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.


NALP Conference: Resume Advice

It’s finals time now, so things are going to be slow here for the next couple of weeks. Last week, however, was the NALP Conference in Puerto Rico– and Above the Law produced the following summary of legal resume advice that’s worth reading through.

Of particular concern to former JETs should be the tidbits about overall resume length and the weight your language ability will ultimately have on your resume. At the end of the day, it may make aiming for that 1kyuu (or N1, as it’s called now) or JETRO exam certification worth it.

Presentation to Returnees : Taking the JET Experience into the Legal Field

Certainly this site isn’t the only one looking to help JETs take their time in Japan and segue into the legal marketplace.  Last month, there was a presentation at the Tokyo Returnee’s Conference specifically aimed at JETs considering legal careers.

The slides are posted here, and have some great information, including:

  • A list of foreign law firms that employ in Tokyo;
  • A list of possible legal careers, and;
  • A list of the qualifications necessary for a legal career in the various JET participating countries.

Happy reading!

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.

Law Schools with Study Abroad in Japan Programs

One of the perks of being in law school is that the doors of study abroad are once again wide open to you — a summer study abroad program can help eat up your credit hour requirements, and a semester abroad might provide the kind of work experience you need to land a job overseas.  Many law schools out there have associations with schools abroad.  Some operate as island programs that are nothing more than a shell of an actual study abroad experience– you take classes with your law school’s professors, amongst your law school’s students.  The only thing that changes is the background.  The opportunities for immersion or networking on such programs, likewise, are considerably smaller.  Other programs out there, though, are more intensive.

TempleUJapanMost importantly, if you want to find yourself back in Japan right after law school, studying abroad there can be key.  As one current Tokyo attorney put it to me:

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…

While I’m sure 400% is not a scientifically precise figure of your chances, it delivers a clear message: if you really want to work there, you have to be there, and study abroad can help you do that.

So what law schools out there give you the chance to study abroad in Japan?

Harvard.  Okay, there are probably a host of other reasons you might want to go to Harvard.  After all, it’s Harvard!  But aside from that, Harvard has the key relationship with Tokyo University.  To-dai.  The One.

Additionally, a number of other law schools have relationships Waseda University Law School, including: Columbia University, Duke University, Cornell University, Michigan University, the University of Illinois, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia.

A third option is Temple Law School – Japan Campus.  The program operates every winter semester and is open to applicants outside of Temple Law School.  Internships are also available to those with sufficient Japanese ability.

Santa Clara Law School also has a summer program in Tokyo.

Michigan State University has a summer program in Kyoto as well.

JET on Your Resume

The nagging question to most folks concluding their JET experience is: how the hell do I utilize JET on my resume?


Maybe tone it down a little.

The short answer is that JET can be sold as a positive experience, but compared to the opportunity costs of other things you could have been doing instead of JET, JET won’t necessarily be a golden ticket into law school or a legal career.  Perhaps the first threshold question is: Should I even put JET on my resume?  What may seem like a no-brainer (yes!  of course! JET’s great!) may actually not be so — there are certainly no dearth of web forum arguments out there over this very issue.

Technically The JET Program[me] was not your employer, your contracting organization was.  JET, then, is more like your placement agency, and your BOE your placement.  Additionally, with a name that ends in “Program[me],” JET doesn’t sound really like an employer, but, well, like something that’s simply experiential – like study/work abroad.  There’s the rub – if JET is your only post-undergrad experience, you’d prefer to characterize it as close to actual work as possible.  It seems odd, then, to try and fit JET at the top line of your resume in your employment slot.

However, JET also has a pretty vast and active alumni community, and as such, you might want to find a way to highlight the fact that you’re a former JET to get the attention of possible JET alums that can help you find employment.  It that sense, it would be understandable to put “The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program[me] somewhere visible on your resume.  Also worth noting, as of April 10, 2010 – LinkedIn now recognizes “The JET Program[me]” as an employer on its drop down menus when putting your work experience into that site.  This should assist former JETs search for other JET alumni with which to network.

The good news on this is, since there’s no significant consensus on this issue, you can likely list it however you like.  If you’re going to list JET as your employer, it would make more sense to list the whole name as opposed to the acronym (i.e. The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program[me], instead of just “JET” or “The JET Program[me],”) to give non-JET employers some idea of what you were doing.

Alternative approaches would include listing your Board of Education as your employer, and then including “Placement by the JET Program, one of Japan’s largest cultural exchange programs, run by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with local governments.”  Or some other such thing.  If, for some reason, you don’t want to highlight that your background was on JET, you can always just list your JETAA affiliation near the bottom of your resume, or omit JET altogether.

