The combined offices of White & Case and Kandabashi Law Offices have set up the Tokyo Investment and Hedge Fund Support Desk to provide advice to offshore fund mangers seeking assistance regarding local fund offerings in Japan, and to Japan-based fund managers seeking assistance with overseas investors.

"Since Japan's financial Big Bang, hedge and investment fund activity has expanded rapidly with major institutional and pension fund investors increasingly seeking alternative investment management services," says Christopher Wells, executive partner of White & Case and head of its investment funds practice group. "We realized that many investment advisors and international fund managers in major markets such as New York, London and Hong Kong needed help understanding the new regulatory and operational requirements, which is exactly what the support desk team will provide."

Wells will be heading the team of eight lawyers and three assistants who comprise the support desk. This extends an existing partnership between White & Case and Kandabashi.

The desk will advise on all aspects of setting up domestic or offshore fund offerings. This includes advice on compliance, applications for various licenses and negotiation with Japanese regulators.

The team will work with clients and other enquiring fund managers to assess their needs and then assign an appropriate team member based on who has the most relevant transaction and consultation experience. Counsel can be provided in both English and Japanese.

The desk has in fact been in operation since the beginning of the year but has now completed it start-up phase and so Wells says the firms are now starting to actively promote it. "The desk currently has four or five major clients and several dozen minor ones,"he says.

The desk will work alongside the prime brokers that operate in Japan. The fund incubation services that prime brokers offer are a major course of referrals to the desk. Wells says that fund administrators, mainly based in Hong Kong with offices in Tokyo, are also being developed as a source of business.

Another service offered by prime brokers is capital introduction, something the desk seems suited to do as well. However, Wells maintains that this is not a key function. "The desk is intended to provide legal and regulatory support to client firms. Any capital introduction activities will be entirely ancillary to that primary function. Having said that, in fact the desk has already provided a larger than expected, over 10, number of introductions between investors and firms seeking investment."

Wells believes the service the desk offers is unique in Japan. "To our knowledge there is no comparable resource at any other law firm with the depth of experience in US, Cayman Islands and Japanese laws and regulations that the desk offers. Nor are we aware of anyone attempting to create such a resource or to promote it. It has taken the Tokyo office more than five years to put in place all the domestic and international elements and resources required to create the desk."