legal market

The Bright Legal Market of 2015

Andy had been keeping up with the poor state of the U.S. legal market a few years ago, and it seems like a good idea to continue his efforts. The recent positive U.S. job report for January 2016 had some minor bad news for the legal profession: a loss of 1,400 lawyers, or 0.12% from December.

But the sour news was completely offset by the 95 percent of law students who spent last summer clerking at a law firm and received an offer to work full-time at the firm after graduation. Read about it here, but the takeaway is that the effect of the ’08 recession was over last year, partially because the law school bubble has finished it’s big pop:

The 95 percent offer rate was up from 93 percent in 2014, and a marked increase from the low of 69 percent in 2009.

Leipold noted that with first-year law school enrollment having fallen by more than 15,000 nationwide over the past five years, law firms are seeing more competition for the top candidates simply because schools are producing fewer graduates.

So long as the January’s (… and February’s) stock market, oil plunge, emerging market trifecta doesn’t spin the United States into another recession in 2016 … it might be time to again start thinking of an American J.D. as a safe investment in the future. But don’t tell your friends.

cropped-tokyo_university_entrance_exam_results_6.jpg

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Alternatives to Legal Careers Guide (Univ. of Ariz.)

 

The truth is, many of these jobs need a J.D. about as much as Springfield needed a monorail.

I have to admit, I always found the whole “You can do anything with a law degree!” argument coming out of law school Admissions and Career Services offices among the most dubious tricks in their bag.

To deny that the constant pleadings that “You can do anything with a law degree” are part sales pitch, part vain attempt to incentivize students to stay the course and help keep that tuition money flowing is ludicrous. It’s definitely part of the scheme. Hell, my law school had a whole week dedicated to speakers on “alternative careers.” I believe they called it something like “Thinking Outside the Box,” and had folks from various industries who had J.D.s but weren’t actually practicing law come in and speak.

Of course, for lesser ranked schools, the “You can do anything with a law degree” tack is a touch inaccurate. It should more likely be said that “You’re not going to be able to practice law anyway, so start thinking of something else now.”

So, yes, whenever an administrator (or student lemming) starts in with the flexibility of the J.D. thing, I can’t help but feel a little sad for their plight. The administrator simply doesn’t know what to do anymore (legal jobs were tough enough to get pre-financial crisis, and most CSO’s today have either gotten creative or simply thrown their hands up), and the student has been had: hook, line, and sinker.

But, that’s not to say that alternative careers aren’t out there. They should simply be treated along the same lines as they are titled: they are an “alternative” to practicing law. If you’re going to law school for an alternative career, I think you’re making the wrong decision. If you’re going to law school hoping to practice law and discover that either (1) practicing law isn’t your thing and you’re too far in to get out; or (2) given your ranking in the law school strata you’re likely going to be unable to practice law immediately, then an alternative career can be a saving grace.

living-in-a-box-11

Perhaps more appropriate would have been: “Living Inside A Box: You’re Probably Screwed.”

The truth is that I can’t rail against alternative careers too much, as my law school outcome has been in the “alternative” bracket, at least for now. I certainly didn’t spend another 3 years and ton of money with an alternative career in mind, though. And neither should you.

That said, what alternative careers are out there for legal eagles? The University of Arizona has compiled a brief 22-page guide on possible alternative careers, possible salaries, and pointers and seeking out jobs that are not necessarily part of the legal sphere.

Another way to prepare for alternative career job hunting is to tap into (or create, if you’re behind the ball) your network. An in-house position interview is different from a law firm interview, which will be different from an interview with an accounting firm or investment bank. Having experienced individuals you can contact to help advise or prepare you for job searches in fields outside of legal can be invaluable.

The University of Arizona Guide can be found here.

ABA commentary can be found here.

ATL commentary can be found here.

Calling All Aspiring JETs with J.D.s!

Mecha-hisashiburi’s to you all. The past several months have been intensely busy, with graduation, the bar exam, and following a bit of good fortune, the conclusion to a successful job search. Yes, a job. Happy days are here again. What happened, you ask? Well, I became a contented victim of the “companies are now hiring J.D.s” trend in this absolutely topsy-turvy economy thing we have going on.

In short: I’m going to be involved in the land acquisition end of the natural gas industry. Just picture a mix of the “Rich Texan” from The Simpsons, and the Monopoly man.

