Legal Careers in Japan

Freeter Professionals in Japan? Part 1

Japan Industry News (JIN) published an interesting breakdown of the legal categories of workers in Japan, leading in with statistics indicating that the incoming Japanese workforce is still mostly interested in lifetime employment within one company.

According to MHLW statistics from 2013, over half of youngsters desire to work for only one company throughout their career. Merely 28 percent would like to work for multiple companies. … Japan’s Cabinet Office shows that the percentage of young people who think that “one should change jobs if not satisfied with current employment” and “one should change jobs to utilize one’s talent” stands at only 28 percent in Japan as compared to 72 percent in England.

Setting aside fully entrepreneurial options, there are effectively two castes of employee in Japan: Lifetime and temporary.

Lifetime work

Collectively, permanent full staff (“Seishain”) and certain quasi-permanent fixed-term (1—3 year) contracts (“Keiyakushain”) are both safely on the life-time track. For both these categories, JIN reports that: “terminating employees against their will is difficult and … costly.”

For gaijin, who generally see nothing wrong with flexible employment, it’s hard to understand the uncritical and necessary loyalty at the core of permanent Japanese work. Especially when the rigors and stressesunproductive environments, and sexism (and sexism, and sexism) of Japanese companies are open secrets. Fear and Trembling (the film) illuminates our preconceptions and experiences.

Anecdotally, among my first experiences in Japan was an afternoon in the company of a man who’d been let go from his position at a Japanese firm. A gaijin, he had embraced the work life and company loyalty of his co-workers, only to discover that it was never expected of him in the first place; and it wasn’t going to be reciprocated. A few weeks after his solitary downsizing, none of his former co-workers would return his calls.

Temporary work

The temporary category includes explicitly temporary Seishain, and dispatched workers (“Hakenshain” or “Temp Staff”) with contracts that must not be renewed for more than 3 years. If you are a Hakenshain coming up on the 3-year anniversary of your first hiring, you have reason to be anxious about your next contract period.

Disenfranchised freeters (フリーター or “furita“) who string together seasonal and part time, low-skill work fall into the temporary category. Post Bubble Culture blog describes freeters in a way the rhymes with Uber driver:

The freeter lifestyle allows for more flexibility and increased mobility in youth, so it is typically seen to be made up of those individuals who have rejected their expected social role as full time salary workers in favor of the freedom to pursue other personal interests.

The other side of freeters, like uber drivers, is the often precariousness and poor work conditions, with little chance of a stable future or social insurance in the event of misfortune. But, like in many countries, freeter-like employment patterns may have migrated upstream into entrepreneurial roles.

Attitudes toward flexible employment in Japan are changing in line with economic stresses, and greater desire for and reality of women in the workforce. From JIN:

Statistics of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) show that while the share of limited-term employees was only 15 percent in 1984, it increased to 37 percent by 2014 …

New slang terms are the bellwethers of social attitudes in Japan, and I particularly like kensetsu komachi, for young women breaking down the door to Japan’s seasonal construction sector. The sharing, Uber-economy is quietly knocking at Tokyo’s door, despite byzantine and determined regulatory resistance. But, honestly, social change is glacial: facts such as “women made up 16 per cent of new entrepreneurs last year’ are still compatible with exaltations of “a renaissance in Japan for women.”

If an employee can’t leave permanent employment for long before becoming forever temporary, starting out as a freeter may seem like a reasonable option, if higher-skilled options are open. For foreigners, who face unpredictable circumstances in attempting to forge loyalty in a Japanese firm anyway, can there be such a thing as a highly-skilled professional freeter? Puro-furita

Immigration considerations for non-traditional employment are obviously primary for many foreigners in Japan, but that’s a topic for another post.

I’m delighted to explore the flexible legal employment space in Japan. And so, this post is just a beginning. Send your thoughts on the question, and I’ll be back in time with more reports from the ground.


DISCO’s Boston CF 2011 is up

Each year, DISCO holds a massive Career Forum in Boston for English/Japanese bilinguals (in addition to other job fairs in LA, London, and Tokyo).

A run-down on what DISCO can mean for JET alums turned JD students has already been covered by JETs with J.D.s, and is available here.

The Boston career forum is truly massive, and a good opportunity for anyone considering going in-house, or getting in-house experience. Even if you’re a rising 2L trying to figure out what you can do your 2L summer (and are worried you won’t be able to secure the coveted McLaw Summer Associate position), Boston may present opportunities for you this November, and DISCO has recently opened the page for this fall’s CF for applications. The number of participating companies should grow over time, so keep an eye out for companies looking for a J.D. candidate.

