Kawamura Connections: Tokyo Lawyers Go Global, All the Way With the IBA

Mr Akira Kawamura is senior partner in Anderson Mori & Tomotsune (AMT), one of Tokyo’s “big four” firms – each of which now has around 400-500 lawyers, compared to around 50 just a decade ago. He is also Vice-President of the International Bar Association (IBA), a federation of law societies from 136 countries comprising over 20,000 members world-wide. Kawamura-sensei is also one of Sydney Law School’s distinguished alumni, obtaining an LLM here in 1979, and he is a founding Advisor to the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) as well as a generous donor for the ANJeL Akira Kawamura course prizes in Japanese Law. On 21 September he visited the new Law School building and spoke with staff and students about global legal practice, developments in Japan, and the work of the IBA.

The effects of the latest Japan’s justice system reform program have been uneven, but the last decade has certainly seen some dramatic changes in the Japanese markets for legal services. The numbers of bengoshi lawyers have risen from around 14,000 in the late 1990s to around 26,000 today. Foreign lawyers registered to advise (out of court) on the law(s) of their home jurisdiction(s) have grown from around 80 to around 320 today. Law firms in Tokyo (and Osaka) also continue to hire many other lawyers from abroad as “trainees”, generally for shorter periods. International law firms are now permitted full profit-sharing partnerships, with English, German and US firms now having a significant presence in Tokyo. This means a new competitive environment in the burgeoning field of cross-border legal advice, aimed at foreign firms increasingly accessing the Japanese market but also Japanese firms continuing a two-decade long push into foreign markets (especially in other parts of Asia). It is one factor behind the growth and specialization of Japanese firms like AMT. The other is growing demand for legal services in domestic transactions and dispute resolution, especially in corporate and commercial affairs.
Japan is therefore looking rather like the US, then the UK and for example Germany and Australia, when law firms also began to expand quite suddenly. European developments have been underpinned by European law, but the WTO regime and proliferating bilateral or regional FTAs (such as NAFTA) are also having a broader impact nowadays. A particularly striking phenomonon is the growth, professionalization and internationalization of the legal professions throughout most of Asia.
Australian lawyers are particularly well placed to take advantage of what Professor Bruce Aronson calls this “brave new world“. English is the main language of international business and legal work in this region, although facility in Asian languages provides a significant extra edge. Top Australian law schools equip graduates with a strong basis in the common law concepts and techniques that are widely used in cross-border legal work. Already, two thirds of non-Asian lawyers in international law firms in Asia are reportedly Australians. A new tendency is for recent graduates to begin work directly in Tokyo for international firms, rather than first spending a few years in their London or New York offices (although those offices, too, are still full of Australian lawyers!).
The IBA is the premier organization for this new generation of international lawyers. Founded in 1947 with membership from all the then members of the new United Nations, it has been called “the UN of Bar Associations and the Bar Association of the UN”. And as one of the world’s largest international NGOs, the IBA is well placed to add an independent voice and significant expertise to assist in legal developments world-wide. Projects are wide-ranging, including for example:
• criminal justice reform proposals (like video-taping interrogations of suspected criminals);
• training of Iraqi lawyers (which Kawamura-sensei also discussed separately with Professor David Kinley here, as our Sydney Centre for International Law has also been involved in a similar aid program);
• recommended rules and guidelines aimed at promoting efficient but fair procedures in international commercial arbitration; and
• research into the background and implications of the Global Financial Crisis.
The IBA has several offices world-wide, and also a rapidly expanding Asia-Pacific Forum group. In particular, its headquarters in London hosts dozens of young lawyers as interns assisting with the Association’s diverse activities.
Kawamura-sensei ended his lunchtime talk to students, co-hosted by SULS, by encouraging them to consider seriously such internships (as well as internships and other opportunities available in Tokyo). He also urged students to join organisations like the IBA to “work for good” in the increasingly globalised environment for legal practice.
1. ANJeL and Sydney Law School, in partnership with Ritsumeikan Law School and several other organisations in Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, support the unique Kyoto and Tokyo Seminars in Japanese Law. The next take place over 8-18 February 2010. Students interested in taking one or both for LLB or Masters credit should apply here by 9 October to maximise chances of being accepted, as numbers are capped.
2. ANJeL also fields “Team Australia” to compete in the Intercollegiate Negotiation and Arbitration Competition, to be held next in Tokyo on 5-6 December. This is another wonderful learning opportunity building up the next generation of truly transnational lawyers, and ANJeL welcomes expressions of interest or support (financial or in-kind).

Author: Luke Nottage

Prof Luke Nottage (BCA, LLB, PhD VUW, LLM LLD Kyoto) is founding co-director of the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), Associate Director (Japan) of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS), and Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law at Sydney Law School. He specialises in international dispute resolution, foreign investment law, contract and consumer (product safety) law.