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Turning Japanese: Debevoise & Plimpton launches in Tokyo in first new outpost in a decade

With Japan’s ageing population and cheap debt forcing its biggest corporates to look outside the country for growth, Debevoise & Plimpton has become the latest US law firm to launch in Tokyo.

Boosted by the availability of cheap debt, Japanese corporates have become more acquisitive over recent years as they hunt growth, often looking to Europe for mergers and acquisitions. Debevoise & Plimpton’s new office will be centred on corporate work, with partner Christopher Smeall and counsel Naomi Aoyama relocating from New York to lead the office.

The Tokyo launch is Debevoise’s first international expansion in over a decade, with the last office opened in Shanghai in 2002. Tokyo will be its ninth global office.

The opening better positions Debevoise to take advantage of rising M&A volume from Japan into Europe. Japanese corporates spent a whopping $90.49bn on overseas acquisitions last year, up nearly 70% on 2014, according to data from Dealogic. Among those deals were Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company’s £3.5bn deal for UK insurer Amlin and media company Nikkei’s £844m purchase of the Financial Times.

Debevoise presiding partner Michael Blair said the launch will ‘allow us to provide even better support and service to our clients located in Japan or engaged in matters relating to Japan’.

The move follows a growing wave of law firm investment in Tokyo, with US rivals Greenberg Traurig and King & Spalding launching in Japan last year. Squire Patton Boggs has bolstered its presence in Tokyo by tying up with Japanese corporate boutique Mamiya Law Offices (MLO) around 18 months ago.

Smeall added: ‘Our clients in Japan and elsewhere can expect the same level of focused, dedicated and commercially sophisticated legal advice and service from our Tokyo team as they have long been receiving from Debevoise globally.’