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A blog with tips and insights into the practice of law

Working as a foreign lawyer in Japan – Why, how and what’s on offer?


With its fascinating culture and a buzzing capital city, Japan has long been a destination of choice for lawyers seeking to grow their career overseas. On the economic front, despite well-known flaws (ageing population, public debt over 200% of the GDP, low inflation), Japan remains the world’s third largest economy and its economy will grow steadily in 2018 (around 1.2% according to the OECD).

With 51 companies in the Fortune 500 ranking, it ranks third in the breakdown by country and is well above the countries that come 4th in the ranking (France and Germany, both having 29 companies in the list).

This concentration of world’s leading companies across a broad range of industries (automotive, electronics, banking, etc.) makes Japan a natural destination for ambitious and career-minded lawyers looking to gain first-class experience working on large-scale, sophisticated transactions.

Many leading global law firms have long had offices in Tokyo and it continues to attract new firms (Mayer Brown is set to open a Tokyo office in 2018 and recently hired former Ashurst’s Tokyo Managing Partner).

Tokyo offices of global firms are usually small to mid-sized outfits (from 10 to 150 lawyers), including a proportion of foreign lawyers that varies depending on the firms but that generates a steady demand for foreign qualified lawyers.

Interested in Japan? Here is an update on the profiles that are sought-after and what’s on offer.

Which profiles?

Global firms are usually looking for lawyers qualified in common law jurisdictions such as the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Depending on the partners or firm’s policy, some firms will favor US-qualified lawyers whilst others will only consider Commonwealth qualified lawyers.

The demand for foreign lawyers is usually the strongest in corporate, banking & finance (project finance in particular), and projects/energy & resources. However, we sometimes receive requests from clients for different profiles, including litigators.

Do I need to speak Japanese?

Having some Japanese language abilities is always a strong advantage and some firms will request a certain level of fluency for specific positions. Even limited fluency will be able to boost your candidature because it demonstrates a genuine interest in the country and culture.

However, since the pool of Foreign qualified lawyers with Japanese language skills is very limited, many positions and firms are open to non-Japanese speakers.

What’s on offer?

Salaries depend on firms and country of qualification. Unsurprisingly, elite US firms are positioned at the top the game and can match NYC salaries to attract US-qualified lawyers. Other leading international firms, including Magic Circle, are offering salaries that are extremely competitive and pretty much on par or even above what they pay in London.

Whilst only a limited number of firms will offer (to a very limited number of lawyers) full expat packages (including rental, school fees for kids, etc.), relocation packages are generous and the firms’ HR teams usually manage the relocating process efficiently (visa procedure, temporary accommodation, etc.).