Or, picture this guy with a monacle.

Okay, enough navel-gazing self-congratulatory blog-spew. There’s a more important point to my posting: the future of this blog.

Here’s the rub: I am a JET alum, and I do have a J.D., but from here on out I am well aware that my free time to blog for the benefits of JETs and the Japan-obsessed will be sparse. Further, I’ve always felt that this blog lacked the breadth it could otherwise have. The JET program and the legal market is a nice niche, but it’s still an intensely broad area that, even when I had time to blog regularly, I couldn’t tackle all by myself.

Lastly, having talked with lawyers (both old and young) during the course of my law school tenure, I am keenly aware that lawyers’ perceptions of the legal market and the opportunities out there are at times vastly different from the perspective a law student has. I strongly feel that JETs with J.D.s would languish without a JET alum/law student involved.

This is a long and winding way of saying that I am looking for someone (or more than one someone) to take the reigns for this site. While another person interested in private-sector legal work is fine, I’d be really interested in seeing someone interested in public sector/public interest legal opportunities step forward. I feel the public service end of the law is an area where I have been less helpful.

A public sector preference is only preferred, though. All that I would require of a new blogger are two things: (1) that you be a JET alum; and (2) that you be in (or about to attend) law school.

Though there’s no money in it (never was for me 😉 ), there are some benefits to helping out. The biggest of which is contributing to this blog may be the best catalyst to do the one thing law students (and human beings in general) hate to do: network. I know more attorneys and other vital contacts than I would know otherwise because I wanted to have material to blog about and, while I would never name my contacts outright, there gems of wisdom are scattered throughout this blog for the benefit of all. I also believe I would not have received the opportunity I am currently undertaking if it had not been for JET alums and attorneys providing me with personal advice, scouring my resume, and guiding my interviewing style.

If you are interested, drop me a line in the comments, or just contact me directly.

I plan to still contribute occasionally, at least enough to keep JETs with J.D.s up and running. Many of the old posts to this blog are a valuable resource and worth keeping around, and I will do what I can to make that possible.

Finally, I plan to write something up about my law school and job search experience generally sometime in the near future, so look for that post coming soon.

68.4% Employment for Class of ’10.

It seems like just yesterday I advised any law student to take a Sharpie and black out the part of U.S News & World Report where it talks about new graduates achieving 98%-100% employment.

Oh. Wait. It was.

NALP (an association that compiles all variety of legal employment statistics) just came out with its selected findings for the class of 2010 (those graduating last May). The numbers are as ugly as one might expect.

Only 68.4% of 2010 law school graduates had jobs that required them to take and pass a bar exam. Another 10% or so had jobs that were “J.D. preferred”. The odds are still better than betting $100k on red at the roulette wheel, but this is the lowest it’s ever been. Light still doesn’t seem to be at the end of the tunnel, either.

The NALP findings in full are available here.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

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.

 

What’s up with the legal market?

For JET alums trying to make out what exactly is up with legal education and the legal market: the Economist just had a great article that lays it all out. For frequent readers, this should be nothing you haven’t heard before: the financial crisis killed a lot of jobs, and the delay in a legal market recovery is hampered by outsourcing and clients clinging a little closer to their pocketbooks and not wanting to pay young associates.

20110507_bbp002The article, in full, is here.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

 

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.

Epilogue

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.

Disco’s Career Forum, for JETs with J.D.s

Disco Stu likes DISCO jobs

Every year, Boston welcomes the largest Japanese-English bilingual job fair known to man. The job fair is run by DISCO International, and is otherwise known as the Boston Career Forum. Career forums are also held in Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles throughout the year– but Boston is easily conceded as the largest of these.

This forum is something I wish I had known about earlier as a law student, because a large number of Japanese and multinational employers show up (this year, 132 of them did), and some of them are actually looking to fill vacancies in their legal department, or for whatever other reason are willing to look at J.D. candidates and J.D. holders. The distinct advantage about this career fair, moreover, is that for perhaps the only time in your law school career, you’re not competing with a horde of fellow students en masse, but only those students who have the requisite language skill (not so many), and only those who have been willing to make the journey (even fewer).

While I was skeptical as to whether this large job forum would help me at all (as it seemed largely aimed at undergrads, MBA’s, and engineers) I was able to walk away from Boston having had a number of interviews and a couple positive leads on the job search. Below, I will briefly relay my experience, suggestions, and advice for any JET pursuing a J.D. who might be considering a trip to Boston next fall.

