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Two Japanese law firms will merge to create the country’s largest practice, as corporate specialist Mori Hamada & Matsumoto combines with intellectual property-focused Max Law Offices in July. By U.S. standards, the new firm, with 204 lawyers, would be considered merely midsize at best. But Japan has arguably the stiffest national bar exam in the world, with a pass rate of between 2 percent and 3 percent that produces no more than 500 new lawyers each year, keeping a lid on the number of Japanese lawyers. About 21,000 attorneys — known as bengoshi — maintain a broad monopoly on Japanese law-related matters for a population of 130 million. The combined firm will be larger than Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu, Japan’s existing No. 1 firm. 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 the area is expected to expand. Mori Hamada already has a small IP practice. Amendments to Japan’s Trust Business Law that come into effect April 1 allow firms other than banks to engage in intellectual property trusts. That sets up legal service business opportunities as venture firms look to establish trusts based on IP such as copyrights, contents and software, said Masayuki Matsuda, the representative of Max Law Offices. The Japanese government is also looking to support and strengthen the nation’s standing in the IP arena. It passed the Basic Law on Intellectual Property in 2002. The merger, which will involve no transfer of equity, capital or cash, will take place July 1, said Toru Ishiguro, a member of the management committee at Mori Hamada & Matsumoto. The news was first reported Sunday by Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The top 10 law firms in Japan employ about 1,200 lawyers, according to figures in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The establishment of law schools similar to those in the United States could see more applicants passing the bar exam, and increased legal service business opportunities could see “three or four firms” with more than 500 lawyers over the next 10 years, Matsuda said. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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