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10 Years as a Lawyer: From Sho-tsuki (Assistant) at Civil Defense Instructors' Office to a Lawyer Mom

2021.12.23



Yurie Ikari
Lawyer

10 years as a lawyer

In December this year, I will have been a lawyer for 10 years. After getting registered as a lawyer, I joined Kanichi Hayashi Law Office in Minato-ku, Tokyo, and have worked on a wide range of cases, including general civil affairs, corporate advisory works, labor issues on the employers' side, family affairs, wills and inheritance, traffic accidents, debt settlements, bankruptcy administration, and criminal cases.

Back when I had just started working as a lawyer, I used to think everyone would become a hardened professional after serving as a lawyer for 10 years. In fact, I must say I'm not nearly as mature as I thought I would be, and there still are loads of things I have to learn as a legal professional.

3 years as sho-tsuki at civil defense instructors' office

For 3 years from February 2016 until January 2019, I worked as sho-tsuki (assistant) at the civil defense instructors' office within the Legal Training and Research Institute. So, what is sho-tsuki? I imagine this is a new term for a lot of people.

The legal apprenticeship system

The Legal Training and Research Institute is a training institution attached to the Supreme Court in accordance to Article 14 of the Court Act. After passing the bar exam, in order to engage in legal profession, you must first be appointed as a legal apprentice (Article 66 (1) of the same Act) and are required to finish the legal training (Article 67 (1) of the same Act), which is conducted and operated by the Legal Training and Research Institute.[1] In short, it is a training facility to turn the successful examinee of the bar exam into legal professionals.
 

The current curriculum of legal training consists of introductory training, field-specific practical training, elective practical training, and collective training. In both field-specific and elective practical training, the apprentices are assigned to district courts, district public prosecutors' offices, and bar associations around the country to gain practical experiences in the four fields: civil trials, criminal trials, prosecutions, and defense. For the introductory and collective training, apprentices gather at the Legal Training and Research Institute located in Wako City in Saitama Prefecture. There, they are divided into groups to study the five subjects - civil trials, criminal trial, prosecution, civil defense, and criminal defense - where the focus is on classroom teaching, workshops, and drafting (at the time of writing this article, the collective training for the 73rd apprentice groups and introductory training for the 74th Apprentice groups are provided online due to COVID-19).
 

At the end of the year-long period as a legal apprentice, you have to take the legal apprentice examination (so-called second examination). You can finish the legal training (Article 67 (1) of the above Act) and you are finally called to the bar only when you pass this exam.

What does sho-tsuki do at civil defense instructor's office?

The division in charge of civil defense - one of the five subjects studied in legal training - is the civil defense instructors' office as stated above where there are 10 or more instructors and 3 sho-tsuki. It is the instructors who actually teach the students on the podium. Sho-tsuki functions as their assistants, and they are given a very wide range of tasks including the preparation of civil defense curricula; the schedule management for preparing, printing and distributing teaching materials such as sample case records; and the liaison and coordination between the Legal Training and Research Institute and the instructors' office. I personally see sho-tsuki as the manager who helps the instructors' office to function smoothly as a whole.
 

However, they are not that well-known among the apprentices (prospective legal professionals) as there are few opportunities that sho-tsuki and the apprentices come into direct contact.

Through experiences as sho-tsuki

It was a very meaningful experience to go through the second legal training as sho-tsuki at civil defense instructors' office.
 

Preparing curricula gave me the opportunity to re-immerse myself in the main issues and material facts of the Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Civil Execution Act, the Civil Provisional Remedies Act, etc., and I was also able to learn practical know-how from the instructors at civil defense instructors' office who each had a career of more than 20 years as a lawyer. In normal business, it's not that often you get to see how other lawyers work. However, at the civil defense instructors' office, curricula are developed through dynamic discussions by the lawyers with the depth of experience in different field. It was an amazing learning opportunity for me with not enough experience to witness at first hand, their legal knowledge, drafting tips, techniques for collecting evidence and handling cases, and how to build trust with clients. I occasionally attended their lectures with the legal apprentices. These lectures covered so many useful aspects that could come to trouble you in real life as a lawyer. Receiving legal training again myself after becoming a practitioner, I honestly felt I should have taken it much more seriously in the first place when I was myself an apprentice. If you are going to start legal apprenticeship, I'd really recommend that you pay meticulous attention to the words and movement of the instructors so you can learn from them for your own future work.
 

