Yasuhiro Umeda says he founded the Japan In-house Lawyers Association (JILA) “simply because I needed it”.
Umeda is a senior legal officer in the legal affairs division, general affairs department, of Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). “When I became in-house counsel of NHK in December 2000, not only was I the first in-house counsel of a broadcaster in Japan, but also I didn’t have any experience as a professional lawyer,” he says. “NHK didn’t know how to use me, and I didn’t know what I could do for them.
“I had simply expected that an in-house counsel organization like the ACC (Association of Corporate Counsel) had already existed in Japan, and I would obtain useful information necessary to succeed as an in-house counsel through such an organization. But my expectation was wrong. There was no such organization in Japan. So I decided to establish an organization of in-house lawyers by myself.”
Umeda says the biggest challenge was how to involve senior counsel in JILA. “I planned to network with young and junior in-house counsel first, and after that begin to persuade senior counsel to participate in the organization,” he says. “I established Japan In-house Lawyers Network, a predecessor of JILA, in August 2001. Then we gradually began activities to show that this association was functioning effectively as an association of in-house counsel at all levels and sectors.
“We opened our official website in September 2001, and published The Age of In-house Lawyers, the first Japanese book written by and about in-house counsel, and invited many leading in-house counsel to our book launch party in June 2004. We began monthly lecture meetings and frequently invited non-JILA-member senior counsel as lecturers or speakers in 2005. By those efforts, senior counsel began to show interest in our activities, and joined us one by one.”
President-elect of JILA following recent elections, Miki Sakakibara, says her association works in co-operation with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) to actively disseminate information on the usefulness and application of in-house lawyers, which has helped the role of in-house counsel expand to all levels of a variety of businesses in Japan.
At the grass roots, Sakakibara says some law schools such as Keio University, Kobe University and Chuo University have begun offering courses on “In-house corporate practices”, and more schools are following them now. “Okayama University has been promoting an in-house lawyer’s course and the number of in-house lawyers has been increased in Okayama,” says Sakakibara. “In most of these courses experienced in-house lawyers are engaged as teachers. These courses have been very popular among law school students.”
Sakakibara points to JILA’s In-House Lawyers Seminar as a popular support mechanism for in-house counsel, and says the association’s training programmes committee organizes a monthly seminar for members, in addition to regular seminars in JILA’s Kansai branch in Osaka, and the Tokai branch in Nagoya. Study groups and workshops are also developed for the association’s 10 divisions, which are divided according to industries.
Umeda says JILA’s biggest challenge going forward is securing talent who can become excellent in-house lawyers. “Some conservative lawyers are worried that their vested interests will be violated by the increase in in-house lawyers, and have been putting pressure on the government to reduce the number of successful applicants,” he says.
“In 2016, the Bar Examination Committee decided to reduce the number to 1,500. In June 2016, the number of in-house counsel was 1,707, an 18.4% increase from the previous year. In June 2017, the number of in-house counsel was 1,931 a 13.1% increase from the previous year. The rate of increase in in-house counsel has obviously declined in the past two years.”
“We need to keep the number of successful candidates at a high level by arguing that numbers are still short, and by telling young lawyers about the attractiveness of in-house counsel roles. Such efforts will lead to the securing of human resources likely to become in-house counsel. That’s our biggest challenge ahead, I think.”
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