Traditionally, Australian lawyers wanting to work in Tokyo or other Japanese cities have been blocked by regulatory restrictions and language barriers – but this is beginning to change.
According to Herbert Smith Freehills partner Damien Roberts, who has worked in Tokyo for 10 years, a free trade agreement between Australia and Japan has lessened the red tape faced by Australian lawyers in the Japanese market.
“Regulatory restrictions on practicing law remain, but these are being addressed as part of the reforms provided for in the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement,” he said.
Under the agreement, which came into effect on 15 January 2015, Australian lawyers will be able to take advantage of expedited registration procedures to provide legal services in Japan.
In addition, the expectation for language skills has lessened in recent years, especially among global firms, Mr Roberts believes.
“Language and other ‘soft’ obstacles are less of a barrier than they used to be, and certainly less than they are often perceived to be – particularly in places like Tokyo and Osaka, or in companies with long-standing cross-border interactions,” he said.
According to Caroline Law, senior manager at Hays Specialist Recruitment Japan, private practice firms in Tokyo do not necessarily need candidates who can communicate in Japanese.
However, non-Japanese speaking candidates must be able to offer high-quality experience, she suggested.
“Those firms would typically require practicing experience within a leading law firm,” she said.
Foreign lawyers can also leapfrog ahead in their career by shifting to Japan, primarily at the associate level.
“Many associate-level lawyers receive offers to join the Tokyo practices of leading magic circle or Wall Street firms at senior associate level,” Ms Law said.
“Whilst it is uncommon for a senior associate candidate to receive offers by those firms to join partners of the firm, in many cases those firms attract candidates by offering more interesting clients and work and a clearer understanding of the targets to reach partnership, as well as support to reach those targets.”