Finding Legal Work in Japan – the “France of Asia”!

What does “Japan” evoke for you? Fine food, delicate design, pride in a long history and rich culture, powerful bureaucrats, some very big business? But it also has a sophisticated modern legal system, open to outside influences and impacting on other parts of the world – including Thailand, and more recently Cambodia and Vietnam. Just like France, in all these respects! To take the analogy even further: perhaps China is the “Germany of Asia” – now the slightly larger economy, with more focused politics, and a friendly rival for regional leadership.
On 20 August, Sydney Law School (SLS) will hold a student information session on legal practice and educational opportunities in Asia, kindly sponsored this year by “Herbert Smith Freehills”. Offshore units available for SLS course credit include the Kyoto and Tokyo Seminars in Japanese Law, co-taught by Australian- and Japan-based professors and practitioners, every February for Australian, other international and Ritsumeikan University Law School students. I also want to talk briefly about practice opportunities in Japan, based on my personal experience (as a “trainee” with Osaka law firms in the early 90s, while a postgraduate student at Kyoto University) and especially an excellent introduction to “finding legal work in Japan” written a few years ago by a SLS student (“Anon”, still living in Tokyo).

“Anon” begins by outlining the large “Japanese legal market” – almost completely liberalized for foreign lawyers since 2004 – and the different types of work now available for them in Japan (realistically: in Tokyo). One likely possibility for new graduates from SLS is to obtain a secondment from an Australian firm to one of the (sometimes now very big) Tokyo firms. Those include Anderson Mori Tomotsune (with senior partner and IBA President Akira Kawamura, a SLS graduate and donor ) and Nagashima Ohno Tsunematsu (with partner Keith Suzuka, a longstanding supporter of SLS/ANU’s “Team Australia”, which competes in English and Japanese each December in the Tokyo Negotiation and Arbitration Competition).
Australia-based law firms or branches can also rotate young lawyers out to their Tokyo offices. Until recently this was mainly just Baker & McKenzie, but a few years ago Blake Dawson set up a small office in Tokyo and that is now absorbed into the much larger office of the UK-based firm Ashurst, as part of their world-wide merger. Freehills has also merged this year with the UK-based Herbert Smith, with a relatively large office in Tokyo with a strong dispute resolution practice. Allens (another moot competition supporter for SLS) has a strategic alliance with Nagashima Ohno and now has a broader one with UK-based Linklaters, which has a very large Tokyo office specializing in financial markets law.
The second main option is to approach directly such firms in Tokyo, especially the 30-40 large international firms, seeking a continuing position. “Anon” suggests that probably 5-10 of these firms are clearly more likely to be interested in Australian lawyers, especially those with a few years’ post-admission experience/training in Australia and/or with Japanese-language skills. “Anon” suggests trawling through the websites of the international firms but also provides guidance on additional resources for “researching the firms”. (The “Roppongi Bar Association” is now rather less “US-centric”, and no longer mainly a social/drinking network: I’ve given them talks on product liability, and on the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA negotiations. The latter, and/or the proposed Australia-Japan FTA, could have have a significant impact on cross-border legal services markets.)
In addition, “Anon” provides further valuable tips on “Selecting a firm” and “How to apply”.
Another great way to improve your chances of landing a fascinating job in one of the world’s busiest capital cities is to join the Kyoto and Tokyo Seminars in February. As well as receiving a comprehensive introduction to Japan’s legal system in socio-economic context, including various field studies, you can meet practitioners co-teaching some topics and join local law students (especially in Kyoto) to find out more about the realities of the legal world in Japan. Students with a strong interest in Japan are also welcome to join (gratis) the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), which sometimes passes on job opportunities in Japan and elsewhere.

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.