Practicing Law in Tokyo (1): Be There

There are lots of considerations and calculations that need to made if you want to take your JET background, snag a law degree, and return to Japan to practice law.   Chances are, moreover, that the Career Services office of you law school may not have the resources to help you search for such a job with ease.  I know that my law school – despite the fact that it claims to be a “national” law school – is only at its best when trying to guide students for jobs in-state.  Any inroads into Japan that I, or the students before me, have made, have been almost entirely of our own creation.  Unless your law school has a unique connection or strong alumni base in Japan, you will be facing the same challenge.

This is the first in a series on getting to what may be the ultimate goal for some: practicing law in a firm in Tokyo right out of law school.  We’re going to look at what it takes to get there, what you need to do, and what your odds are, generally, of finding yourself there after the three year commitment of life and money that is law school.

I start this series with what is, perhaps, the most consistent piece of advice I’ve received on trying to get an international law firm placement.  If you want to practice there, you have to be there.

As such, if you want to wake up one day working in Tokyo, you have to get yourself to Tokyo.  As one partner for a multinational firm put it to me:

The trick, then, is getting into the job market now, or, if you can’t get in to the job market, doing something productive with your time in the interim.  If you’re having difficulty finding a job for this summer, I would recommend offering your services for free just to get the experience.  If your goal is to practice in Tokyo, then you may want to consider contacting Tokyo law firms and offer to help them for ten weeks in the summer.  The experience will be good for you, and if they like you, they might even decide to start paying you or perhaps offer you a job in the future.

And a separate source, currently practicing in Tokyo…

As for HOW I got in contact with these firms, it was just being in Tokyo. If you want to work there, do the Temple program. That increases your chances of scoring a job in Tokyo by like 400%, especially if you are a former JET…

If you’re not willing to demonstrate to employers your willingness to be there, you’re just another resume in the pile.  Employers are interested in commitment, particularly legal employers where the costs of bringing in a new employee, training them, and turning them into an asset that the firm makes money from is a lengthy and expensive process.  A resume and cover letter from thousands of miles away doesn’t covey that in the same way as a face-to-face meeting and interview can.

This creates the problem, then, of getting to Japan.  A semester abroad program seems the most risk averse (and common) way of approaching this situation, particularly if the program allows the opportunity for an internship.

If you can’t get yourself to Japan– chances are much higher your request for employment will be greeted by the customary void of silence or, if you’re lucky, thin rejection letter that finds most law students.  Bottom line:  If you want to work in Japan right out of law school, you have to be willing to commit the money, time, and the risk of traveling the thousands of miles to Tokyo for a job that you may or may not get.

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