After leaving the civil defense instructors' office, I became a part-time lecturer in the Chuo Law School in the 2019 academic year. I have been mainly in charge of the civil case document preparation classes where, hopefully, my experience in legal training would prove useful.

COVID-19 pandemic, going online & lawyer mom

In 2020, the effects of COVID-19 reached law schools, and the classes I was in charge of in the second semester of the 2020 academic year had to go hybrid, combining in-person classes and online real-time video streaming. When the state of emergency was declared in January 2021, they went completely online, and I also participated from home and/or office.

What I felt, having given online lectures for the first time, was that it was difficult to pace the lectures because I can't see the students' faces (videos are turned off in these lectures) so I can't gauge if they are understanding the topic or not. In addition, assignments are given during these classes, but face-to-face class participants submit theirs hand-written, and online participants send theirs by using PCs. Since you still have to handwrite in the essay-writing part of the bar exam, I fear that if online classes continue much longer, the online participants might become too used to drafting using computers only, which could become a disadvantage in the exam.

COVID-19 also affected the legal industry itself, and when the first state of emergency was declared in April 2020, all trials were suspended, and the bar association committee activities, various meetings and study sessions were all cancelled, and our work was certainly no longer business as usual. The legal industry, which was said to be lagging behind in digitalization, finally adapted to working from home and online meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we also started to use Zoom for meetings at our office.

In personal life, I am a mother of a nursery school child, and going online was very convenient for a lawyer mom with a child to look after. Lawyers' meetings and study sessions are often held at night, and it was quite difficult for those who were raising children to participate in when such events were held face to face before the COVID-19 pandemic. With online meetings, you can participate while taking care of your child as long as you keep the video and microphone off. Even on occasions if your child's voice comes in while you are speaking, the other participants will kindly accept the situation (I'm sure you'll all know of those online accidents by now!). I was also able to have online meetings with the clients who could only make time in the evening while staying at home. On days when my child is sick and has to take a day off from nursery school, now it is not a problem for me to stay and work from home because the society has become so used to the idea of telecommuting. And again, it's a typical lawyer thing; we used to spend so much time on travelling during the day, attending trials and meetings, and going to external meetings, and we didn't have time to sit down properly and draft documents until the night time. Going online meant that the travelling time was greatly reduced, and we can now use that time for drafting documents, which has greatly improved the efficiency of my work.

For a lawyer mom during the COVID-19 pandemic, the society going online has made it somewhat easier to balance childcare and work despite the stress of not being able to set aside enough time for work because of childcare. In order to expand the range of activities as a lawyer while raising children, I'm looking forward to further improvement in my work efficiency and self-improvement in the future.

Yurie Ikari
Lawyer

Yurie Ikari was born in Fukuoka Prefecture.
She graduated from Chikushigaoka High School in Fukuoka Prefecture.
She graduated from the Department of Law, the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 2008.
She graduated from the Chuo Law School (with degree) and passed the bar examination in 2010.
She was registered as a 64th group lawyer (Dai-Ichi Tokyo Bar Association) and joined Kanichi Hayashi Law Office in 2011.
She worked as sho-tsuki at civil defense instructors’ office at the Legal Training and Research Institute from 2016 to January 2019.
She has served as part-time lecturer in the Chuo Law School since 2019.
She has also served as Vice Chairperson of the Consumer Affairs Committee of the Dai-Ichi Tokyo Bar Association since 2019.