The Legal Update

Japan is known for its bright city lights, tall buildings and weird and wonderful technological innovations. However, behind the scenes the country’s innovation, especially in the legal sector, is suffering due to its conservative culture and demographic problems. Ken Onda, business intern at Obelisk Support, takes a look at these conflicting elements and what needs to be done to sustain legal innovation in Japan.

The Status of Women in Law

A recent domestic scandal, where one of the most prestigious medical universities in the country admitted to manipulating entrance exam scores of female candidates to keep their pass rate under 1 out of 3, drew attention to Japan’s ingrained conservative outlook on gender roles and the lack of progress being made on equality across professional and technological industries. The fixing was allegedly done due to the belief that women had a higher chance of leaving the medical profession after conceiving children, causing “an intolerable burden for already overworked doctors”.

It is no surprise on hearing this news that Japan is ranked 114th out of 144 countries in gender equality, one of the worst for a developed country. In the legal sector, female attorneys make up merely 18.2% of Japan’s lawyer population, according to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Of that 18.2%, only 11% are partners. This is a quite unbelievable disparity between men and women. Despite its shrinking demographic with 30% of its population 65 or over, Japan continues to discriminate against half of its population. This lack of representation is one of the reasons why Japan is suffering economically, and is increasingly unable to deal with international legal matters and lacking innovation in the legal sector.

Conservatism vs Legal Innovation

As far as the structure of its legal system, Japan has fewer per capita lawyers compared to other industrialised nations such as the US and EU countries. There are fears that at the current state, Japan will face a major problem in an ever-globalising world. Japan has adopted a Western legal system to settle legal disputes in courts despite significant cultural mismatch. Japanese people tend to resolve issues privately through negotiation without the involvement of lawyers. If there is no resolution, the conflicting parties will often go directly to court and litigate without private/commercial mediation. However, as lawyers are often not taught about mediation during university, they are not well equipped to solve problems in non-litigious ways.

Chart source: Wall Street Journal

This is a problem as when foreign entities – especially those in the West – try to do business with Japan, they are often caught off guard by the norms within the Japanese legal industry. This makes them less willing to work with Japanese entities, which is a significant barrier to collaborative innovation.

Moreover, the driving force of innovation – start-ups – are the most under-supported sector in Japan. Japan embodies a vertical collectivism, where bureaucracy, group-thinking and strict regulation dominate. It is a country where people are generally less inclined to take risks. For instance, Japanese landlords often want to see at least 2 years of profits before renting space to a company. It is therefore no surprise that venture capitalists often do not invest on high-risk ventures such as emerging technologies in the legal sector.

Although Japan invests heavily in R&D and is known for its technological advancement, it lacks entrepreneurship and application and capitalisation of its research due to its culture and regulation. Japan is still at its core a highly conservative country that does not embrace change readily as other developed nations, especially concerning new technologies. Japanese corporations such as Fujitsu, Hitachi and Sony are too slow and bureaucratic to keep up with agile foreign competitors in countries such as the US, Germany and South Korea.

Japan’s Missing In-House Lawyers

Japan is facing a major demographic problem involving shrinking population, going below the replacement rate. Subsequently, its market is also shrinking. For this reason, many Japanese companies are being more inclined to enter foreign markets, such as by conducting outbound M&A. However, due to the lack of experience in M&A and human resources, especially for SMEs, most of these deals fail according to the Asia Business Law Journal. This is exacerbated by the fact that Japanese firms tend to not employ in-house lawyers, but instead, make their departments deal with their own respective legal issues (e.g. a finance department deals with finance-related legal issues). This means that senior management is not given legal guidance when going through an M&A deal that is often full of legal issues. This increases the likelihood of the M&A deal not going through. Even when there is a legal department present, they often take traditional roles such as reviewing contracts and dealing with litigation. According to the Association of Corporate Legal Departments in Japan, only 6% of in-house lawyers felt that senior management frequently implemented the advice of in-house legal counsel.

