I was registered as a lawyer in 2008, at a time when it was said that there was no money to be earned in the profession. I am sure that I had more difficulty choosing a career path than my seniors who had become lawyers before the law school system was introduced.
I realized that, in the midst of intensifying competition brought on by the increase of lawyers and the globalization and diversification of the needs society places on us, the very value of lawyers was diversifying.
It was clear that if we continue to act as we have done so far, our value will be forgotten. We cannot win without being helpful to our clients. The good old days would come to an end.
That is precisely why I considered the new option of becoming an in-house corporate lawyer. But at that time, being drawn to the idea of freedom and justice, I was not able to let go of my image of the old-fashioned lawyer who helped and supported clients, and I decided to become that kind of lawyer.
In those days, there were still only a few companies taking part in the job fair held by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, and only a minority of the 1851 candidates qualified that year chose to start their careers as in-house corporate lawyers.
That was only to be expected. In 2008, only 266 out of 25041 lawyers worked in-house at companies (about 1%). They were really a minority.
The number of in-house lawyers has now risen to 1442 among 36415 (about 4%). In the past seven years, their number has increased about fivefold and their ratio to the total has about quadrupled. (The number of lawyers who become fixed-term public servants has also approximately tripled from 61 in 2008 to 187 in 2015.)
This clearly demonstrates that there are major changes in the areas where lawyers are working.
In this kind of society, individuals and companies have the freedom to choose how to request the services of a lawyer, and in what kind of context (in other words, they can deliberate over how to use lawyers).
In particular, as the emergence of successive scandals involving large corporations and the orientation of society toward an open market leads to an increasing demand for corporate law to address issues such as the greater value of compliance, the enforcement of the revised Companies Act, the expansion of regulations that corporations have to follow (including the Corporate Governance Code and regulations on personal information), and the need to strengthen corporations’ legal bargaining power in the face of globalization, lawyers have more and more opportunities to break into corporate law.
I would now like to put forward a proposal with respect to the value of lawyers from a corporate perspective.
First, there is the issue of whether the increase in the number of legal professionals really corresponds to an increased need for their services in corporate law. Results seem to indicate that it is not that simple.
According to a survey by the Business Law Journal (March 2015 Edition), when asked the question, “Do qualified lawyers comprise the core of your legal staff?”, 60% of corporations responded “No”, and 34% responded “Ultimately they will”. Only a few companies were actively trying to recruit lawyers.
In other words, while lawyers have increased in numbers, there has been no corresponding rise in demand from corporate legal departments to hire them. About eleven years have passed since Japan introduced a law school system after the U.S. model, but I think that it will be a long while before we become a society like the U.S. where the majority of staff handling in-house corporate legal affairs is qualified professionals.
Ultimately, the value of personnel is determined by what they can do (what experience they have), how they can communicate, and their way of management: whether or not that have a qualification is irrelevant.
Lawyers are specialists and are also in the service industry. Sadly, I only recently realized this obvious fact.
Corporations look for a wide range of skills from lawyers, and, at the very least, lawyers need more than experience in dispute resolution within the domestic legal system in order to cater to corporate globalization (which, incidentally, is the main reason why I decided to change jobs).
I think that in order to respond to the needs of society, lawyers and other specialists need to adapt to social changes and work flexibly to expand their skill set, communicate in an easier and more accessible manner, and fulfil their management roles in a way that takes into account the perspectives of the company and of other staff.
If the increasing number of lawyers can adapt flexibly in this way, it will bring about a win-win situation for both sides: lawyers will gain access to opportunities in a wider range of contexts, and society and corporations, with their greater need for legal functions, will also be able to make meaningful use of their specialist knowledge.
At the very least, I believe that lawyers who adapt flexibly to the needs of society are the true professionals. I want to become that kind of lawyer.
Statistics on in-house corporate lawyers: from a survey by the Japan In-House Lawyers Association (JILA).
Statistics on other lawyers: from the Lawyers White Paper, 2015 Edition.