Building a resume on CFN can take some time, so starting early would be advisable.

The page with this fall’s Boston Career Forum can be found here.


Getting to 外弁, or “So you want to be a lawyer in Japan.”

This post is aimed at clearing up what it really means to “practice law in Japan,” if you’re not Japanese. Being a foreigner turned Japanese lawyer, without a doubt, conjures up the image of being a truly accomplished bad-ass. There’s a reason for that: being a Japanese lawyer even as a Japanese citizen is insanely difficult. For a foreigner, even more so. Saying “I want to be a Japanese lawyer,” is something akin to that ugly kid in your 3rd grade classroom saying, “I want to be President of the United States”: in theory, it’s possible. But only in theory. In today’s world, ugly people just don’t get to be President.

A man with Chester A. Arthur’s looks would be a prime candidate for those who think their rent is too damn high.

While in theory, a foreigner can reach the level of proficiency and academic aptitude to become a Japanese lawyer practicing Japanese law, the education and licensing requirements represent a practically insurmountable barrier to entry. Currently, there are 30,479 Japanese lawyers (弁護士) registered with a Japanese Bar Association. For purposes of contrast, there are 30,000 lawyers in the U.S. state of Missouri alone. There is a special term for foreigners who actually reach the equivalent status of Japanese lawyer, called Junkaiin (準会員). While you might think this sort of special designation sounds promising, the ability to reach this status was abolished in 1955, so unless you have a flux capacitor and a healthy stash of plutonium, your odds at qualifying as Junkaiin are not great. Currently there is still one Junkaiin in practice.

That 30,000 Bengoshi population figure represents Japanese who have received a Japanese law degree and have successfully passed the Japanese Bar Exam. And we haven’t even talked about the Bar Exam yet. The good news is that the passage rate for the Japanese Bar Exam has increased dramatically since 2006. The bad news is that the odds are still stacked significantly against the test-taker. Even if you’re from a prime Japanese law school, you have no better than 2:1 odds of passing. While this is still better than the 1-4% that passed the test pre-2006, it’s a long way to go, and a long time spent, to only *maybe* become a real J-lawyer.

NOTE: Those who fail the Bar can still become a judicial scrivener, which is similar to Bengoshi, involves the same amount of office work, but significantly reduced courtroom work, and certainly less prestige.

Going for 外弁

What the vast number of foreign lawyers in Japan do, rather than attempt the impossible hurdles of becoming a Japanese lawyer is to procure (1) a Gaiben license (外国法事務弁護士) ; or (2) affiliate with a licensed multinational firm (弁護士法人).

The Gaiben License

Becoming an official Gaiben is a rather long road to hoe, but it’s the closest you’ll get to being an independent attorney in Japan – if that’s your goal.

The main difficulty in getting your Gaiben license is the requirement of prior practice – the Japanese government prefers you work several (I believe four) years in your home jurisdiction before you can be eligible. A few quotes from attorneys and recruiters I’ve talked to flesh this out further.

From a recruiter I spoke with last year:

Another point to keep in mind is the strict enforcement of making sure foreign lawyers in Japan have the gaikokuho jimu bengoshi license (gaiben). In order to qualify for this license a lawyer must have spent a couple of years working in their home jurisdiction. Law firms over here are reluctant to hire junior lawyers who are not eligible for their gaiben qualification. If you would like to work as a lawyer in Japan I would suggest you spend a few years working first in your home jurisdiction and then explore your options after that. I believe this approach will present you with the most options.

From an attorney who practiced in-house in Tokyo before attempting to make the jump to Gaiben:

You may be familiar with the 外国法事務弁護士 license (the “gaiben”). At least today, if you have not practiced a certain number of years in your home jurisdiction, then you cannot qualify to be a gaiben. Essentially, that means that you cannot form a partnership with a Japan licensed lawyer, and you cannot hold yourself out in Japan as a legal professional.

When I graduated from law school, I was happy to be getting a job, and didn’t really think that I would want to ever be a gaiben. I went directly in house.  I don’t regret my decision, but I often caution people like you to think very carefully about the decision.  Worst case scenario, … you might realize that the bureacracy of the company isn’t for you, that you have hit a glass ceiling and are doing too much translation for your own tastes, that you want to broaden your skills, that you want to go back to the US and see your aged parents, it *might* be difficult to do this if your experience is solely in-house … in Japan. One reason why I have stayed in the US as long as I have this time around is to get enough time here to be certain to qualify as a gaiben when I go back.

