The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan



Pride of Place

Law firm in historic Marunouchi building chooses tradition over skyscrapers

publicity_DLAPiperOther international law firms may have the most modern spaces in the tallest skyscrapers in Tokyo, but Lance Miller would not change his company’s premises for all the steel, glass, and chrome in the city.

Country managing partner for Japan for the DLA Piper Tokyo Partnership, Miller purposely chose to locate the law firm in the Meiji Seimei Kan building in the Marunouchi district when the company outgrew its previous premises in 2006.

Designed by Shinichiro Okada and completed in March 1934, the eight-story building sits on the corner of Hibiya Dori and Babasaki Dori, where the streets cross the outer moat of the Imperial Palace.

Miller and his 25-strong team get a show every time a new ambassador to Tokyo parades past en route to present their credentials to the Emperor.

Officials usually eschew the modern limousine for a more traditional mode of transport.

“When Caroline Kennedy came past, I’d never seen anything like those crowds,” Miller said. “They were 30 deep in places, cheering and applauding as she went by in the horse and buggy.”

It is just another perk of a building that escaped the bombing of the city during World War II—thanks primarily to its proximity to the palace. The structure was taken over by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers after Japan’s surrender in 1945.

“I just love the location here,” Miller said.

“We are right across from the palace, there is a vast expanse of green right outside our windows—which we can actually open—and the outside of the building is elegant and graceful.

“All the other law firms have moved into modern, high-rise spaces, but that was not something we wanted,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure that no other law firms in Japan are in a building that has this much history behind it.”

That exclusivity ties in neatly with the genesis and philosophy of DLA Piper, which was formed in January 2005 by a merger between three law firms: San Diego-based Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich LLP, Chicago-headquartered Piper Rudnick LLP, and DLA LLP, which originated in Britain.

The merger was the first major trans-Atlantic union of legal practices, and the firm now employs more than 4,200 lawyers in over 30 countries throughout the Americas, the Asia–Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East, making it the second-largest law firm in the world measured by revenue.

DLA Piper represents many of the biggest corporations in the world, working with foreign firms operating in Japan and Japanese corporations that have interests in other jurisdictions.

Much of the work involves intellectual property litigation, as well as finance and project issues, mergers and acquisitions, private equity and venture capital, real estate transactions, and tax.

Miller said he never gets tired of working in a building with such history at every turn.

The brass pneumatic tubes that were originally installed to transmit letters between floors have been retained, along with square-faced clocks that keep time as well today as they did in 1934.

The elevators are reassuringly old-fashioned and a safe manufactured by Chubb & Sons in London is still displayed prominently, set into the wall of DLA Piper’s seventh-floor offices.

The offices are also home to dozens of gadgets and devices invented by Thomas Edison and collected by Henry Koda, who joined DLA Piper in 2010 and has been collecting Edison paraphernalia for more than 35 years.

The informal display includes miners’ helmets with Edison lamps, gramophones, curling irons, coffee percolators, a television, a sewing machine, and waffle irons.

Pride of place in this rare collection goes to a light bulb that was made in the 1880s and has a filament made with bamboo from Kyoto.