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Asia Insight: Finding a Job with a Firm in Japan

by on May 13, 2010

Part I

This guide is aimed at younger lawyers with some proficiency in Japanese who are interested in finding work in the Japanese legal market.  This will hopefully provide you with a starting point from which to make your own enquiries and hopefully find a firm that is suitable for you.  The first part will consist of  an overview of the Japanese legal market as it exists for foreign lawyers and the options for working in the country. Later parts will also include a list of helpful resources for researching firms in Japan, and criteria to bear in mind when researching.

The Japanese legal market

There are a few options for people interested in working in Japan, including:

Translator/proof-reader, paralegal, associate with 2-3 years experience (transferring to Japan after having received
basic training at an international  firm and the requisite number of years foreign experience necessary for registration in Japan),  and  newly qualified associate.

Working in Japan generally  means working in Tokyo as no top tier firms have offices in any other city.  It may be possible to find work as a paralegal or translator at an Osaka IP firm since the city has the country’s only other IP court and is the second largest legal market.   English language skills and knowledge of  common law that you would offer are only marketable skills where a large number of international transactions actually take place.  Also, working in Japan as an associate (rather than a paralegal or translator) also generally means applying directly to and working in the Tokyo office of a UK, US or Australian firm.

For foreign lawyers to practice in Japan it is technically necessary to be registered as a Registered Foreign Lawyer (colloquially known as gaiben).  Registration requires at least two years post-qualification experience in a jurisdiction outside Japan in which the applicant has been admitted. In practice, however, junior associates do not personally sign off on advices or take client meetings, and few firms require anyone below partner level to be registered.  Nevertheless, meeting the requirements of registration is something to consider in terms of future career advancement if you plan to stay in Japan long term. A number of firms will not take on associates with less than two years experience (although this is also because they prefer associates to have received basic training in a common law country), while others may take on recent graduates on the promise to second them to a foreign office later.  Lastly, for junior lawyers in particular, be aware that a degree of Japanese fluency is crucial. Many foreign partners will speak little to no Japanese and will conduct meetings even with Japanese clients in English, but junior lawyers will generally be expected to do low level work like due diligence or discovery that may require sorting through Japanese documents. Partners may also expect Japanese-fluent juniors to act as liaisons between them and Japanese partners.

Please subscribe at the link at the top of the page to be notified when Part II is published.

For more information about open positions, please contact Law Alliance in Tokyo.

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From → Asia Insight, tokyo

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