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Two Japanese law firms — corporate specialist Mori Hamada & Matsumoto and IP-focused Max Law Offices — are merging in July, a move that will create Japan’s largest law firm. By American standards, the new 204-lawyer firm would be considered mid-sized at best. But Japan has arguably the stiffest national bar exam in the world. With a pass rate that ranges between a mere 2 and 3 percent, Japan produces no more than 500 new lawyers each year. Currently, about 21,000 lawyers — known as bengoshi — maintain a broad monopoly on Japanese law-related matters for a population of 130 million. Mori Hamada’s strengths in mergers and acquisition advice, funds procurement and litigation will benefit from Max Law’s expertise in helping clients protect their intellectual property in such areas as media contents and software at a time when IP work is expected to expand. Mori Hamada already has a small IP practice. Amendments to Japan’s Trust Business Law that take effect April 1 will allow firms other than banks to engage in intellectual property trusts. That development sets up legal service business opportunities as venture firms look to establish trusts based on IP such as copyrights, contents and software, according to Masayuki Matsuda, a representative of Max Law Offices. The Japanese government is also looking to support and strengthen the nation’s standing in the IP arena. A new Basic Law on Intellectual Property went into effect in 2002. The top 10 law firms in Japan employ about 1,200 lawyers, according to published figures. The establishment of law schools similar to those in the United States could result in more applicants passing the bar exam. Matsuda also says that increased legal service business opportunities could lead to three or four firms increasing in size to more than 500 lawyers each over the next 10 years. Martin Foster is a reporter for The Deal, a New York-based business pub-lication that is affiliated with IP maga-zine.

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