Reducing Barriers in Japan | The bar

We brought together more than 30 Japanese and UK law firms for a virtual roundtable on May 23 to renew our focus on improving market access for foreign businesses in Japan.

The delegates were accompanied by Trade and Investment Director for Japan and Deputy Trade Commissioner for Northeast Asia, Darren Goff.

He presented the British government’s trade plan for Japan, which focuses on defence, decarbonisation, digital and services.

The state of the Japanese market

Delegates identified key needs in Japan as the desire to:

  • digitize
  • internationalize
  • relax restrictions
  • protect services

Japan is rapidly increasing its digital services, and with a very likely increase in exports, there is also a focus on Japan as an international financial hub.

This push is creating opportunities for complementary industries, including legal services, management consultancy and accountancy – all areas where the UK performs very well.

Financial, professional and business services dominate our exports to Japan, with legal services making up a large portion.

The Department of International Trade (DIT) team focuses on:

  • supporting UK law firms already active in Japan
  • identify opportunities for new law firms to enter
  • identify and address market access issues that can prevent UK law firms from operating and winning business

Since the signing of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2020, a great deal of work has been carried out in this area, in particular on:

Most views on the CEPA deal seek to ease barriers to market access, which is a priority for the British Embassy in Japan.

Embassy Implementation Committees will hold annual meetings, with opportunities to raise concerns and issues to get the most out of the FTA with Japan.

In addition to leading the bilateral trade policy relationship with Japan, trade policy teams coordinate activities in other CPTPP markets in Asia and the Pacific.

Membership of the CPTPP is not just a DIT objective: membership will have enormous economic and geostrategic importance.

Along with these developments, Expo 2025 is taking place in Osaka, which will be a space where eight billion people around the world will see exhibits and co-create the future Japanese society.

An online platform to share challenges and solutions from around the world will be launched, and cutting-edge technology will be shared and used to create new ideas, to help solve global problems facing humanity.

How do companies operate in Japan?

Foreign lawyers in Japan face significant registration requirements before they can practice under their home title.

On the other hand, foreign lawyers can practice with regulations or minimum requirements in England and Wales.

One of the most critical issues for foreign lawyers practicing in Japan is the requirement to reside in Japan for 180 days.

Combined with the difficulty of obtaining visas and travel restrictions – which have additional tax implications if a lawyer cannot travel within the required timeframe – this has led to recruitment difficulties.

Some recruitments have taken up to two years due to travel issues.

The number of documents required for registration as a foreign lawyer adds to the heavy regulatory burden and can make it difficult for those who wish to stay longer in Japan and contribute to the market.

Despite this, some flexibility has been exercised by Japanese authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What we do to help

We work closely with the British Embassy in Japan and the British Chambers of Commerce in Japan to:

  • identify obstacles faced by the legal profession in Japan
  • help members prioritize these issues and engage the Japanese government and regulators in finding solutions
  • promote opportunities to members interested in the market

In the meantime, we hope Japan eases its travel restrictions soon and hope to increase market access for businesses in the future.

We have a productive relationship with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) and the Tokyo Dai Ichi Bar Association.

We also have a close relationship with the UK Ministry of Justice, who work with us to encourage the internationalization of legal services around the world.

If you would like to get involved in our work in Japan, email [email protected]