Already masters of their legal specialisms, the lawyers showcased here have made a mark by taking ideas across different disciplines to deal with clients’ increasingly fast-changing challenges.
Some offer a deep understanding of clients’ businesses and the different regulatory regimes of the region. Some are shaping financial innovation — whether advising fintechs, or designing frameworks that will attract more business to the region.
The prominence of work in Japan on this list reflects the growth of legal innovation in the country. But Ken Siegel stood out amid all the practitioners featured here for building a modern international practice in the region that has set the pace of deals, with a strategic and commercial approach to risk that has influenced local Japanese firms.
WINNER: Ken Siegel
Tokyo managing partner, Morrison Foerster
Ken Siegel’s interest in Japan was first kindled when, as a young partner at US firm Morrison Foerster in 1994, he spotted a chance to build a different type of international law firm.
Now, he presides over the biggest foreign law firm office in Japan, and one of the top M&A practices in the country. Invariably working on Japan’s most prestigious deals, Siegel counts many top US and Japanese businesses as clients. He recently joined the SoftBank board as a non-independent non-executive director, to help it balance legal risk and commercial opportunity.
Outside deal execution, his efforts in hiring local lawyers, integrating practice areas and promoting women has set the pace for modernisation at big Japanese law firms.
Partner, Rajah & Tann Singapore
Kala Anandarajah is a leading expert in competition law in Singapore. She helped draft the city-state’s first law on the subject, enforced since 2006, and has represented clients in competition matters ever since.
Anandarajah created and heads the firm’s competition and antitrust and trade practice. She is a lead partner in corporate governance.
Recently, she led an appeal for poultry farmer Toh Thye San which, alongside 13 others, was accused of co-ordinating price increases and participating in a non-compete agreement. Anandarajah showed her client had not participated, resulting in a 70 per cent reduction in penalties. It was the first time an appellant had succeeded on an issue of liability before the Competition Appeal Board.
Partner, Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu
As well as specialising in corporate governance, risk management and corporate investigations as a lawyer, Daisuke Fukamizu is a research professor at Shinshu University. The two roles allow him to incorporate perspectives from fields such as economics and psychology into his advice.
Fukamizu is a proponent of “agile governance” to help businesses deal with increasing volatility and complexity. The approach involves adopting autonomous, decentralised governance systems, which adapt rapidly through collaboration with stakeholders.
After Japanese messaging app Line’s breach of customer data in 2021, his advice to parent company and SoftBank entity Z Holdings included use of agile governance principles.
Partner, White & Case
Nels Hansen studied science and engineering before law school. After an internship in Japan, he worked as a Silicon Valley deal lawyer, apart from a year at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Hansen moved to Tokyo in 2013, before joining White & Case, where he is a partner in its corporate/M&A practice group. He is one of the firm’s regional experts on private equity. Clients appreciate his combination of creativity and measured approach to risk.
He applies his technical knowhow and Silicon Valley experience, and broad knowledge of Japanese economics and governance, to helping on deals totalling hundreds of billions of dollars. In 2021, this included advising PayPal on its acquisition of fintech Paidy for $2.7bn.
Partner, Baker McKenzie
An expert in financial services regulation in Singapore, Stephanie Magnus has worked for several years with its central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, to improve the city-state’s appeal as a financial services hub.
At Baker McKenzie, she co-heads the Asia Pacific financial institutions group and has recently advised several fintech companies on operating buy now, pay later (BNPL) schemes. They are winning market share from traditional credit card services as the BNPL boom continues to gain ground in Singapore.
In 2019, she advised private equity firm CapBridge Platform on its successful application to the MAS in relation to its operation of 1exchange, the first regulated private securities exchange in Singapore.
Partner, Corrs Chambers Westgarth
As head of the competition practice at the firm, Mark McCowan leads a cutting-edge multidisciplinary team across many jurisdictions. His personal reputation and commitment to developing his team’s technical and commercial understanding of the tech sector have helped to make Corrs a firm of choice for complex Big Tech antitrust cases in Australia. Clients value his deep understanding of tech companies — from the tech itself to challenges such as emerging regulations.
McCowan is currently acting for the US tech groups Google and Meta (Facebook’s parent) in defending two separate market power claims. In 2021, he secured Meta’s first merger clearance in Australia in respect of its proposed acquisition of Kustomer, a customer relationship platform.
Partner, Gilbert + Tobin
Peter Reeves is a partner in the firm’s corporate advisory group and leads the payments, fintech and blockchain practice. His leadership has helped transform the firm’s fintech advisory service into a 10-strong team, with average annual revenue growth over the past four years of between 10 and 20 per cent.
Reeves has won a reputation as a daring thought leader on fintech. He is known for his skill at advising next-generation tech businesses when the rules are still being written.
In 2021, Reeves advised the founders of software company Blockchain Music on the complexities of setting up a DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation), a blockchain-based community designed to enable musicians to produce music without big production companies.
Partner, Nishimura & Asahi
After a traffic accident left project finance partner Mikiko Soga permanently using a wheelchair and crutches, she determined to improve the firm’s pro-bono and diversity and inclusion efforts.
She was a founding member of its first pro-bono committee in 2018. The pro-bono practice group now comprises around 80 lawyers and 10 additional staff.
In 2020, Soga helped set up the firm’s D&I promotion council, which backs and implements specific measures. Her work has been central to improving inclusion at the firm, especially for those with disabilities.
Separately, she launched a sustainability practice at the firm in 2021. An adviser on renewable energy projects in Japan since the 2000s, her work continues to assist the growth of sustainable energy in Japan.
Partner, Sidley Austin
Effie Vasilopoulos has been an architect of many important developments for the private fund industry in Hong Kong over two decades.
She worked, largely on a pro-bono basis, for the Hong Kong government on the 2020 Limited Partnership Fund Ordinance, which establishes a domestic law framework for the private fund industry. She also worked with the government on a subsequent amendment that came into force in 2021 and enables the redomiciliation of offshore funds.
In drafting the new law, she sought to create a regime that both resembled and improved on existing laws in other jurisdictions. More than 350 private funds have registered since the law came into force.
Partner, Allen & Overy
Tokyo and Seoul managing partner Matthias Voss saw an opportunity in 2020 to use the firm’s expertise to assist clients operating in the hydrogen energy industry. A few interested individuals at the firm quickly formed a global task force.
Within nine months, the resulting Hydrogen Interest Group was truly international, comprising nearly 200 lawyers across more than 30 offices.
The firm is involved in many big projects taking place across the production, storage, supply and transport of hydrogen.
These include advising the European Investment Bank, the EU’s lending arm, on financing the world’s first baseload renewable energy power plant using hydrogen technology, in French Guiana.
Profiles compiled by RSGI researchers and FT editors; ‘Winner’ indicates the individual won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2022 award