Illustrating this trend, only 5% of qualified lawyers in Japan work as a legal counsel. One of the main reason for this is because the Japanese Bar Exam has been deliberately designed to be one of the hardest in the country to pass. On average, people take the exam 6 times before finally passing to qualify as a lawyer. For this reason, a lot of Japanese law students go on to work after graduation as in-house counsels without being qualified. Could foreign-qualified lawyers be the answer to Japan’s lack of qualified lawyers?

Not so. The barrier for foreign lawyers to work in Japan is high, as it requires extensive documentation and in-person visits to the Japanese Bar and Ministry of Justice, taking at least 5 months. Conversely, hiring foreign-qualified lawyers for matters such as international arbitration is seen as a strenuous process for firms in Japan and in practice, not common. The resulting short supply of lawyers stunts the demand for innovation and change in the Japanese legal industry.

The Bottom Line

There is a serious need for legal innovation in Japan. To do this, the country first needs to address the core issue regarding gender discrimination. There needs to be progressive reforms and auditing of university admission process by the government to break entry barriers for women in male-dominated professions such as law and STEM. Additionally, university teaching of law should include the concept of mediation, as often practiced internationally, and the general practice of law around the world, especially in Western cultures. This is essential to keep Japan in the global stage.  

Then there is the lack of supply of qualified lawyers, especially in-house counsels. This will be a major problem in the coming years for Japan due to the rapid pace of globalisation, and increasing importance of IP and technology. The scarcity of in-house counsels means that Japan is increasingly unable to deal with international disputes, especially for SMEs. Despite the efforts to increase number of lawyers in Japan, little progress has been made. Japan needs to encourage not only domestic lawyers, but also foreign lawyers. On the one hand, the Japanese Bar Exam should ease its examination requirements while not losing its quality in order to encourage fresh law graduates to take the exam. On the other and, work barriers for foreign-qualified lawyers should be loosened to also increase the global availability of lawyers.

Finally, Japan needs to change its approach to business. In the age of rapid technological advancements, Japan needs to move to a more agile approach to business and loosen regulations to enable startups and entrepreneurship to thrive. Japan needs to place as much emphasis on commercialisation of technologies as it does on R&D. It will be interesting to watch progress over the next decade to see how the country can reconcile its contradictions to perform to its full potential on the global stage.

TrendingWomen in Law

For women who work in the legal industry, being a lawyer is a daily occupation that reflects years of study, practice and experience. It didn’t come in a goodie bag or as a perk of being single and young, like some of the comments below might suggest. Female lawyers are passionate about their job and at Obelisk Support, we know how challenging the path of women in law can be in a gender-imbalanced society. We deal with this everyday. Which is why we put out a call to female lawyers on social media, and asked this simple question: What are you sick of hearing?

All the replies we received are real-world examples of everyday sexism in the legal industry, coming both from men and women.  If you want to add to the conversation, don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected] This is a work in progress and we hope that by exposing these sexist things, those who’ve used them will think twice in the future and will endeavour to be better humans.

‘We need to look more diverse when we do x, y, z event – would you be able to speak at this event?’

Sure – and thanks for mentioning my credentials and expertise when you asked me to speak… (But of course it’s an opportunity to get your own back by wowing the crowd with your expertise and insight!)

‘Can you put together the pitch book?’

I was asked to prepare it because I was the only woman on the team. The senior (male) partner inevitably got to assign the pages to whomever he wanted, and the only time I can remember leading on the pitch itself was when the GCs of the corporate clients judging the beauty parade were both female.

‘I’ve invited [name of male colleague of equivalent seniority] to the pitch – that’s OK with you isn’t it?’

Only hitch is that said male colleague had zero background in the sector and zero connection to the client. Help me understand: how has he been invited to the pitch, exactly?

‘You must be leaving for a better work life balance…’

No, and in fact my spouse noted years later that I had more all-nighters working in-house than I did in a firm.

‘Please make coffee for this client.’

When I was a junior lawyer at a Magic Circle firm in Paris, I was invited to join a client meeting and was very excited about the opportunity. When I walked into the meeting room, the lead (male) partner asked me to make coffee for the client. I was the only female lawyer in the room and felt humiliated to be asked to make coffee but walked out to do as I was told. The irony of it is that I’m a tea drinker and have never drunk or made coffee before. It turned out the coffee I made wasn’t very good and they asked someone else – a female secretary – to make a second batch.

