Won’t you Become a Professional Needed by the Community?
1. Professional advice
(1) The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occurred 22 years ago, in January 1995. Countless people in Kobe suffered the loss of parents, children, and other family members, and witnessed the destruction of their homes, companies, and factories. Personally, the earthquake occurred the year after I had opened my own law office, and the disaster left me with no expected income. On the television and radio, so-called experts calmly stated that “Recovery will take at least 10 years.” I purchased a 50cc moped and decided that it was my mission to accept as much legal consultation as possible. I worked from morning to night, and even on weekends. I went to see clients on my moped in the midst of bitterly cold winds, and handled legal consultation from a single desk. I would put heating pads in my pockets and spent all day providing consultations at sites such as the charred ruins of a home or a parking lot in front of the train station. The clients who came to see were always in tears. They had lost all hope—some even lamented having survived the quake, wishing that they had died with the others. Despite offering legal consultation, I found people in need of a completely different form of counseling. However, at that time, I was only able to find encouraging words like “we can make it together” or “we just have to live one day at a time.”
(2) I was born in Wakayama Prefecture. I attended high school in Wakayama Prefecture and entered the Chuo University Faculty of Law with the goal of becoming an attorney. The period of high economic growth in Japan continued until I was in high school. Even in an era of ever-increasing growth, the majority of families that I knew were neither affluent nor happy. The families I knew faced problems such as the father not wanting to work or the eldest son having been arrested while participating in student movements. There were also families struggling under the weight of debt from their relatives. They had no way to save themselves from despair. “Not knowing what to do is the hardest thing,” they cried. It seemed to me that they were always making a choice to be miserable, and I wanted to give them another choice that led to happiness.
(3) The shocking experience of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake reminded me of and fused with this foundational experience during my childhood. The earthquake had robbed normal, hardworking people of their only source of happiness. It was painful to watch the scars left on Kobe by the disaster. I wanted Kobe to heal from the damage as soon as possible. This desire fused with my original motivation to become an attorney. The earthquake taught me that protecting the happiness of normal people is the true mission of an attorney.
The song “Shiawase Hakoberu yo ni” (To Bring Happiness) was written about the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. A portion of the lyrics go as follows: “Let’s return Kobe to its former glory / With hearts supporting each other and hope for tomorrow in our hearts / Resound, our song / We sing for our reborn hometown / Our song to bring happiness.” Even today, the lyrics of this song bring tears to my eyes and leave my voice choked. The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake forced me to deeply consider the true meaning of being a professional.
(4) Six months after the earthquake, the majority of legal work involved adjusting profits for reconstructing condominiums and rebuilding the city. However, attorneys in other regions viewed this work as just another case to be handled. Accordingly, they requested payment due to direct profit by clients who were the unit owners. In view of the disaster victims who had been forced to vacate their condominiums and lived in temporary housing, attorneys requested compensation for eviction, payment of relocation expenses, and other expenses that they were unable to pay. If these expenses were not paid, the attorneys would not cooperate in the reconstruction.
Once the situation had settled down, those professionals left the disaster site. All they left the local residents before leaving was professional advice. Much of the professional advice provided to local residents was important information that served as a basis for reconstruction. There were even messages of encouragement. However, not all of the advice had a positive impact. Some of the advice resulted in confusion, leaving a bad impression on people and ultimately leading to deeper conflict and uneasiness.
Upon witnessing the behavior of professionals after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, I strongly felt the need for professionals who would act responsibly when giving advice. Despite having been born outside of Kobe, the realizations that I reached after the disaster inspired me to establish a law office that would be based in the community and live together with the community.
2. Professionals who pay close attention
(1) Today, there is another great upheaval occurring in Japan, although this time it is an economic and social phenomenon. Specifically, I am referring to the decreasing population and shift into an ultra-elderly society. The period of economic growth in Japan is now in the past. The current era marks the start of an economic downfall. In the future, the only option available to the Japanese government will be to permit quasi-immigration from stable foreign countries, and ultimately to approve full-scale immigration while establishing various systems. Within a contracting Japanese society, there will undoubtedly be significant friction between an increasingly elderly society and efforts directed at further growth.
(2) What can be done by professionals living in the community? Local attorneys receive a variety of consultation from regional corporations, municipalities, business, and residents. Professionals will be judged on how they take responsibility to address problems appropriately and to give meaningful advice. Of course, I don’t have the answers to such difficult questions. However, as a professional who is rooted and lives in the community, I share these concerns and am committed to coming up with solutions. People feel uneasiness when they are unable to identify problems or when they don’t have any allies. In my opinion, the mission of local professionals in the future is as follows: to come to the aid of people in the midst of downfall and confusion, cooperating to fairly and objectively reflect on social conditions, providing guidance on social issues, and serving as an ally.
3. Message to aspiring professionals
(1) Attorneys specializing in corporate law must possess expertise in incorporated organizations, fund-raising, corporate acquisitions, and due diligence. Some attorneys mainly handle contract negotiations with foreign parties. Other attorneys specialize in corporate bankruptcy or restructuring. Some attorneys are employed at corporations as in-house lawyers. Additionally, some local attorneys like myself specialize in general civil cases (real estate, divorce, division of inheritance, traffic accidents, etc.), municipal law, law related to small- and mid-sized enterprises, and other legal matters differing from those of large corporations.
This does not mean that outstanding professionals in corporate law can only be found in large cities. Indeed, local attorneys specializing in regional affairs must possess a high level of fundamental ability and adaptability in order to review and analyze cases based on law, a legal perspective, and fundamental legal theory, to engage in legal reasoning, and to accurately express the thought process behind such work.
(2) Currently, local attorneys have not evolved to the point of specializing in specific professional disciplines. Attorneys involved in regional affairs do not segment their work. Indeed, it may be more accurate to say that the work handled by local attorneys cannot be segmented. To make an analogy involving fishing, the process of cutting up and cooking a large creature like a whale involves a large number of cooks, each of whom is responsible for a particular part of the whale. However, when cutting and cooking a smaller fish like a tuna, everything can be handled by a single cook. To make another analogy using baseball, pitchers can be divided into specialized fields such as starting pitcher, relief pitcher, and closer. However, in rural regions, pitchers are expected to pitch a complete game—even more, they are expected to also play as a fielder capable of hitting home runs and batting a high average. They also must be popular and kind. Local attorneys are expected to possess such comprehensive ability.
(3) Local law offices function as community infrastructure. I hope that society will pay more attention to the importance of advice provided by professionals and to the activities of law offices serving as community infrastructure.
- Hiroshi Iguchi
In 1962, Hiroshi Iguchi was born in Wakayama Prefecture.
In 1985, he graduated from the Department of Law in the Chuo University Faculty of Law.
In 1986, he passed the national bar examination.
In 1987, he completed legal apprenticeship (41st class) to the Supreme Court.
In 1989, he was registered to the Hyogo-ken Bar Association.
He opened his own law office in 1994. Currently he serves as President of Kobe City Law Office and works as a local lawyer to operate a law office as part of community infrastructure. In addition to acting as an advisor in various industries (financial institutions, service industry, manufacturing, etc.) with a focus on small- and mid-sized enterprises, he handles a wide range of legal issues including business revitalization, legal procedures related to public policy by municipalities, and family issues. Also, he operates a satellite office in Myanmar (Yangon), cooperating with attorneys active in Asia to support Japanese corporations entering overseas markets. He served as a professional faculty member at Konan University Law School for a 5-year period starting from 2003, and is still active in the education of young legal professionals even today.