Author: Andy Mack

Winter 2010 JLPT Date Set!

Now that LeBron’s “decision” has made him the walking manifestation of the Cleveland curse, the time has come for Japanese language students across the county to consider their decision.  Is this the year to go for that JLPT certification?  As of earlier this week, the December 2010 U.S. JLPT test date has been set.

Long story short, the test date is Sunday, December 5, 2010 at limited locations across the U.S.

Registration begins on August 2nd.

Everything you need to know about registration, testing locations, and costs are here.

Everything you need to know about the new testing format and difficulty levels is here.

Law School and Lawyer Population Density

One of the most important, if not the most important decision in choosing law school, is choosing where to go.  This includes not only which law school, but also which state you want to go to, and possibly the state in which you’re going to want to sit for the bar.

This site, also prepared by a former JET, breaks all that down in great detail — not only which states have the most number of law schools / state, but which ones should be overpopulated, if not overrun by, lawyers.

See The Charge of the Juris Doctor Brigade, available here.

Clerking in the Tropics (2): American Samoa

This is a continuation highlighting clerking opportunities outside of the fifty U.S. States available for American law graduates.  This time we highlight American Samoa, a tiny island territory hundreds of miles east of Fiji, which is still hundreds of miles east of Papua New Guinea.  If remote and tropical is your thing, (and if Pulp Fiction is right, if big people are your thing) you can ask for no better than here.

The High Court of American Samoa recruits law clerks for one year terms, but does so only on alternating years.  The recruit two clerks at a time, one for the first year, and one for the following year.  The next round of recruiting is scheduled to take place this upcoming spring for the August 2011, August 2012 terms.  The Court requires a cover letter, resume, official transcript, writing sample, and two letters of recommendation.  The application deadline be due in early 2011.

Legal Interviewing: Aim to Talk 80% of the Time

A recent ABA Journal printed the advice of a legal recruiter out of New Jersey, remarking that the law student sitting in for an on-campus interview should seek to speak for approximately 80% of the time.  The rest of the article gives fairly common interview advice (research the firm you are interviewing for, have all of your materials with you including resume, transcript, and writing sample).  The “80/20 Rule” may not be set in stone, but I think is a factor for something else: to make yourself memorable (in a good way) during the interview.  And you definitely cannot do that if you don’t contribute enough.

The article is available here.

Clients Unwilling to Pay for Inexperienced Legal Help May Have No Choice

The 2008-2009 recession didn’t just translate to thousands of layoffs, it also meant the scaling back of training by lots of the large firms.  For the first time since late 2008, last month was the first sign of positive job growth in the legal sector, albeit with a paltry 300 jobs (compared to 22,200 lost during the recession), and no one quite knows the quality of these jobs, either.

Despite the modest bump in jobs, however, large firm summer associate programs still remain non-existent, cut by about 80% due to the recession — and large firm clients still remain unwilling to pay for the legal work done by law student summer associates, making summer associate programs even more expensive for firms across the country.

Cutting jobs AND cutting training opportunities, however, may be the golden ticket for law grads as the recession abates and work picks up, especially with mid-level and senior level associates looking to escape from big firms.  AbovetheLaw recently posted a great overview of the possible upcoming legal staffing shortage, available here.

Clerking in Paradise: Palau

Former JETs naturally have a little bit of adventurer in them.  Unfortunately, the sedentary life of the law student spells disappointment for those of accustomed to a more active life.  This isn’t to say going out and enjoying life doesn’t happen in law school.  But if you like inordinate amounts of time reading and editing italicized commas, however, you’re in for a real treat.

Fortunately, life after law school doesn’t necessarily have to be like that — and if you still have that glimmer of a sense of adventure and the desire to live in not-so-often traveled parts of the world, a judicial clerkship in on of America’s international territories might be what you’re after.  After graduate clerkships with various courts across the country are a common (if not somewhat challenging route) to post-graduate employment.  The pay is typically lower than you would expect if you went to a firm immediately after graduating, but some firms still offer clerkship bonuses for those who bring that experience with them in tow.