‘“Dear Sirs”’

Heading in a correspondence addressed to an all-female law firm in Australia. Come on, is it that hard to do your homework? If you’re trying to sell me something or work with me, do your due diligence.

‘Do you feel guilty leaving your kids in the morning?’

Well, do you? If you’re asking the question, you’ve got some serious soul-searching to do but regarding the person you asked, it’s none of your business. There’s this thing called personal life, a detail really, and you’re obviously out of it.

Which brings me to my personal favourite…

‘If you’re here, who looks after your kids all day?’

I absolutely hate the “guilt” one. Seriously? Firstly, it’s not your business, secondly, are you implying that I should be at home with them right now?

‘Yes, well of course women take time out to have babies’

This, after mention of gender pay gap/ lack of women partners, etc. I proceed to explain that the pay gap exists from graduate positions onwards, and that career gap is only a small part of the reason for the pay gap, which is much more about entrenched discrimination and patriarchal norms in the profession and wider society…

‘What sort of work does your husband do?’

Seriously. Several years ago, I was interviewed for a position as a solicitor in a medium sized CBD commercial firm. There was a panel of three (all men). I was asked a series of questions about my family and childcare arrangements – namely did I have children (yes). They then asked who looked after my daughter when I was at work and what sort of work my husband did – was it flexible? These were serious interview questions in the middle of the interview!

If they’d been interviewing a man, I very much doubt they would have even thought to ask these questions. Imagine, ‘What sort of work does your wife do?’ and try not to laugh.

‘How do you manage at the Bar with children?’

Good question! How does anyone, really? I bet that no man is ever asked that question. This drives me insane, particularly when it comes from men with young kids.

‘How do you find working full time?’

Because, you know, I have suddenly become incapable of holding a full time job because of the fact I have kids.

‘Why are you getting emotional?”

When refusing to compromise on an issue for a client. A male counterpart would simply be considered to be stepping up to protect his client’s interests. ( No, I wasn’t crying at the time!)

‘But you have four of them, shouldn’t you be home?’

So, it’s ok to “neglect” two but four is unreasonable? Let’s draw a line somewhere, shall we? Two kids, three kids – fine. Four kids – big no no.

‘Oh, I thought you worked full time?’

It’s 9.30am! This coming from a woman without children. The fact I was at the office until nearly 8pm the night before had evidently escaped her when commenting on my “tardiness”.

‘You’re not the secretary?’

Particularly when I was a younger lawyer having to say when I telephoned another lawyer’s firm ‘it’s Jane Doe, solicitor’ otherwise it was often presumed I was a secretary – no offence to secretaries!

‘It must be so hard working when you’ve got kids’ (twins)

Yes, it bloody well is. But what is worse is the judgment that accompanies being a working mum and lawyer. You’re written off professionally (heaven forbid if you’re single too), you’re seen as an inconvenience, your career frankly nosedives if you dare to seek work-life “balance”. So your options are 1. never be around your kids because you’re trying to prove yourself at work, or 2. expect your career to falter.

‘We couldn’t find a woman, that’s why it’s an all male panel today’

If you’re finding it hard, what you’re lacking is determination. It is extra work, yes, but it’s worth it. Also: avoid having a ‘token woman’ and aim at two or more women on your panel. It’ll be more credible and genuinely more diverse.

 ‘We’re aiming for 26% female by 2030’

In real life, a male partner of a law firm said this at a women in law event. That is so offensive, why even bother trying!? Also – who came up with 26% as a goal? That seems so random. There aren’t 26% of women on Earth, it’s roughly 50/50. How about 50% as a goal?

‘We don’t believe in quotas, but rather getting the best people for the job’

Right. Then, why do you have an overwhelming amount of men, none of which are more qualified than the female lawyers, partners in your ranks?

‘We don’t need flexible work policies, we just support our people to do the right thing’

Somebody needs a refresher on 5 company mistakes that prevent flexible working?

‘Your poor little boy needs you’

I remember being livid (then very upset) when a woman said that my “poor little boy needed me” and how terrible that he was in child care. Meanie.

