokyo – joins the firm.
Three partners, four counsels and three associates have left Clifford Chance amid disagreements over planned structural changes as it reorganizes its Japan practice. The Magic Circle firm will integrate the local alliance firm into its main partnership. The move has prompted two original Tanaka & Takahashi partners (who joined the Clifford Chance-Tanaka & Akira joint venture in 2001 with a four lawyer team) – Keiji Isaji and Atsushi Yamashita – to leave. A third partner, corporate specialist Naoki Watanabe has also joined the duo. Following the departures, Clifford Chance will have nine partners remaining.
“The partners joining our practice have been practicing together for over 20 years including having been at Clifford Chance for the last 10 years,” K&L Gates Tokyo co-founding partner Ryan Dwyer said. “Discussions with the group were ongoing for some time. It came to a point for them where a call to stay or move on needed to be made – and they decided that a US firm with truly global reach would suit their current client-base and practices better.”
As a result of these changes, a number of lawyers and partners have decided to leave. Each has a made valuable contribution to Clifford Chance in their time and we wish them well with their future careers.
A spokeswoman from Clifford Chance confirmed that the firm's Tokyo office was restructuring its practice, with the view that groundwork needs to be laid for the future. "The Tokyo office and our wider Japanese practice is a critical part of our expanding Asia Pacific operations and we wanted to ensure that we had the right foundations for future growth, she said. "We retain a talented team of lawyers led by nine partners – one of the largest international partner teams in Japan - and expect to announce new additions in the near future."
According to K&L Gates partner Robert Melson, K&L Gates' strong footprint in the US with 23 offices coupled with its extensive presence in Europe and Asia played a large part in their decision to move.
In commenting on the differences between UK and US law firms, Melson believed staffing decisions in terms of expatriate packages and secondments differ with the two models. “We take a more localized approach with our foreign partners in our offices in Asia, such as myself, all intending to stay in such offices for the duration of their careers." Melson noted that many UK law firms tend to rotate foreign partners from London through their offices in Asia every couple of years, especially those in management roles. Melson believes that clients in Asia prefer the continuity of service provided by the K&L Gates model.
Dwyer believes the Tokyo office has reached critical mass, but has not ruled out further growth.”With seven partners we are now able to practice as a full service office. We still hope to expand in the future.”ALB
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