Williams (pictured) was the key man behind the establishment of the Tokyo office of Ashurst’s Australian legacy firm, Blake Dawson, back in 2010.
That office, the first Japanese office to be opened by an Australian firm, was facilitated largely on the back of relationships Williams had developed with what would become key Japanese clients of the firm such as the brewing giant Kirin.
Williams has been a partner of Ashurst for 13 years, and was elected to the firm’s global board late last year. He is also a non-executive director of ASX100 firm New Hope Corporation, Australia's largest listed coal company.
Williams is the only person to have played rugby union for Australia and Japan.
He played 17 tests for the Wallabies between 1984 and 1990, and represented the Japanese ‘Cherry Blossoms’ in 1993 after moving to Japan to take a position with Kobe Steel.
“The funniest moment was standing there at the start of the game and thinking they were going to play Advance Australia Fair, but they start with Kimigayo (the Japanese national anthem), which is the Ode to the Emperor, “Williams told Lawyers Weekly in 2011. “I am standing there thinking, ‘I don’t know the words to this, and then I looked around and I saw that many of the Japanese guys didn’t really know it either.
“Getting fired up fighting for the Emperor felt a little bit awkward.”
Williams’ Japanese rugby and corporate connections meant that when he joined Blakes in 1995 he was able to establish a significant Japanese client base.
Over the past few years, he has been based both in Sydney and Brisbane, and will be based in Brisbane on joining Herbert Smith Freehills.
“Ian’s strong relationships with Japanese and Korean organisations and Damien’s long-standing relationships with key Japanese corporates and semi-government bodies will boost Herbert Smith Freehills’ strength in Japan and Korea,” said Mike Ferraro, the global head of HSF’s corporate group.
Damien Roberts will be joining HSF in Tokyo, where he was based both prior to and following the Blakes merger with Ashurst.
Roberts was a junior partner of the firm, having being appointed to the partnership in early 2012.
In 2011 he gave Lawyers Weekly an eye witness account of the earthquakes that rocked Tokyo and other parts of Japan in March of that year, with the resultant tsunami leaving 20,000 dead and many more missing.
“The week that followed was surreal,” Roberts wrote in a piece for Lawyers Weekly shortly afterwards.
“Our plight that evening soon became trivial as the extent of the incomprehensible devastation further north was slowly revealed. The threat of radiation leaks and the contamination that could follow exacerbated concerns that the impact would be broader and longer than originally anticipated. Rolling power blackouts threw commuter regimes into disarray, panicky households cleared supermarket shelves of basic necessities, and television networks dissected the plight of the stricken nuclear reactors from every angle.”