Even as Singapore sees tie-ups between international and local law firms coming under pressure, two major Japanese outfits have launched formal law alliances (FLAs) in recent weeks, eager to gain a deeper foothold in the market.

First, it was Japans largest law firm, Nishimura & Asahi, which entered into an FLA in Singapore with local practice Bayfront Law. Shortly after that, Anderson Mori & Tomotsune announced it was forming an alliance with DOP Law Corporation (previously known as David Ong & Partners).

These announcements have come at a time when other alliances have been under strain. In January, Taylor Wessing parted with RHTLaw after eight years, while in June Eversheds Sutherland and Singapores Harry Elias Partnership announced that they were ending their three-year merger.

However, market watchers say that the timing of the Singapore FLAs of Japanese law firms appears to be coincidental. Instead, they are reflective of greater Japanese investment interest in the city-state and broader Southeast Asian region. Both Nishimura and Anderson Mori say that they are looking to serve clients better.

A partner at Anderson Mori’s Singapore office points out that a number of Japanese companies have set up shop in Singapore, while “some companies like Takashimaya have even become Singaporean household names.”

And Masato Yamanaka, co-representative partner of Nishimura’s Singapore office, says there has been a growing trend of Japanese corporations choosing Singapore as their regional headquarters. The city state’s reputation as an arbitration hub was also a draw for clients, both firms say.

The Anderson Mori partner adds that establishing a strong Asia presence has always been important to the firm, which already has offices across the region. And the new arrangement isn’t part of some grand master plan, but instead a reflection of the solid working relationship with DOP Law.

“From the law firm perspective, AMT has had an office in Singapore for some time, so this new FLA is not so much AMT ‘gaining interest’ in Singapore, but an organic evolution of our relationship with our Singapore partners,” the partner says.

For Yamanaka at Nishimura’s Singapore office, the firm’s existing working relationship with Bayfront Law led them to the realisation that a formal law alliance would be a mutually beneficial arrangement. And as for why now, he says it all came down to timing.

“We have been considering the alliance since we started working with Bayfront Law, but we havent felt that the timing was right for our firm until now. Some ideas take a while to get to the point we are willing to move ahead, but now that we are confident that we have the right leadership, team and business case and offering for our clients, we will be moving ahead deliberately and quickly,” Yamanaka says.