A new law coming into effect on April 1, 2005, would allow Japanese law firms to hire foreign lawyers as partners directly, without the need to establish a tokutei kyodo jigyo (joint enterprise office). This would enable them to more aggressively market their services to overseas companies looking to invest in Japan – traditionally an area of strength for multinational law firms with offices here. Having a highly-regarded foreign partner on board, a Japanese firm could build a powerful foreign team to work with its native lawyers, and thereby offer integrated legal service to their clients, both in Japan and internationally.
Negotiation, Search, Challenges
Surveying the market in the spring of 2004, Robin identified a firm that would surely benefit from the regulatory change, and approached them with a proposal that they consider hiring a senior foreign lawyer as a partner. While initially skeptical, the client came to see the value such a move could generate – especially if they were the first in the market to take advantage of the new law. They accepted the proposal and agreed to begin the search.
Robin worked closely with the client to pinpoint the qualities of a successful new hire. Excellent legal and leadership skills, naturally, but the candidate also needed to have deep knowledge of, and ties with, the Japanese legal and business community. A strong reputation was essential for credibility both in Japan and overseas. Another key element was the candidate’s willingness to market the firm, as one of their roles would be to proactively attract new business. Most of all, the client wanted a partner with passion, someone they could rely on to drive the growth of their practice for years to come.
Robin started the process by orienting the client to the challenges of the search. This was a first for the Japanese legal industry: integrating a foreign partner into a national firm required a pioneering attitude from everyone involved. Still, Robin assured the client that, with creativity, patience, and flexibility on both sides, they could overcome any hurdle.
With a clear picture of the client’s job requirements and culture, Robin began contacting potential candidates. Finding lawyers with outstanding track records was only the start. A meticulous review of each candidate’s ambitions and motivations – that is, where they were in the arc of their career and progress towards their goals – would determine success or failure in this exacting search process.
Eventually, Robin identified a wonderful candidate. In addition to meeting all the job requirements, she was excited to explore the opportunity further. Indeed, before Robin approached her, she had not believed that such a career move was even possible. The candidate entered into talks with the client and a series of negotiations followed. Having articulated each party’s expectations and concerns, Robin managed the ongoing communications between them, keeping the avenues for discussion open and cordial.
The client and the candidate came to mutually agreeable terms, and the candidate joined the firm as a partner on April 1, 2005 – the first foreign partner of a Japanese law firm in Japanese history. Shortly afterwards, when Robin spoke with both client and candidate, he was pleased to learn that the new partner had already begun to generate significant value. Fifteen years later and much to the satisfaction of all sides, she is still with the firm.
“Zensho anticipated that upcoming legal industry regulatory reforms could provide an opportunity for our firm…Their market knowledge and initiative resulted in a hire who is attracting new business we otherwise would not have had.”
Leading Domestic Law Firm
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