If you’re looking solely to practice in-house, you may not need the Gaiben license, but practicing in-house can ultimately hinder your progress towards Gaiben if you choose to go that way:

On the other hand, if you want a career in Japanese legal departments, say, or in business generally, you probably won’t need to become a gaiben. (I haven’t checked, but logically you shouldn’t, since most corporate law dept. folks aren’t bengoshi.) Also, I know things are tough for law grads now, so any job opportunity that you get that excites you is a welcome thing.

And BTW, MoJ prefers law firm practice — they wanted me to exclude my in-house practice from my application. Though maybe that was due less to MoJ’s own preference than to their fears about what the Nichibenren might say.

And, of course, even if you qualify for Gaiben, there is still bureaucratic lead time and the significant expenses of maintaining a US state bar license and Gaiben license to consider — another obstacle to any young lawyer graduating with law school debt.

Affiliate with BigLaw

This is the other option: but it is conditional on you (1) doing well enough in law school to be an attractive candidate; (2) demonstrating a commitment to Japan. The first is a matter only you can affect, and given law school grading curves and a tight market, there is a significant “luck” factor at work here. The second you can affect by simply being there, either at your own expense, or at a Law School Study Abroad program in Japan.

Indeed, one of the successful candidates who took this route I know combined his JD with a masters degree in Japanese (with focus on Japanese law). The additional masters degree was a solidly smart move: it gave him an “extra” 2L summer — in other words a second shot at the big firm summer associate recruiters, and enough time to take a semester in Tokyo, which helped him land a summer associate position IN Tokyo. This transformed into an actual job opportunity. Your mileage, of course, may vary.


Of course, Japan is in a state of legal reform, and this situation may change at some point. But anyone who has worked with Japan knows that change can come slow, and for now, if you want to independently practice law in Japan, you’ll need to get to Gaiben first.

Lateral Interviewing Advice for Asia US Associate Positions (c/o Asia Chronicles)

Interviewing is a tricky business. Part competency assessment, part social skills assessment, part luck of the draw — even with a shining resume the interview is the most significant barrier to finding employment in a tricky legal job market.

The Asia Chronicles, a weblog that puts out materials, including occasional jobs relating to the legal market in (unsurprisingly) Asia, has just put out a great resource on the interviewing interests firms in Asia have in recruiting US associates. It’s a concise, quick read, and is available here.

US-based Japan Societies

If you want to practice domestically if you get into law school, and still practice in a manner that allows you to use the Japanese language skills and background you gained as a JET, expanding your personal network is critical.  Below are all of the Japan Societies / Japan-America Societies I could find within the fifty U.S. states.  I do not contend that this list is in any way exhaustive, but it does consist of the Societies of which I could find websites or at least address information.

Naturally, your JETAA branches will serve as a valuable support and professional network moving forward, but you will have a better bet finding Japanese professionals to build contacts with in the Japan Societies indicated below.

Japan America Society of Alabama

(I was only able to find the basic information for the Japan America Society of Alaska)

Japan-America Society of Arkansas

(I was unable to find an applicable Japan Society for Baltimore.  I did however find this Baltimore Area Japanese Meetup which may at least provide language reinforcement)

The Japan Society of Boston

Japan Society of Northern California

Japan America Society of Southern California

Japan America Society of Chicago

Japan America Society of Greater Cincinnati

The Japan America Society of Colorado

Japan-America Society of Connecticut

Japan-America Society of Dallas/Fort Worth

Japan America Society of Greater Detroit

Japan-America Society of Northwest Florida

The Japan-America Society of Georgia

Japan America Society of Hawaii

The Japan America Society of Houston

Japan-America Society of Indiana

Japan America Society of Iowa

Heart of America Japan-America Society (Kansas and Missouri)

Japan/America Society of Kentucky

Japan America Society of Maine

Japan America Society of Minnesota

The Japan-America Society of Mississippi

Japan America Society of Nevada

(I couldn’t find a website for it, but there is at least a map and phone number for the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire)

The Japan-America Society of Central Ohio

The Japan Society of New Orleans

Japan Society of New York

North Carolina Japan Center

Japan-America Society of Oklahoma

Japan-America Society of Oregon

Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania

Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia

The Japan Association of Greater Pittsburgh

Rhode Island Japan Society

Japan America Society of St. Louis

The Japan America Society of San Antonio

Japan America Association of South Carolina

Southeast US / Japan Association

Japan-America Society of Tennessee

Japan America Society of Tuscon

Japan America Society of Vermont

Japan America Society of the State of Washington

Japan-America Society of Washington D.C.

