Lawyering in East Asia

One of my favorite law-related blogs is Above The Law, a self-proclaimed “legal tabloid” which focuses on embarrassing gossip about lawyers, judges and law firms. Lately they have been running a mini-series of posts on practicing in Asia (by which they mean Greater China, Korea and Japan):

Although these posts are being somewhat maligned by their sponsorship (a Hong Kong-based legal recruiting firm), the information seems spot-on to me. Some important points to take home:

  • Working in East Asia gives a lawyer the chance to take on a lot of responsibility way earlier than they usually would (or, maybe, should). Law firms are smaller here, the market is a bit less competitive (in that there are fewer players), and there’s more potential for client contact and business development than there is in the US or UK.

  • If you speak the local language, you have an edge in the job market because employers will see you as more committed to the region. On the other hand, if you read the local language, you are likely to be employed in the crappiest work there is (translating and reviewing business documents). I actually know a Japanese lawyer who hid his English skills for this reason, even though they were good enough to get him into a top-tier American law school: he didn’t want to be stuck handling grunt work for foreign clients when he could be doing high-level negotiations, research and drafting in his own language.

  • Time zones are a hidden complication. I’ve noticed one bonus of time differences: there’s a “quiet window” between about 11 AM and 4 PM in Tokyo, starting when New Yorkers go to bed and ending when Londoners wake up, making it easier to focus attention on outstanding matters without being bothered too much. The downside is that you have to do your real-time correspondence with London and New York outside this window, meaning there’s a lot of potential for early mornings and late evenings.

Many of the notions in these articles apply not just to legal practice, but to expat-ty jobs in general, making them potentially a good read for people in other private sectors.

Ma administration already beginning “rectification of names”?

Over a year ago I wrote two posts on pro-independence President Chen Shui Bian’s (陳水扁) campaign of “rectification of names (正名)”, in which various agencies, school texts, and other labels were renamed to suggest an affiliation with Taiwan rather than China.

Taiwan rectifies names in new history textbook: January 31, 2007

More on rectification of names in Taiwan: February 7, 2007

Where the now former president Chen is a member of the pro-localization Democratic Progressive Party (DPP-民進黨 ) and himself of the more radical localization/independence faction, the new president Ma Ying-jiu (馬英九) is a member of the Chinese Kuomintang (KMT-國民黨), and may make Chinese appeasement an aspect of his administration’s policy. This could easily include reversals of DPP iniatives such as the renaming of national corporations (post, oil, etc.) and the removal of former dictator Chaing Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) name from both the Taipei area airport which formerly bore his name, and to the grand Ming imperial tomb-inspired complex now currently knows as Democracy Memorial Hall (臺灣民主紀念館), but originally constructed as the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (蔣介石紀念館) following his death. While one can understand why Taiwanese democrats (small ‘d’) might object to the former dictator being memorialized in the style of the Ming Emperor’s (although his body is not buried there), it is also easy to see why some members of the KMT-Chiang’s political party-objected to the alteration, and why there is bound to be at least some amount of lobbying for a new executive order to change it back, now that their party has retaken the presidency.

One of the most notable of these renamings was the change of the national postal system from Chunghwa Post- which means China Post (中華郵政) to Taiwan Post (臺灣郵政). While this change has not (yet?) been reversed, it is possible that Taiwan may be in for a round of doubly confusing name flip-flops and reversals. As the Taipei Times reported on the day of Ma’s inauguration (yesterday, May 21)

Forty-year-old Mr Chen waited for two hours before he could put his hands on the sets he had ordered. He said he had purchased the stamps not only because Ma was president, but also because the Chinese characters for “Republic of China” were once again on the stamps.

Last year, the stamps issued by Taiwan Post Co only bore the name Taiwan.

Is this merely an example of the Taiwan Post Co honoring the new chief executive by printing his portrait next to the official name of the country he now leads, or a foreshadowing of a larger restoration of China oriented names by the new administration? How deeply has Chen’s rectification of names really penetrated in Taiwan? Do most people prefer the localized names to the ones matching the country’s official name of Republic of China? How much has the necessity for campaigning in competitive elections with an electorate made up mostly of ethnic Taiwanese really changed the formerly mainlanderdominated KMT? And where does technically-mainlander but Taiwan-raised pragmatic Ma fit into this? Unfortunately, I have not been in Taiwan for over two years now and I really do not have a very solid sense of how most people have been reacting to these issues recently. It may be safe to predict that Ma will not be renaming any more “China” such-and-such to “Taiwan” such-and-such, but whether he will let all of the recent changes stand is another question entirely.