From personal experience, I can say at interviews I’ve never had my time on JET come up in a negative light.  In the interest of full disclosure, my JET resume entry is below:

Naninani City Board of Education Dokoka Pref., Japan

Assistant Language Teacher, August 2005-August 2008

  • Ÿ  Instructed English as a Foreign Language and led internationalization activities for a city of 35,000 at 14 different schools
  • Ÿ  Instructed English at community college, coached winning speech competition contestants
  • Ÿ  Co-developed and presented a curriculum for use in nineteen area elementary schools.
  • Ÿ  Advised youth table tennis players for five junior high schools

While I do not mention JET explicitly, I do mention my JETAA affiliation in a separate area.  I have friends, however, who have included JET prominently in their resume, and who have found employment.  How, where, and whether you choose to make JET a visible part on your resume is up to you.  It is something to think about, though.

Now that we have that out of the way, onto something more significant: How should I explain JET on my resume?

The answer to that question depends upon whether: (a) You’re using your JET experience to get into law school, or (b) You’re using your JET experience as part of your search for legal employment.  Oddly enough, law schools and legal employers are not looking for the same things on your resume.  What you know is that neither really cares about your amazing Fruit Basket ‘skillz’ – but what is it they are looking for?

The Law School Resume

Law schools care about nothing more than your LSAT score having a diverse student body that can bring different perspectives and ideas into the law school classroom.  The good news is that a former JET can bring a lot of diversity into the classroom, and having a resume that screams both to your JET-related accomplishments as well as this diversity/uniqueness element will likely help you.

If you take some time to think about it, you do bring a pretty unique background with you.  If you were in a small town (like I was) chances are you were the only person – or only one of a very few select people – of your nationality to live there.  You’ve lived the life of an outsider – trying to adapt, fit in, and get along in a place very different from your home.  You’ve taken on challenges from such mundane things as sorting your garbage to seven different categories to having to plan a lesson on the fly because your JTE decided it would be fun not to tell you forgot to tell you about the class you are going to teach five minutes from now.  You’ve been asked to make impromptu speeches and you’ve been made a spectacle of at town events.  In other words, you’ve had a unique and rare experience that not many of your fellow law students bring to the table.  Capitalize on that.

Of course JET probably won’t offset a poor LSAT or undergrad performance – JET will be a ‘soft factor’ on your law school application, but you can utilize it in a way that makes it a very strong soft factor, if you want to do so.

The Legal Employer Resume

The legal employer doesn’t care so much about your diverse background, your interesting perspective on life, or your opinions on onsen etiquette.  A legal employer wants to know two things: (1) Can you produce a good work product for me?, and (2) Are you going to be impossible to work with?

Keep in mind, moreover, that if you were born between 1979-2000 and coming off of JET, going to law school, and looking for legal employment, you may also have to overcome the image employers currently have about the Millennial Generation.  While employers recognize our generation as tech-savvy and confident, we’re not so beloved for having an ‘entitled’ attitude, short attention span, an inability to do anything without the approval of a superior, and a dislike for consulting resources that were, at one point, trees.  For additional information regarding hiring and millenials, see Jim Kennedy’s 2008 Article on the subject.

Also, JET will not be at the top of your legal resume.  Legal resumes naturally bifurcate the ‘Work Experience’ section into two areas, with Legal Experience (at the top) and Other Experience (after Legal Experience).

Your resume to a legal employer needs to (1) convince them of your competence, (2) do something to demonstrate that you’re not like the other Millennials applying for the position (i.e., you can make decisions – Millennials are often lauded for their ability to find information, but severely disliked when it comes to not knowing how to process or act on it), and (3) show them something, some skill or ability you can bring to their work place.  All of this needs to be designed to get you to the next step of finding employment: an interview.

But, while JET didn’t provide you the legal training to necessarily help you accomplish (3), it definitely gives you a good angle to attack (1) and (2).  For (1), show some quantifiable results– how big a town or city did you work for?  At how many schools?  What other accomplishments did you have in the workplace?  Did you design a curriculum?  Coach students for the speech contest?  Numbers, data, and achievements are the best way to show you did something with your time on the Program[me].  For (2), show you took some leadership, or were put in a situation where you had to make decisions.  If you had to teach at elementary school, chances are quite high you had to do a lot of the grunt work yourself – in terms of class preparation and class leadership.  If you were a one-shot with a ton of schools, you probably had to walk into a classroom full of kids you saw, maybe, once a month, read the tone of the room, and with only that limited amount of information figure out how you were going to conduct class.

This doesn’t mean that legal employers don’t want to hear about your adventures, however.  Your employers may want to know you are human in some way, and your JET entry may be a good place to add a little of that ‘human’ touch to your resume.

As your law school career progresses, you may want to consider how much space JET takes on your resume, and how you want to adapt JET to polish weaker parts of your resume.

As to what specifically to put on your resume, there is fortunately tons of advice out there on that.  I’ve amassed as much of it as I can, and put it below.

Additional Materials:

Transferable Skills JETs Have.pdf: Contains a listing of various transferable skills JETs tend to gain on the Program[me]

JETAA Portland offers a little bit of resume advice

Careers After JET 2005.pdf: Contains various job hunting tips as well as CV/Resume tips.

2003 JET Alumni Assoc Resume Writing Workshop.doc: Doc file with resume writing tips

Temple University Japan Campus Post-JET: Slides from a What to Do After JET for Job Searching