‘Maternity leave’

It’s parental leave or, depending on the terms, primary carer leave. I’m yet to see a policy that says “you must be female to access this policy.” Any language that ties workplace rights (or lack/limitations thereof) to being a woman will hold women back.

‘Are you married? Do you have kids?’

Usually the follow-up question to ‘No’ is, ‘Do you intend to get married/have kids?’ Yes. really. There are so many similarities between the legal profession and the clergy for women. Who would have thought celibacy and being childless counted as bonus points for the betterment of your brains? Think again, ladies.

‘Can you come back sooner from Mat Leave because your cover is costing me more than your salary!’

No kidding. Now that you mention it, I should probably ask for a raise. Am I right or am I right?

‘We want more women in management and on the Board!’ (Just kidding)

I went for an interview with a company who wanted more women in management and on the Board. They then proceeded to tell me that I could not have any flexibility to drop the kids off at nursery because then, everyone would want to do it  and 9.30am was not acceptable as a start time – despite the commute being a over an hour. So … this was a joke – right?

Continue the conversation by contacting us (details in introduction).

P.S. Thanks to all the lawyers who contacted me for this feature and to Dana Denis-Smith, Obelisk Support CEO, for sharing our media request on her social media channels. It definitely helped reach female lawyers around the globe.

P.P.S. Each comment has been anonymised but otherwise, reprinted without modifications.


Women in Law

We spend a lot of time celebrating the progress being made in diversity and gender equality in the legal industry. However, every so often we come across a statistic or study that makes us stop and realise just how much more work needs to be done to invest in female talent and to get rid of gender bias.

One that stood out to us recently was the realisation that still only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by female CEOs. Add to that the continuing pattern across industries that the higher up the ranks a woman gets, the pay gap widens, as seen in a study by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). Even women who have branched out on their own find they come up against more barriers to progress than their male counterparts. Female founders and business leaders are struggling to achieve investment – a truly shocking 91% of publicly announced growth company cash investment deals were companies without a single female founder.

Within law, the picture is just as disheartening. Though there are many measures being taken to improve opportunities for women, they don’t seem to be having the effect one would hope. A McKinsey study of North American law firms, Women in the Workplace 2017, found only 19% of equity partners are women, and women are 29% less likely to reach the first level of partnership than are men

All Talk, No Action on Gender Bias?

It appears for all the progress in conversations around the importance of enabling more women to succeed and thrive in her chosen career path, there is a huge gap between acknowledging problems and taking the steps to address them. Gender bias is still very much present in big business decisions.

Why are companies, law firms and investors still reluctant to put their money where their mouth is? Here are just some of the lingering problems preventing investment in female talent, and the measures that need be taken to resolve them.

Problem #1 Unconscious Gender Bias

Investors, employers and company boards are all too often surrounded by people that look and think the way they do – the all too familiar ‘Old Boys Club’. This is not necessarily down to overt, conscious sexism or aversion to diversity – more that people don’t see the problem with being surrounded by people who look like and have similar backgrounds to themselves. It is important to confront the gender bias that we hold and teach ways to overcome them.

Measures to take: Facebook recently revealed that they have created an anti bias training course for employees, to help them interrupt and correct bias where they see it in the workplace. The company has also shared information, videos and presentations on its website for public access, so this a good place to start for anyone thinking of implementing their own anti-bias training for themselves or their employees.

Problem #2 Caregivers and Flexible Working

Employers are still far more concerned about women taking time out to have children or to care for family members than they are about men. Though parental and caring responsibilities are becoming more equally shared, women remain primary caregivers in our society, and therefore either have to juggle endlessly or step back from their career path. Women with family commitments, or those simply seen as being of childbearing age/circumstance may still be overlooked for promotion or ‘demanding’ roles due to the reluctance to allocate for flexible working.

Measures to take: It’s time for more organisations to take flexible working seriously as a wider part of company culture, rather than a case by case solution to a problem. Employers and employees both play a role in making this happen. The Law Society of Ireland provides a clear and comprehensive guide to conversations and statistics around flexible working practices. The more commonplace flexible working becomes in our industry, the less barriers primary caregivers will face in career progression.

