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  • As the year draws to a close, we can’t help but reflect on the current status of the Tokyo legal (and compliance) market, especially in its current busy (bubble?) state. Some brief thoughts and observations:

    1. The Market: The legal market is hotter than we can recall in many years. While that makes us as recruiters happy, it reminds me of 2007; we all know how that party ended…
    2. Japanese lawyers: experience is most important, and then English ability (if relevant).
    3. Foreign lawyers: experience is still king, then Japanese ability (if relevant).
    4. Every lawyer: personality matters! That is, are you a nice person with whom people want to work?  Some companies will couch this as ‘cultural fit’ but whatever the terminology it comes down to who you as a person and how well you play with others. Most of our searches now require us to screen heavily for this – especially for the firms/companies that most would regard as ‘top tier’.
    5. Opportunities in Compliance: Compliance roles are a gap in the Matrix, and we don’t know why more lawyers don’t take advantage of them. Compliance roles are only increasing in number and will continue to do so.  Get into compliance early, gain experience that others don’t have, and then be at the front of the queue when the juicy roles open up down the line.
    6. Young/new lawyers: focus on getting good experience, ideally on transactions. For those who didn’t graduate from a top law school, that may mean working for a lesser firm initially, or even starting overseas (for non-Japanese lawyers) and delaying your move to Japan, do it.  ‘Sacrifice’ now should pay off later – in terms of lateral movement at least, if not financially.
    7. Employers: Again, the market is hot. This means that every lawyer, even those not from top firms, have multiple options open to them when they move.  Employers that move quickly and decisively are ‘winning’ the current legal arms race.  Money talks, yes, although less than in other markets, from what we understand.
    8. 2020 Outlook: It’s not an original thought to proclaim an impending recession; it’s just a matter of time. For those who want to move ‘in the next few years’, or those unhappy where they are but who haven’t made any efforts to look for a new role, do it now.  Hiring was anaemic in late 2008 and into 2009…learn from history.
    9. Recruiters: Don’t be afraid to screen your recruiters, you should. There are more than ever but that’s not necessarily a good thing for the market.  The average recruiter was never great, but that ‘average’ recruiter has been getting steadily worse over the past couple of years, in line with the market uptick and a low bar for entry.  Do a little DD in deciding with whom you want to work before you let them get their hands all over your job move.
    10. The Maturing Japanese Legal Market: In 2019 we reached the point where the market is no longer completely dominated by big law and Fortune 500 companies as it has been in the past. Now attorneys can have viable careers working for start-ups, small corporate & financial services companies, and boutique law firms – even Japanese companies have been hiring attorneys into meaningful legal roles. We expect the market to continue to mature and see more sustainable diverse legal careers emerge.
    11. Salaries: Overall, we saw salaries rise (again) this year, mainly due to employers using money to compete for talent (to differing degrees of success). We suspect that this upward trend (and candidate-driven) market will continue into the first half of 2020 but we don’t expect salaries to keep rising too much further, especially with the economy overdue for a recalibration.
    12. Again, the Market: Did we mention the market is hot?! This won’t last and salaries will come down as the supply-demand balance tilts the other way.  Save your money because that rainy day is likely not so far away…

    Posted by 

    Paul Cochrane

    Private Practice, Compliance, In-house Corporate

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