A report on Higashimachi’s activities for 2011

By Yoshihiro Uetani*

Happy New Year!

I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation for your continued patronage.

At the beginning of last year, our second year as a corporation, we welcomed Mr. Kazuhiro Watanabe, Ms. Natsuki Taira and Mr. Takuya Murao into our office. With 16 lawyers at our Kobe office, 4 in Tokyo and 2 in Imabari, we have been working to provide a more extensive and flexible legal service over a wider area.

Dr. Takashi Maruta, who joined us six years ago and was instrumental in the advancement of office’s globalization initiative, has left us to set up his own private practice. We intend to continue to enjoy his cooperation with us in our office’s international affairs.

Incidentally, work at our Tokyo office was greatly affected by the Tohoku earthquake of March 11 last year. However, as we are a law office which suffered in the Hanshin earthquake of 1995, we posted earthquake-related column pieces on our website and began offering legal consultations, via email, to English-speaking foreign nationals right after the earthquake occurred – using our office’s experience and knowledge to provide what little assistance we could to those affected by the disaster. Furthermore, some of our young associates travelled to the Tohoku area to provide legal consultations, and Mr. Yousuke Tanaka and I contributed articles and gave lectures relating to earthquake disasters, etc. Mr. Hirotaka Nakura and Mr. Makoto Matsumiya served as vice-chairmen of the Hyogo Bar Association’s Disaster Recovery Assistance Committee, and were involved in the development of legislative proposals, through the Bar Association. Our office intends to continue to offer some form of assistance throughout the ongoing recovery process.

This was the state of affairs in which we found ourselves; however, we have continued to place much emphasis on continued sharing of knowledge, and last year too, our lawyers actively attended lectures and study groups, on a variety of subjects, held in Tokyo, etc. Upon their return, they are obliged to report back to their colleagues on what they have learnt, in feedback sessions. This system promotes the sharing of knowledge among our lawyers.

Furthermore, we also continued with study groups within our office, in areas such as internal control systems. We also held maritime law study groups, inviting specialists from overseas. In early-morning study groups, held once a month, our lawyers shared any knowledge gained during the course of the cases they were handling and discussed how to solve any issues that had arisen. Lastly, we continued to hold weekly case meetings, were we studied the latest precedents. Some of our lawyers continue to take weekly lessons to improve their English or Chinese language skills.

In order to become able to better deal with rapid globalization, Mr. Yousuke Tanaka, Mr. Makoto Matsumiya and I attended the IPBA (INTER-PACIFIC BAR ASSOCIATION) conference held in Kyoto in April. Mr. Nobuhiro Kotou was at a New York law office for a few weeks in May for short-term training, Mr. Makoto Matsumiya went to Boston to take part in training sessions on American patent law, held by an American law firm, and Mr. Shohei Tezuka is currently in London studying Maritime Law at University College London.

Continuing on from the year before, I myself visited various offices around the world for the purposes of deepening our office’s relationships with them – starting out with a visit to law firms in New York in May, then a London law office in July with Mr. Tanaka, a Honolulu law office in October, and finally a Shanghai law office in November with Mr Fukumoto. Ms. Zhang Li Xia, who passed the Chinese bar examination the year before last, last year trained at a Shanghai law firm in order to obtain her legal qualifications.

Furthermore, the 25th and final lecture of the “Cast/Higashimachi Global Corporate Legal Affairs Course”, at Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University Law School, jointly funded by our office and Cast Group was held in April. This coincided with the establishment of the “Japan Business Federation Advanced Course in Corporate Legal Affairs”, run by the Japan Business Federation, at the same university.

As part of our commitment to the dissemination information to our clients, we have continued to update the column and topics sections of our website about three times a month. Our “Quality Control Department” has been using questionnaires to follow up on our consultations and handling of cases. We have held our 75th “Higashimachi Law Office Seminar”. We also held our 32nd biannual “Higashimachi Law Office Golf Tournament”, held at Hirono Golf Club and Higashi Hirono Golf Club.

Additionally, together with holding, or jointly holding, maritime seminars, we have had regular study groups featuring outside lawyers and practitioners on British maritime law and American patent law. We have also actively been in charge of lectures and discussion panels at IPBA, the Japan Association for the Promotion of CSR and The Japan Shipping Exchange. We have been actively engaged in educational activities at graduate schools and universities, with several of our lawyers having served as part-time instructors or tutors at Kwansei Gakuin University, the University of Hyogo and Kobe University.

This year, at 21 lawyers, we have one fewer members than last year; however, for the present, we have four lawyers at our Tokyo office – Messrs Yousuke Tanaka, Takashi Aihara, Kazuhiro Watanabe and Masayuki Kinoshita – and two assigned to our Imabari branch – Mr. Sei’ichi Nishikawa, who transferred from our Kobe office, and Mr. Shohei Tezuka (currently studying in London). Our lawyers in Kobe can assist those based in Tokyo and Imabari where necessary, and they can collaborate easily via our video conferencing system, whenever the occasion demands.

Several large-scale natural disasters have been occurring around the world, and there is global political and economic uncertainty; however, on the other hand, I can sense something of a ground swell towards a new age. At such a historical turning point, in order to be able to appreciate the values of the new age and fulfill its role as a law office, this year, as we approach our third year as a corporation, we reaffirm our philosophy and as ever, as a leading general law office, capable of handling the increasingly sophisticated and diverse legal needs of our clients appropriately and swiftly, we aim to continue to be:

  1. A Law Office which functions as an organization, rather than simply as a group of lawyers.
  2. A Law Office capable of delivering a high-quality, professional legal product.
  3. A Law office which values the communication with its clients.

In closing, I wish like to wish you all continued business growth and happiness for the new year.

Yoshihiro Uetani
Chief Partner, Higashimachi LPC

*This is a translation of the original Japanese article