Preliminary Matters

(1) If you want to work for a law firm and a law firm only – the remainder of this post is largely useless to you. Your time would be better spent looking at these vintage (and hilarious) Tokyo subway posters.

(2) If you are below Conversational level Japanese (generally, JLPT 3級 = Conversational), DISCO won’t let you in. So you’ll either have to lie or improve your Japanese ability. I advise the latter.

Preparation

I heard of DISCO and the Boston Career Forum from another JET alum who went to law school and found his first post-graduation job in-house, with a Japanese company, through DISCO. When I first heard about DISCO from this alum (in July), I immediately went to their site and found that information about the Boston Career Forum, and prospective employers, was already posted and some employers were already accepting application submissions. Currently, DISCO does not have information up about its 2011 Career Forums, but it is only a matter of time.

Regardless, I would advise setting up a profile on DISCO’s site sooner rather than later. In setting up a profile, you are given the option of setting up an English and a Japanese resume. I suggest you do both– as some employers will accept the Japanese one only, and others the English one only. Depending on your Japanese ability, this can take next to no time at all, or can be quite time consuming, and you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to proofread both before you start applying for positions.

Applying to Interviews Before the Career Forum

All your applications for the Career Forum will require one of the resumes you set up through DISCO. That’s usually the easy part of applying to an employer. In addition to the resume, employers can also ask supplemental questions – to be filled out in only English, only Japanese, or either. These questions also tend to impose character limitations. Again, you’ll want time to plan ahead and draft well-written, grammatically correct answers to these questions – which is why I advise you start preparation early.

These supplemental questions also allow employers to vet applicants according to their language ability. DISCO requires you to rank your language ability along traditional JLPT categorizations (Elementary, Conversational, Business, Native), but if your answers to the supplemental make you look like you’re struggling at 4級, and you’re posturing yourself as a Native-speaker, don’t expect too much.

Some employers throw additional hurdles into the application process. This is particularly true of the accounting firms and investment banks. Accounting firms will generally require you fill out an application off of their home site in addition to the one you do for the Career Forum. Investment Banks usually request likewise, and may throw a timed mathematical reasoning test into the mix.

As the Career Forum gets closer, more employers will join in. Even up to the last few days before the Career Forum, new employers were appearing on the list, and accepting applications for interviews. So again, if you plan on going, you should check early and often.

By the date of the Career Forum, I had lined up four interviews in advance, with one (1) investment bank, one (1) accounting firm, and two (2) Japanese multinational companies. All of them were interviewing for their Tokyo offices.

EDITED TO ADD (01/24/2011): Acquiring interviews prior to going to Boston provides you two other advantages: (1) Arranging interviews in advance makes you more likely to receive a travel scholarship from CFN; (2) Arranging interviews in advance may allow you to access travel funds from your law school to be used for traveling to interviews.

Applying for Interviews AT the Career Forum

Submitting for interviews while you are at the Career Forum is also a realistic possibility. While I was in Boston, I was able to gain interviews with a few other employers, including another accounting firm.

Resumes

No employer will tell you this, but they are typically open to receiving both English and Japanese resumes. From my experience, I highly advise bringing copies of a Japanese resume with you in tow. Many of my interviewers looked a bit nervous to be interviewing me with the English resume they received from DISCO. When I pulled out the Japanese resume I prepared ahead of time, there was a visible (albeit concealed) sigh of relief and I became a small hero in their eyes – always a good way to start the interview.

Note that Japanese resumes tend to have a different format than Western resumes, and involve a lot less “grandstanding” of your accomplishments. Samples are here. A template is available here.

Interviews

Much like JET, my interview experiences were ESID. One was with a guy who spoke fluent English and ultimately gave an impression of being a bit more high-pressure than most law firm interviews. The remainders were conducted in a mix of Japanese and English. Some were basic resume review, others were more conversational.

For some interviews I had to fill out additional paperwork before going in, for others I did not.

For a good number of my interviews, JET was treated as an overall positive on my resume. Others didn’t mention it. At the very least, I can say it wasn’t greeted with a head tilted to the side and air-sucking through the teeth.

Like any other interview, I highly suggest going in with a game plan to handle the variations the interview process can take. Enlisting the help of a Japanese confidante or teacher would be a good idea as well.

