Difficulties facing foreign lawyers

The difficulties facing foreign lawyers may be divided into two distinct categories, those arising from the restrictions of the Special Measures Law and those due to the different legal, business and social culture of Japan. The restrictions on foreign lawyers in Japan has lead to many problems in practice, where firms attempt to set up offices in Tokyo. Due to the five year requirement, firms will be need to staff the office with more experienced and therefore more expensive lawyers, resulting in greater costs all round.

Whilst the prohibition on appearing before courts and arbitration has rendered it difficult for foreign lawyers to act solely for their clients, requiring the assistance of bengoshi. Thus as stated earlier, many firms now share the same buildings as a Japanese firm to provide a more convenient service. The vastly different culture of Japan is likely to cause problems for a newly arrived foreign lawyer. For not only will their scope of practice differ, but so too the public perception of lawyers.

For example, the presence of one's lawyer at a business meeting in Japan is considered insulting, implying a lack of trust and hostility towards others at the meeting. Although lawyers are generally accepted as essential in international business transactions, to ensure the formalities are abided by, their presence at meetings may still cause offence. Foreign lawyers may also feel a degree of hostility from Japanese lawyers who feel protectionist towards their profession.

There may also be a degree of resentment at the relative ease at which the foreign lawyer was able to gain their professional qualifications. For in Japan, those wishing to enter the legal profession face an extremely arduous and competitive process. Firstly, usually on completion of a degree, a State exam will be sat, where there is only a 1-2% pass rate. Those who pass will then enter the national training centre, where they will train to become an attorney, public prosecutor or judge for a period of two years, after these two years though, employment is virtually guaranteed.

Although there is no nationality requirement for those becoming bengoshi, foreigners are usually deterred by not only the enormous competition but the inevitable language difficulties. Japanese being an extremely hard language to grasp orally and even more so in terms of reading and writing. It is partly due to the intense competitiveness of the system that the bengoshi is a highly respected profession. It is uncertain though whether this would extend to foreign lawyers, whose views and value judgements differ from that of traditional Japanese philosophy.

This is in context of a wider tension between the traditional conservative views rooted in Japanese culture opposed to the modern, liberal, western ideals that are slowly permeating society with the younger generation. This is highlighted in the legal profession, where fears concerning foreign lawyers prompting western style litigation in Japan exist. From a social perspective, foreign lawyers may find difficulty in being accepted, this arising from a perceived aversion of the Japanese towards outsiders. Japanese society is felt to revere the 'group', and attempt to conform to the requirements of the group.

Hence outsiders such as foreign lawyers may feel a less friendly attitude towards them, furthermore, they must be extra careful not to breach the customs of the group. Difficulties may also occur though, in adapting to life in Japan. Foreign lawyers will invariably be based in Tokyo, where due to the density of population, accommodation will inevitably consist of a small apartment in a high rise block at an extremely high rent. Moreover, the cost of living in Japan is extremely high, whilst the pace of life is fast even in comparison to cities such as London.

Language, as described earlier, will also pose problems to the foreign lawyer. Foreign lawyers working with Japanese people will also become accustomed to the differing work ethic, the main theme of this involving 'life time employment'. This applies particularly to white collar firms, where the employee will remain at the company for the entirety of their working career. This concept of commitment to the company overlaps with the notion of belonging to the company, where the company is seen to provide many social and leisure pursuits for its employees, thus play a major part of the lives of the workers and their families.

The concept of 'life time employment' though, does not in general extend to females, who often leave work on marriage. Whilst there are career women who continue to work after marriage, and equal opportunities legislation, the lack of effective enforcement and the continuation of traditional attitudes result in women still facing many prejudices. Foreign lawyers in Japan therefore, face difficulties in adapting to their professional and social life. The future of their role though is dependant on Japan, and their international relations.

For any reform of the tight restrictions on the foreign lawyers will coincide with the relaxing of attitudes, indicating a greater role for Japan in the new world order. With fifty years now, since the end of the Second World War, Japan is eventually coming out of its shadow and reasserting itself to play a larger international role, in areas other than that of economics. This though has created much debate, nationally and internationally, over what position Japan should adopt.

For with such wealth, and economic power, Japan has the potential to exert great political and possibly military influence on international affairs especially in the Pacific Rim, in order to maintain stability. However, some feel that the war should not be forgotten and Japan should continue in its current role of a minor player in non-economic affairs. It seems likely though that Japan will soon play a larger role in international affairs, this signifying a further shift away from the traditional customs and values steeped in Japanese society, towards that of the western world.