But, more than you might expect, America is a big friggin’ country, and clerkships are not limited to the fifty states alone.  Clerking and court employment opportunities exist in America’s international territories as well, including Puerto Rico, the Marshall Islands, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and Palau.  Living here will be not unlike JET – many of these places offer subsidized housing and pay for you to come over, so while your clerkship income is small, your imputed income is not so bad.  A recent law review article was actually written describing much of the process in detail.

But each territory has its own recruiting schedule, and its own preferences.  I hope to share that with you piece-by-piece, and since Palau is the island I currently have the most information on, it makes sense to start there.

Palau is a small island territory located several hundred miles east of the Philippine Islands.

Positions in Palau are possible at all levels of the judiciary, including not only the Supreme Court of Palau, but also in the attorney general’s office, the public defender’s office, as legislative counsel for the Senate and the House of Delegates, or with Micronesian Legal Services Corporation.

The court typically hires under the following timeline: the position is posted late in the year, around December, with the application deadline being mid-March.  Interviews follow in May, and hiring shortly after that.  Like JET, it seems, the process is long and cumbersome, but certainly worth it if a clerkship on a tropical island is your goal.

Additionally, the information I have indicates that, while you can apply to the court without prior clerkship experience, the court is typically trending towards hiring those with court clerk experience – meaning a Palau court clerkship straight out of law school may be a long shot.  Other sources, however, have indicated to me that travel and experience living in the east / southeast Asia area can be a plus, as well as a background in Japanese.  These were both speculation on my source’s part, but if those two factors are a plus, then the JET experience stands to benefit anyone seeking a position in Palau.

Additional sources on Palau are available, including an older blog run by a former Palau clerk: StuffedWombat.com

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JLPT Test Prep Advice

If you have yet to take the JLPT (or haven’t taken it for a long time), the test has seen a dramatic overhaul in the last year as well as a step up in difficulty in recent years.

The resources here and here are highly advised reading to guide you in understanding preparing for the new test.  Even the wiki has a pretty detailed breakdown of the new sections and their time allotments.

Networking: Creative Approaches

JET is a rewarding experience for a number of reasons– it exposes you to culture and language beyond your own.  It teaches you adaptability.  It teaches you how to deal with being completely unaware of the nuances of the situation around you and yet still able to navigate around it.  What it doesn’t do however, is help your personal network.  And, the longer you’re on JET, the more damage it potentially does.  In the meantime, your future law school classmates are networking and meeting with the people who will be vital in helping them find legal employment.  I was on JET for three years  — and by the time I left Japan many of my U.S. contacts had gone cold and my network consisted almost exclusively of fellow JETs, rice farmers, and ramen chefs.

This wasn’t the strongest foundation upon which to build a legal career or mount a legal job search in economically tough times.  If you’re going to be doing law school right after JET, I am confident you will have the adaptability and the thick skin to handle the rigors of law school.  Where you’ll need to play catch up with the rest of your class is in expanding your network.

You’ll also have to do most of this work on your own.  Law school does little to develop your personal networking skills, especially if you’re looking to play yourself into the Japanese market.  It offers some opportunities, but aside from Career Counselors telling you: “Go out and network,” the actual advising you can take from them is near nil.  I remember sitting down with Career Services to discuss local Japanese businesses that might take interns in-house.  I got names of two major companies in the area, and that was all.  No contact information, no names, addresses, or alumni.  All I got from the CSO was just a cursory “Try here, and here.”  Better than nothing, but certainly not enough to even have a starting place to really expand my network, let alone seek some kind of employment.