Post-Career Forum Contact

To e-mail thank you notes or not? Assuming your interview was positive, a friend of mine suggests the following:

My short answer is that I would send a thank you e-mail or thank you letter as you would with any other person who would interview you, expressing your great interest in learning more about [the Company]. If you have Japanese writing skills, or thought that the interviewer might have doubts about your ability to function in a written Japanese environment, you might take the opportunity to showcase those skills.

For the good interviews I had, I did likewise. I do not feel they necessarily helped or hindered my application in any sense, but those thank you’s at least indicate you are still open and ready to converse.

Again, like the interviews, the process in discussing employment with companies after Boston was very ESID. For some employers, I heard responses quite quickly. For others, I am still in ongoing conversations with them, and this is three months after the initial interview. For legal departments in Japanese companies, a colleague of mine offers the following amount of lead time before you get a response:

I’d give [them] 4 weeks to get back to you. From my experience with Japanese companies, the guy you talked to would report in writing/orally through his chain in the HR department, then the HR department would report in writing to the other departments. The other department might take a week or so to respond to HR. (I can imagine that the legal department might not have expected to receive an application from someone like you. It might take a little bit of time for the legal department to warm up to you.)

Again, while four weeks might be a good standard to have, ESID. It takes one guy sitting around not-hankoing things to gum up the process.

Post-Career Forum Surprises

Finally, a couple of months after the Boston Career Forum, I received an email from a Company interested in knowing whether they would still like me to talk to their legal and compliance departments, respectively, about the possibility of joining them in Tokyo. So, even for those companies you apply to and never hear from, possibilities exist that they may contact you long after the fact.

A Final Note

DISCO also posts general job postings for bilinguals throughout the year. I have had some luck with these as well, though they are generally not aimed at J.D.s.

In short, if you’re looking to navigate the Apocalyptic War-Zone that is legal employment in a post-financial crisis world – DISCO offers you a welcome platform from which to market your legal and language abilities – in a much less crowded field of competitors.

Recent Developments: The Difficult Job Market

Bad news is never fun, but there’s always plenty of it out there, even when the market is up and last month saw significant positive job growth of around 150,000. Law jobs are still projected to lag behind, however, and a recent National Jurist article gives a pretty succinct explanation as to why. A brief snippet of that article can be found here, but one of the more salient portions explains:

Here are three relevant observations:

1. The traditional law firm hiring model (pedigree and grades) doesn’t do a very good job of selecting candidates who are likely to succeed as large firm litigators or corporate lawyers.

2 The traditional credential-based model is gradually being dismantled because clients are no longer willing to absorb the cost of bad hiring decisions.

3. The skills and behaviors you need to set yourself apart are not taught in law school—indeed, your typical law professor is completely unqualified to serve as your jungle guide.

The full article contains a fairly lengthy explanation of where the legal market finds itself today, especially in light of young or aspiring lawyers, and is well worth a read for that reason alone. This raises all kinds of questions for the individual considering a legal education, and should raise a lot of concerns as to the risks as well. Change comes slow to law schools, and to firms as well. But, the legal profession as a whole is undergoing serious, hyper-evolutionary changes, and their overall ramifications are still unclear.

For current third-years, who have watched the last two years’ worth of graduates leaving law school jobless and in debt, the likelihood that many of them will suffer the same fate seems a possibility, as noted in U.S. News & World in June:

Though official statistics will not be released until next May, the class of 2010 is likely to have lower raw employment numbers than the class before it, says Jim Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. The employment for the class of 2011 will likely also be “very compromised,” he says.

“The Class of 2012 will be the first class for which we might see some kind of uptick in employment,” Leipold says. “I’m not making a prediction that it will recover in 2012; I’m saying it probably won’t recover much before then.”

The outlook has not much changed with the uptick in the economy as of recent, and it seems instead that the principle suppliers (the law schools) of the glut of lawyers are going to be under pressure to close as the unemployment woes of recent law school grads reach critical mass.

Slate also had a recent article chronicling the typical cautions and risks inherent in going to law school in the current economic climate that concluded with a similar premise that the market will have to level out.

These are the most recent developments I have seen on the employment front, and with the legal market under change, with lots of entry-level attorney jobs being shipped to India, with the large oversupply of attorneys already out there, law school seems to be daily becoming an ever riskier investment, even on the advent of economic recovery.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]