Emi Rowse (Igusa) is a Partner with Kudun & Partners, a Thai law firm, where she heads the Japan practice. In her role she assists Japanese corporations enter the Thai market. A specialist in corporate litigation and arbitration matters, Rowse is a HK qualified lawyer who has lived and worked as a foreign lawyer in both Thailand and Japan, and her knowledge of the needs of Japanese foreign investors in Thailand is extensive. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, she also details the challenges and opportunities Thailand presents to Japan’s corporate investors and explains how her background as a counselor helps her assist clients.
You lead the Kudun & Partners Japan practice. Tell us more about the firm and your role within it.
Kudun & Partners is often described as a “young but experienced firm” because we are fairly new in the market (established in 2015), but the partners have an immense amount of domestic and international experience. We currently have 15 partners (grew from four in 2015) who are all from very reputable international or local law firms and over 50 associates. It is a full service firm, with practice areas ranging from traditional corporate, M&A, capital markets, tax and dispute resolution to more modern and innovative practice groups such as digital law (KAP Cloud) and startups (called KAP-X).
It is an exciting firm to be a part of, not least because it is not afraid of trying new things and catering to the needs of the market. I joined the firm 4 months ago as a partner and am head of their Japan practice. Japan is currently the largest foreign investor into Thailand, and the firm saw an opportunity to cater to the needs of the Japanese corporates entering the Thai market. In my role, I look after the firm’s existing Japanese clients, and am in the process of expanding the practice to cater to the needs of more Japanese corporates in Thailand. I worked in Tokyo for 3 years with an international firm and during that time, was given the opportunity to work with a number of large Japanese trading houses and manufacturers. I am half Japanese, was born in Japan and speak fluent Japanese.
Your practice includes dispute resolution, employment, competition and investigations. Tell us more about this.
I started as a commercial litigator when I qualified in Hong Kong in 2001. At the time, I was working for a local Hong Kong firm that had a strong disputes practice. I then moved to an international firm in 2008 where I worked with one of the best litigation and international arbitration teams in the legal field. I became a commercial litigator/arbitration practitioner and handled a variety of interesting cases including shareholder/JV disputes, employment disputes, defamation cases and insurance disputes. In Tokyo, I worked on international arbitration cases as well as corporate crime and investigations (including fraud investigations and anti-bribery related matters). When I moved to Bangkok, I expanded my practice to include advising clients on competition related matters.
What unique challenges and opportunities does the Japanese corporate sector see when operating outside Japan?
Japan is a very unique country in many ways. Some words that I would use to describe the work culture in Japan are “disciplined”, “efficient”, “ambitious”, “courteous” and “careful”. Given this culture, when Japanese corporates seek to do business abroad, especially in South East Asia, they need to adapt their expectations and understand the very diverse culture they are operating in. One of the challenging areas that I often support Japanese clients with is the breakdown in communication and relationships – whether it be with suppliers, distributors, employees and/or business partners. Similarly, when working with Japanese corporates, it is important to understand what they are used to in Japan, and to try and manage their expectations.
Some opportunities I see for Japanese corporates when operating outside of Japan, is the opportunity to gain international exposure and strengthen their competitiveness in the international market.
You are a professional counselor. How do these skills help you in your legal practice?
I am often asked why I took a break from the law to pursue a counseling degree. It is an unusual career path, but I decided to do this for various reasons: to pursue a passion of mine (deepening my knowledge of psychology), to help those in need because of depression and anxiety (which was very timely due to Covid), and to gain a new perspective. The skills of a counselor is not that dissimilar to the skills you need as a lawyer, including active listening, being able to read people, showing empathy and asking the right questions to get to the heart of the matter. I regularly used these skills as a counselor, and am now more intentional about using these skills as a lawyer.
Having a background in psychology has also contributed to my understanding of its prominent role in dispute resolution. Psychology plays a part in many stages of dispute resolution: choosing the right dispute resolution mechanism, choosing an arbitrator, witness examination, adjudicating disputes, mediation and settlement. Speaking of mediation, I have just completed a mediation training course and am now an accredited Mediator. I found that my counseling skills came in particularly useful during my training to become a Mediator.
I look forward to continuing to explore the different ways psychology and law integrate, and using this knowledge to support my clients and fellow practitioners.