But then I saw something that gave me an idea.  Back in February I came across this interesting article, that documented the blatant networking failure of a job-searching third year law student.  Not only was his cover letter over the top, but the law firm he thought he had contacted turned out not to be a law firm at all, but an IT consulting firm.  A chain of bitter, snarky emails later, the third year walks away with nothing, embarrassed by the experience.  The whole thing is worth a read, but this language from the consulting firm from the tail end of their interaction is particularly pertinent:

So now, stop and think: what if, instead of the reply you wrote below, you had said, “Sorry for the misunderstanding—but since you clearly work with lawyers, can you think of any who might be interested in hiring me?” That could have led to a few exchanges between us as to what areas of law interest you the most, and that would have probably led to me either giving you some specific contacts at specific law firms (probably pre-vetted by me) or, better yet, having me forward your e-mail on to those specific contacts.

There are three lessons I took away from this episode:

(1) Make sure you know where your cover letters and resumes are going;

(2) If you get an email back that is not the glowing response you expected, don’t get snarky even if you want to and they deserve it; and

(3) Most importantly, think about networking outside of just contacting lawyers.

It took me awhile to come up with #3, but once it hit me that if that third year student had handled his mistake differently, he could have walked away with names, contact information, and maybe job prospects, I thought I’d give it a try. I did a Google search of: accounting, Japanese business, and the area I live in, and came up with a number of hits.  Amongst the hits included an accounting firm that claimed to do quite a lot of accounting business with Japanese companies in the area. I sent out a short, inquisitive email expecting nothing, or at most an “I’m not a lawyer, go away.”

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Creative networking looks just like this.

I got much more than that. After a short email exchange, an accountant and I agreed to meet after he finished tax season and I finished final exams. After meeting last week for lunch, I walked away with a new great contact and a master list of the literally 180 Japanese businesses in the area, complete with addresses and contact information.

Long story short: Networking outside of attorney channels can work for you, if you do it right.

Japanese Law Translation: The online 法律系の英和事件

Because, frankly, none of us come to law school knowing the Japanese terminology for tort, negligence, or statute of limitations. (不法行為、 過失、時効、 respectively).

Japanese Law Translation has on online Japanese-English dictionary, as well as English translations of current Japanese law available onilne, for free, at its site.  The dictionary is quite good, though there may be some terms lacking (I was unable to get it to produce “Alternative Dispute Resolution,” or 裁判外紛争解決, for example).  Nonetheless, it can be a good place to access some Japanese legal terminology.   And, at the very least the site can equip you with the kanji compounds for quick shorthand note-taking in the margins of your casebook.

The site is located here.

The Toyota Lawsuit(s) as Opportunity

The economy has been in the dumpster for the past year and a half, and last year law firms bled attorneys like crazy.  Current second and third year students are having trouble enough just finding summer work, and the future remains uncertain.  Such is life in the legal market today.

There is one breed of law student however, who may, at least in the near term, have a bit more luck than the rest — the one capable of Japanese legal translation.  A particular auto company with screwy accelerator pedals is mostly to thank for that.  Costs to Toyota just to fend off all the sharks in the water is estimated to rack upwards of  $3 billion. With law school finals looming and the Toyota lawsuits growing, there were a number of regional firms around my area seeking Japanese fluent law and business students.

They weren’t looking for such students for legal or business insight necessarily — it was simply a fact that these firms were going to engage in comprehensive discovery process with a Japanese company, and had no one on staff who spoke or read Japanese.  Indeed, one of these translation opportunities  explicitly indicated that it was looking for Japanese fluent law students, that translation abilities were a plus, and that travel abroad may be necessary as part of the job duties – and this was from a small firm, in Kentucky of all places.  In another instance, and completely thanks to my personal network, I received notice of a Toytoa lawsuit related job posting from a local medium-sized firm before the rest of my law school was even notified.

While the jobs coming out of the Toyota lawsuit aren’t a golden ticket to the world of professional law practice, they do constitute a foot in the door, and with compensation. The little Kentucky firm I had heard from was willing to pay a salary comparable to large local firms, and at a time when few law students can even find volunteer legal opportunities.  Translation work is certainly a better alternative to an empty gap on a resume.

Meanwhile, things with Toyota move forward.

The ultimate point in all this is: (1) If you’re still on JET and thinking of law school, soak up all of the language you can get; and (2) have the network in place for those opportunities that fit your skills when they come along.