Japan and the European Union have just announced what the Japan Times has called “a broad agreement…on free trade”.  As the European Commission detailed in a press release — “an agreement in principle on the main elements of an Economic Partnership Agreement” has been reached — the final details of which are to be concluded by the end of the year followed by a ratification process.

Signed on the eve of  the recent G20 Summit – the agreement — as CNN Money details, “should remove almost all customs duties on European exports to Japan. Those are currently worth as much as €1 billion ($1.1 billion) a year.” The Economist reports “the deal could raise the EU’s exports to Japan by 34%, and Japan’s to the EU by 29%.” It will form a market of nearly 640 million people — nearly one-third of the global economy.

The deal will lower tariffs on a broad range of EU products, including farm and industrial products, wine, spirits, cheese, meat and shoes. And Japanese automobile and electronics manufacturers are projected to become more competitive vis-a-vis South Korea, which already has a free trade pact in place with with the EU.

The EU Economy

According to EU statistics — the EU’s economy was ahead of the United States in 2015 with a GDP in 2015 of €14,600 billion. “With just 6.9% of the world’s population, the EU’s trade with the rest of the world accounts for around 20% of global exports and imports.”

The Japanese Economy

And as the BBC reports, Japan’s economy is the world’s third largest — with economic growth (according to the OECD) projected to edge up to 1.4% in 2017, aided by increased international trade in Asia and fiscal stimulus.

Opportunities for new business for Japanese and EU law firms

Law firms in the EU and Japan can seek to generate new clients around the ongoing negotiations leading to the conclusion and ratification of the agreement – and the market access and legal, political and regulatory opportunities and challenges post agreement.  In order to do so optimally, firms would be wise to consider putting 5 core initiatives in place to maximize client development:

  1. Make yourself a gateway to your marketOne of the most effective ways to attract foreign clients – is to make yourself a resource for overseas companies seeking to do business in your jurisdiction.  International companies are consistently seeking to enter or expand in new markets.  If you make yourself a key resource for foreign companies and investors seeking to do business in your jurisdiction – you’ll find yourself with more business than you would have imagined possible.  Among the core elements of this strategy is to establish a focused publishing effort with a considered social media presence to effectively transmit key messages to foreign investors and corporate C-Suite executives.
  2. Publish articles about topics of importance to clients and referral sources Publishing regular updates on opportunities (and potential pitfalls) for foreign investors seeking opportunity in your country – is an excellent means by which to develop an interest in your firm by foreign investors and their advisors.  A Bloomberg Big Law Business report further underscores what the Canadian Bar Association legal magazine (@CBAnatmag) reported in 2015:  That “[n]ew media is gaining currency among the in-house crowd, with 54 percent reading lawyer-authored blogs to research potential outside counsel”.   And a 2014 report from Greentarget (@Greentarget) – a Chicago based business to business (B2B) communications company — also found that: “Articles about highly specialized areas of law of interest to in-house counsel are becoming increasingly important.”
  3. Cross-sell to existing clients interested in expanding into the EU or Japan —  As Yun Kriegler detailed in The Lawyer in 2016: “One of China’s largest firms Jun He…has been putting an emphasis on improving its internal structure and last year overhauled its partner remuneration system to promote collaboration between partners and increase cross-selling.”  Cross-selling by law firms has been utilized by some BigLaw firms to achieve greater growth levels and compete more effectively against rivals, while more effectively meeting the needs of clients.
  4. Actively cultivate referrals via marketing alliances with other EU and Japanese law firms — Put an internal driver in place to ensure that firms you establish joint-marketing relationships with will not only jointly refer existing clients to each another – but also identify new potential clients in your respective markets.  Too, it’s also vital for firms to establish joint marketing alliances which put in place proactive internal mechanisms to shepherd potential clients through the business development process.  Last year I briefed Lex Mundi member firms in Jakarta on this very topic and cited my own writings on the challenges associated with law firm marketing alliances.  Perhaps the best summation of my thoughts are contained in my article which appeared in Remaking Law Firms entitled: BigLaw: How to Win More Work From an International Law Firm Alliance: I noted: “To effectively build an effective marketing tie-up with another firm, it is not enough to simply establish a relationship and “hope” your new partner refers business to you (however attractive the tie-up may appear in theory). Both firms must take a proactive approach to business development as a part of their firm culture and the joint alliance business development efforts in particular.”
  5. Establish a proactive social media presence that both amplifies your message and serves as a funnel of new client leads  — Blog about issues that are of specific importance to your core audience. A recent American Bar Association (ABA) study showed that lawyers win new business from blogging. Once you’ve written a blogpost, distribute it across relevant social media platforms and engage your audiences, which should include corporate management teams and referral sources you’ve identified and are following. For corporate and international lawyers, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google plus, and Facebook Pages are all very good social media platforms on which to be active.  Also, create calls-to-action on your blogposts and build a lead-list from inbound inquiries captured via your blog.  Your active social media effort promoting your client-centric blogposts will increase your exposure and new business leads.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal. An independent writer & editor, he's the author of: A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets (Ark Group 2014).

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