public international law

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