Problem #3 Lack of Incentivisation

Something that is often missing from the conversations around inequality is incentives for organisations to invest efforts to tackle the gender bias problem for the benefit of all. There is real pressing need for companies to invest in female talent to drive extraordinary returns and the economy forward.

Measures to take: Look at the proof of the business case for gender equality. This McKinsey study is a few years old but shows just how essential female talent is for competitiveness, with companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnicity diversity statistically less likely to achieve above average monetary returns compared to other similar companies. Obelisk Support is also living proof that tearing up the traditions and focusing on both men and women who want to work differently can lead to big things – global expansion, policy influence, award recognition, and being an important part of the drive for change in the legal industry. We have seen first hand the rewards that can be reaped from investing in female talent.

Problem #4 Lingering Belief in Inequality

Underlying all these issues is that a small but significant portion of society still believes that women are not equal to men in terms of ability and potential to lead and play the same roles in society. That is a far bigger problem to address, but facing up to this uncomfortable reality can help shape conversations we need to have to deconstruct societal imbalance and change thinking.

Measures to take: There is no single remedy to this overarching issue, just the continuation of discussion and of efforts to change what we can in our own pool in order to create a ripple effect. Despite slower progress than we might have expected in some areas, it is important not to lose hope and realise that small changes come together to change the culture at large. We are heading in the right direction to eradicate these ideas once and for all.

TrendingWomen in Law

We recently looked at some positive trends in the legal industry concerning the rise of women in law, but talent retention and other factors can hamper this progress. How do we embolden the next generation of women in law and continue to forge a working culture that works for all?

Progress Status of Women in Law

The rise in women lawyers is largely thanks to the hard work of the men and women in the profession who have campaigned, advocated and led by example to create a more open, diverse culture in the legal industry. There is of course, work to be done.

Women are still disproportionately finding their careers and ambitions stalling as they take a career break or seek a better work life balance. Shockingly, we are seeing higher numbers of women enter the legal profession than men, yet there are still significantly fewer women than men in senior positions.

To inspire younger generations, we must give them the tools to carve out successful careers without gender discrimination getting in the way. Here are some simple starting points for us to keep in mind…

#1 Fight the Gender Gap

Fewer than 1 in 3 senior- and middle-management positions were held by women in the majority of 67 countries with data from 2009 through 2015. You’d think that rich countries would know better but when the BBC published their pay rates for their biggest stars in the United Kingdom, the public outcry on the gender pay gap was immediate. Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans topped the list on more than £2 million, while the highest paid woman was Claudia Winkleman, on between £450,000-£499,999, earning a mere 25% of the best paid male star.

Now that U.K. companies with more than 250 employees are mandated by law to publish details of the pay gap between their male and female employees, big law firms are going to have to be proactive about their gender pay gap. If the gender pay gap for partners at big U.S. law firms is an astounding 44%, if the UK gender pay gap is 18.1% for all workers and 9.4% for full-time staff, what will it be in the City?

More important, what is your company doing to advance equality?

Top Tips

The United Nations Global Compact published a Gender Gap Analysis Tool to help companies assess current policies and programmes, highlight areas for improvement, and identify opportunities to set future corporate goals and targets. Results are provided in a concise and clear format so companies can easily identify areas for improvement.

The Fairy GodBoss shares the three following successful strategies to cut the gender pay gap:

  • Stop the salary history reveal
  • Ask for transparency
  • Design a path to action

Last but not least, learn how to negotiate your salary, from the job offer to the annual promotion.

#2 Measure & Celebrate Progress

Inspiration from those who have come before us, and those who are around us should not be underestimated. To remind ourselves of what has been achieved and the progress that has been made reminds us all that we can truly make a difference and be part of the change we want to see in the industry – the First 100 Years is a particular example of this, plus you can also read about the progress of women in the law in Scotland in our recent article.

Likewise, awards and events to recognise all who are striving for change and have achieved success in the industry are important to maintain the momentum and provide incentives. It is also important to invest in, support and share studies, research and individual stories that tell us what needs to change and what areas still need to be tackled, to provide purpose to those coming through the ranks.

Top Tips

Celebrating progress of women in law starts by measuring how far your company has come in terms of gender equality, following up with sharing your company’s progress. It can be as simple as sharing news in a company newsletter to show how the firm values and monitors diversity in law.

