Outbound M&A is on the rise in Japan. 2018 was an extraordinary year, with Japanese companies spending over US$175.5 billion (the highest number in history) on acquisitions overseas. This figure includes the purchase of Shire Plc by Takeda Pharmaceutical for US$62 billion, the largest outbound acquisition in Japanese history. Forecasts for the remainder of 2019 and 2020 also look promising, as Japanese companies are aggressively seeking growth abroad. Consequently, the war for talent has intensified in Tokyo with global firms busy attracting M&A lawyers at all levels, including overseas lawyers. It is an exciting time to be a M&A lawyer in Japan and for overseas talent with an interest in growing their careers in Japan, it’s the right time to prospect the market, as opportunities are on the rise.
Another dynamic area is project development & finance. Project work is usually at the heart of global firms’ strategy in Tokyo, and a significant proportion of international lawyers working at those firms are specialised in this practice area. Modernising infrastructures and energy production/diversification are major concerns in today’s Japan, which translates into PPP/PFI and energy projects. But domestic projects, limited in size, are not necessarily what is making Japan an outstanding place for projects and finance lawyers to work. What is making Japan an amazing place to work is instead the intense activity of Japanese sponsors and lenders (commercial banks and ECAs) in large-scale overseas projects. Japan is well-known for having limited natural resources and massive energy needs (Oil & Gas in particular), that are met through developing projects abroad. As such, Japanese companies are particularly active on some of the largest energy & resources projects around the globe. For instance, Inpex was the main sponsor of the largest project financing ever in Australia, the 34 billion USD Ichtys LNG project, which also involved Japanese ECAs (JBIC, Nexi). As for commercial banks, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitumo Mitsui Financial Group are both top 3 lenders for global project financing. In this respect, spending a couple of years in the Tokyo office of a global firm can definitely be an exciting option for an ambitious projects lawyer.
Having worked on the Tokyo market for several years, we also know that global firms’ recruitment requirements are high, and that it is a pretty niche and difficult market to enter. Most international lawyers in the country are qualified in either the UK or the US and have gained at least 3 years of experience with leading projects or finance teams. Whilst some teams will require a level of Japanese language fluency (which is always a very efficient way to balance a relatively less stellar CV), others will look at strong profiles and top academic transcripts without any language requirements.