(The best I could find for anything Wisconsin-based is some address for the Japan America Society of Wisconsin)

The Japan-America Society of Wyoming

Japan系 Legal Associations

Below are two Legal Associations related to those with Japanese interests one might consider looking into:

The Japan Law Society has free membership, and they have a group on LinkedIn, and often post quite a bit about CLEs taking place Japan-side, which may be of little interest to a law student, but can at least let you know what’s going on issue-wise amongst attorneys in Japan.

The second group is for those students who have access to furikomi – The Roppongi Bar Association.

See also numerous other LinkedIn groups that are ancillary to the legal profession, namely groups for Bilingual Japanese, Business in Japan, and Jobs in Japan, not to mention JETAA and any chapter affiliations you might have.


Practicing in Tokyo (3): Know Your Firms

20061008-Shinjuku0093A short, simple post – if you want to practice somewhere like Tokyo, you need to know the firms that you want to practice with – and this post is designed to help you figure that out. No frills, bells or whistles – just a long, linked-up like crazy list of firms. A list of major multinational firms with Tokyo offices are listed below:

  1. Allen & Overy
  2. Arqis Foreign Law Office
  3. Ashurst
  4. Baker & McKenzie
  5. Bingham McCutchen
  6. Clifford Chance
  7. Cotty Vivant Marchiso & Lauzeral
  8. Davis Polk & Wardwell
  9. DLA Piper
  10. Finnegan Henderson
  11. Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer
  12. Herbert Smith
  13. Hogan & Hartson
  14. Hughes Hubbard & Reed
  15. Jones Day
  16. King & Wood
  17. Latham & Watkins
  18. Linklaters
  19. Lovells
  20. Milbank Tweed
  21. Morgan Lewis & Bockius
  22. Morrison Foerster (“MOFO”)
  23. Norton Rose
  24. O’Melveny & Myers
  25. Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe
  26. Paul Hastings
  27. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
  28. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
  29. Quinn Emanuel
  30. Ropes & Gray
  31. Shearman & Sterling
  32. Sidley Austin
  33. Simmons & Simmons
  34. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
  35. Skadden Arps
  36. Sughrue Mion
  37. Squire Sanders
  38. Sullivan & Cromwell
  39. Vinson & Elkins
  40. Wakely Foreign Law Office
  41. White & Case
  42. Wikborg Rein
  43. Hayabusa Asuka
  44. TMI Associates

Practicing Law in Tokyo (2): Practice Area

Also known as: there is no such thing as practicing “international law.”  Okay, that’s not necessarily true.  But the fact is that “international law” as a term more commonly refers to international law in the public arena: i.e. states dealing with states, or states dealing with international organizations.  Working for the United Nations, for example, would put you squarely in the realm of public international law.  This differs significantly from what most attorneys in the international arena are doing: practicing law internationally.

While there may be some overlap (if you are practicing law internationally, it may be worthwhile in understanding the WTO rules embodied in GATT/GATS/TRIPS/TRIMS, example, and the WTO’s Dispute Settlement procedures), if you’re seeking to do something outside the context of foreign relations, public interest, or NGO work, you will still need to figure out what kind of law you want to practice.  “I want to practice international law,” as a statement to a potential employer will not suffice.  “I want to practice international law in a Japanese context,” moreover, is not much better.

So, what practice areas are big in the Tokyo market?

As Martindale indicates, if you’re looking for a Tokyo firm that works in Education law, Elections, Eminent Domain or Family Law, you’re not going to find much.  (Okay, there may be some applicable family law disputes out there, I suppose).  If, however, you’re in the business of Intellectual Property, M&A, Finance, or Trade, you have considerably more options.

Unfortunately, first year law classes don’t necessarily prepare you to answer the kind of question you’ll need to be able to answer to employers: what kind of law do you want to practice internationally?  But thinking ahead about this – about both what it means to practice law internationally, and what kind of law you might want to practice internationally – is critical to marketing yourself to a Tokyo firm.

For resources regarding taking an international law course during your law school career see:

When Should American Law Students Take International Law?

Should 1L’s Take International Law?

The Utility of International Law Courses – A Response to Posner

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.