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):
- Doing Your Due Diligence: Is the Far East a good fit for you? – the downsides to being a foreign lawyer in Asia
- Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams – the upsides to being a foreign lawyer in Asia
- Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk – the significance of language ability
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.