To provide pointers as to what to measure, Bloomberg LP, the financial information and media company launched the Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index (BFGEI) which provides “investors and organisations with ‘standardised’ aggregate data across company gender statistics; employee policies; gender-conscious product offerings; and external community support and engagement.” The index is not ranked and participants join by filling out a voluntary survey that is free of charge.

To go further, actively seek out and sign up to programmes and initiatives that provide awards and incentives for diversity measures.

#3 Provide Meaningful Mentorships and Sponsorship

Practical support from peers and senior colleagues is vital to fuel ambition in new generation of women lawyers. This includes support both before and after career breaks. As we have seen from a recent BCG study, company culture is the key factor in maintaining their ambition. A company that provides a formal mentorship scheme, and always seeks to develop the career of their employees as far as possible no matter what their circumstance can only benefit from more determined, driven and engaged workers. If you are in a senior or partner position, it may be time to look at options for mentorship in your firm.

Latham & WatkinsBank of AmericaTarget and Freshfields focused their initiatives on mentoring female employees to give them access to sponsorship and leadership positions that qualified women have been long denied due to conscious as well unconscious biases in the workplace. Target’s CEO Brian Cornell has, in fact, partnered with PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi to form a Future Fund to achieve 50/50 gender parity in the retail industry at all seniority levels.

Top Tips

Mentoring requires input from the whole organisation, not just the mentor/mentee. When implementing or updating an existing mentorship programme, start by conducting a survey  – find out what incoming lawyers want to get out of mentoring, and who is willing to be a mentor and what they would like to bring the role.

Set out a structure for each mentor to create a formal training plan with their mentee, with specific goals and objectives. Creating a coaching team who is able to assess progress and continue to provide mutual support throughout career progression.

#4 Create and Advocate for Women Returnships in Law

A particular barrier to women fulfilling their ambitions in law is the impact of career breaks. This is finally starting to be addressed within the industry with the introduction of training programmes for women returning to work after a career break, also known as returnships. These have been largely successful across other industries, with most acquiring a position at the end of the returnship. However, law firms have been slower to launch such programmes, and there have been some concerns about the amount of people who have managed to secure a flexible position at the end of the programme (something we intend to look at in more detail in a future piece!).

Top Tips

To help encourage the provision of returnships, a few big law firms also offer returnerships, such as Allen & Overy’s Return to Law (after career breaks) or ReStart (for people over 50) in the U.K., Herbert Smith Freehill’s OnRamp Fellowship (in the U.K. and Australia), Davis Polk and Wardwell’s Revisited (in the U.S.) or Proskauer Rose LLP’s CaRE (in the U.S.).

Along the same lines, several organizations, such as OnRamp Fellowship (U.S.), Path Forward (U.S.), Working Mums (U.K.) or Women Returners, provide information on available returnships and return to work support events, while working with employers and businesses to consult on the design and delivery of returnships.

#5 Hold a United Front Against Discrimination

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye or minimise behaviour that is discriminatory, unethical or disrespectful. Our collective response as lawyers, and as women should be of no tolerance, including when (or perhaps in fact, particularly when) the behaviour doesn’t directly affect us. A comment made in passing by a client, a pattern of recruitment decisions that don’t seem quite right – it can be easier to explain away or just accept it as ‘one of those things’ in a profession still dogged by gender bias.

Top Tips

It’s important to keep talking and support one another in these instances. For example, if you are on the receiving end of the comment, ask what was meant by it. If someone was on the receiving end, ask if they were OK and if they want to take any further action. Talk about diversity within your organisation, research what measures are in place and discuss other methods to create a more inclusive environment and tackle discrimination. At firm level, ensure that any incidents of discrimination or sexist language are formally recorded and disciplined where appropriate.

Ultimately, there is strong evidence of competitive and cultural benefits of gender diversity in the workplace (see for example the Credit Suisse report on gender diversity and corporate performance). This should mean that everyone should be openly and willingly offering support and provisions to help future generations of women in law achieve their potential. We all play a role, no matter how small it might seem, in shaping the future for women lawyers.

What would you do to empower women in law?