Taiwan’s Kung-fu politician

No, this isn’t a reference to some pathetic cheesy metaphor, but a quote from new Premiere Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄).

After the ceremony, Liu escorted Chang on his way out of the Executive Yuan.

Liu tripped while walking down the stairs in the lobby of the Executive Yuan hall, nearly falling.

“I am fine. My kung fu is very good,” Liu, a martial arts fiction fan and author of more than 10 martial arts novels, joked in response to reporters’ questions. (Taipei Times)

I just hope that Liu hires this guy as his legislative assistant.

DSL in Japan, update

I mentioned the other day how it takes an entire month of waiting to get DSL installed in Japan, due to control of the local loop remaining entirely with the former government monopoly telecom NTT, while service can be provided by a variety of competitors. One of the interesting side effects of this is that no matter who your provider is, the physical line installation at the home is still performed by NTT. And because installation will be performed not by my service provider KDDI, instead of having the installer bring along the modem and accessories, they mail it in advance. I am not sure if this is because NTT refuses to cooperate and deliver the modem for another company’s service, despite being legally obligated to perform the local loop installation required for service connection, or if KDDI (I think Softbank does the same thing, but I forget) has merely decided that it is logistically simpler to send modems through the package delivery infrastructure.

And speaking of the package delivery infrastructure, I was very impressed by Kuroneko Takkyubin’s service. When I got home last night at around 8:30 there was one of those failed delivery notification notices in my mailbox. Oddly, the time written on it was 10 o’clock, which makes not sense at all, since I was at home until around 11am, and it was still well before 10pm. Regardless, the notice had the standard information on how to contact either the automated phone system, the internet website, or a live switchboard operator to schedule redelivery- but also had a somewhat astonishing fourth option: the cell phone number of the delivery truck driver who had attempted delivery that day. Since it said he was reachable until 9pm, I called up, the call was answered instantly, and once I told him my name and address, he said to stay and wait for him. I assumed I would be waiting for several minute, but there was a knock on my door, literally, at most two minutes later!

And thus is customer service in Japan-a melange of impenetrable bureaucracy and inflexible, pointless rules for some things, but in other areas some of the most helpful and convenient services found anywhere.

Money for the blind

A high-level US court just ruled that American paper money must be redesigned so that blind people can distinguish bills by denomination. Other countries accomplish this through subtle tactile differences or different bill sizes, but all US currency feels more or less the same, at least when it’s fresh off the presses.

When I went to Albany in February to be sworn into the New York bar, I had a number of odd experiences, among them:

  • Drinking Chinese state-brewed beer in a sketchy hotel room while discussing what would happen if they went to war with Japan (this would have led to nothing good had the sole Chinese attendee not decided to “go to bed” early)

  • Sitting in a crowded waiting room next to a lawyer who works literally within eyeshot of my office window in Tokyo

  • Touching a girder from the World Trade Center

But probably the weirdest experience was when I bought a pack of gum inside the New York state government Cloud City.

Everything was normal until I went to the cashier. I put the gum on the counter. The cashier said “Hi, what are you getting today?” For many people, that would merit some kind of sarcastic response. As usual, I bit my tongue, which was probably a good thing because the cashier was blind.

I tried to act as un-shocked as possible, and said “Umm, a 5-pack of Doublemint.”

“OK,” she said, and started pushing buttons on the register. The register read out the numbers as she pushed them. “POINT SIX NINE ENTER. SEVENTY-THREE CENTS.”

“That’ll be 73 cents,” she said.

I handed her a five-dollar bill.

“Out of how much?” she said.

“Uhh, out of five.”

Anyway, I wonder whether she works there all the time. Maybe they just put her there on bar admissions day as an ethics test for new lawyers. Or maybe people really work on the honor system in Albany. Who knows. At least her job will be a bit easier in a few years’ time…