THE OPPORTUNITY to learn about Japanese business and culture first-hand was too good to pass up for two Deacons lawyers selected to take part in Future Business Counterparts Australia (FBC.AU).
The programme is an initiative of the Japanese Government, designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the Australia-Japan Agreement on Commerce of 1957. Deacons partner Nick Humphrey and lawyer Stephen Mackie were chosen to attend the ten-day programme.
They joined 50 influential young Australians, along with representatives from the banking sector including Commonwealth Bank, ING, ANZ, primary industry and mining companies.
Mackie is in the workplace relations group at Deacons, and has limited dealings with any Japanese clients. However, he thought the opportunity to visit Japan was too good to pass up.
“While I personally don’t have a lot of Japanese clients, I know Deacons does — it has a presence in Asia,” he said. “And I personally also deal with a lot mining companies and they do have a lot of Japanese clients. So having an understanding of how they operate, it could only be helpful. And why turn down such a unique opportunity?”
Participants were invited to attend a series of seminars covering a range of topics including the Japanese economy, trade relations between Japan and Australia and other issues affecting business in the region.
The highlight for Mackie was the focus on global warming: “They actually had one of the top professors in Tokyo University give us a lecture on climate change and global warming, which was fascinating, if perhaps a little frightening.”
He also noted that all legal professionals will be wise to keep an eye out for changes to the classification of goods and services traded between Japan and Australia.
“The most interesting part for me [arose from] group discussion we attended with an organisation called JETRO (the Japanese External Trade Organisation).
“I found that apparently the agreement— and this is mentioned in the recent trade negotiations about the free trade agreement — is expanding from just primary produce to services.
“There’s been a bit of talk about that at the moment. So obviously as a lawyer, that was of keen interest to me. Particularly as a workplace relations lawyer,” Mackie said.
The other important lesson for Mackie, aside from how to properly exchange business cards, was the high expectations of Japanese clients.
“From what I can gather [Japanese clients] place a high value on quality of service. I think if you’re dealing with Japanese clients they will expect very high quality of service. And I think that that is a cultural difference with any lawyer.
“Not that Australian clients don’t expect good service, but their [the Japanese] level of expectation is much higher.”
It is anticipated that the event will be run again next year, and Mackie strongly recommends that other lawyers with an interest in Japan apply.
“I would recommend it in a heartbeat. It is a totally unique experience; the quality of the speakers is second to none.
“The breadth of topics is spectacular and … actually spending time in a foreign country with 49 other people from similar professional and business background, not only do you learn about Japan but it’s fair to say that I learned a lot from the other Australians there and their dealings with Japan.”