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  • Japan’s economy, like much of the world, has taken a massive hit in the past weeks with the COVID-19 outbreak and the ensuing recession – and it feels like things are only just beginning. This is, of course, also reflected in the local legal job market and while we have not yet seen the full negative impact of Coronavirus on the economy, the prospect for Japan’s legal job market does not look promising. We note that this might all change tomorrow, for better or worse, but as of today, here are some current observations.

    (1) Lack of opportunities

    The market is slow.  Many companies have stopped hiring or have deferred hiring to later this year due to business uncertainties.

    Most foreign companies and foreign law firms have already frozen their hiring and are likely to push any hiring back until they have more certainty on the future of the pandemic and its effect on the global economy. Some large Japanese companies and law firms are still moving ahead with current hiring processes however, all signs suggest that these will likely be the last open headcounts for some time.

    If you are lucky enough to be interviewing for a role that has not been cancelled (yet), you are likely experiencing a slower hiring process than you would like, however, hang in there as it least it hasn’t been frozen or stopped completely.

    (2) Slow processes

    With apparent difficulties adjusting to a new (remote) working environment, interview scheduling is slower than usual. Extensive remote work is new to Japan, and many companies are struggling to adjust to this new working environment and the challenges (not only IT-related) that come with it. Technical difficulties and other business priorities are considerably delaying interviewing processes. Be patient and keep your motivation up.

    (3) Salaries

    It is for now still a competitive market (for the remaining open headcounts), given the limited number of attorneys considering a move. Therefore, budgets have (not yet) been impacted or decreased. But it is easy to imagine that compensation levels will be lower during, or following this recession.

    (4) No or few dismissals (for now…)

    We have only seen a few dismissals as of now (mid-April 2020). It will likely depend on projections for the second half of the year and any changes in the current COVID spread. It is difficult to predict how widespread dismissals will be in the legal industry but we do expect to start seeing more if the economic slowdown does not ease in the next month or so.


    Given the limited options in the Japan market currently and the prospects of it getting worse in the coming weeks, it is probably best to stay put if you do not have to move. Exercising patience now and waiting for the market to recover, will hopefully result in a broader and better selection of opportunities down the line.

    Of course, if you really want to or need to move, we advise acting quickly while there are still some companies/firms looking because, depending on how bad the developing recession may become, the limited opportunities available right now probably will not last for long, especially if the more people (legal and compliance professionals included) find themselves out of work soon.

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