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Hiroko NAMURA (Director/Lawyer, Osaka Office, Toranomon Chuo Law Firm)

Boosting her career as an attorney in the USA

“My negotiation style takes an Osakan middle-aged woman’s approach: using lively and powerful English,” says Ms. Hiroko NAMURA. She serves as a director of the Osaka Office of the Toranomon Chuo Law Firm. The number of international cases that the company works on accounts for 70% of all cases that the office handles.

On the reason she became involved in international cases, Ms. Namura said, “I registered as an attorney with the Osaka Bar Association at 26, but later my husband, a newspaper journalist, was transferred to Thailand, so I went with him. At the time, I wasn’t proficient in English, so I couldn’t get employed by United States law firms in the area, putting my career as an attorney on hold. Once I came back to Japan, I thought of advancing my career as an attorney in the USA by using English skills I had acquired in Thailand.”

Foreign-trained lawyers can use the LL.M. (Master of Laws) program to gain bar eligibility in several US states. So, after completing the American Bar Association (ABA)-approved LLM Program at the University of Chicago, Ms. Namura took the New York State Bar Examination. She passed on her first attempt and was registered as an attorney in New York State, after which she trained in a Silicon Valley law firm well-known for intellectual property (IP) litigation. But, she wanted to be involved in legal affairs in Japan in which she could utilize her English skills. So the next year, she had an interview in Los Angeles for a position at OH-EBASHI LDC & Partners, a firm that primarily handles corporate and financial cases.

Her involvement with bankruptcy rehabilitation procedures stirred her interest in legal affairs

“Two cases that I handled led me to deal with international cases of listed companies. One was the case of bankruptcy rehabilitation procedures for a large Japanese manufacturer. I flew to Hong Kong, holding meeting with Cantonese interpretation services for banks, Japanese and Hong Kong companies, and disputing in English with local people in charge. It wasn’t an easy case, but it was my first assignment in bankruptcy rehabilitation procedures overseas. It’s probably not appropriate to say that it was ‘fun,’ but I found it interesting.”

An antitrust case against a Japanese company taught her how seriously the antitrust laws were treated in America. “Individuals in charge at the corporation underwent intense hearings from prosecutors at the Department of Justice, but we worked with American lawyers to get a successful plea bargain to avoid penalties.”

Although projects in Japanese companies continue to go global, Ms. Namura says that their awareness of legal affairs tends to be insufficient. “Companies without legal precautionary measures will end up paying a massive amount of money if trouble were to arise. So, if Japanese corporations intend to compete with the rest of the world, I hope they secure budgets for ‘legal preventive measures’ as well.”

Judging by balancing the scales of justice

According to Ms. Namura, the ratio of female attorneys working in legal affairs like her is “about 5%.” She continued, “A lot of women say that they dislike looking at numbers on companies’ balance sheets or income statements. But, we’re not accountants; our job is to judge if the data is true or not. I think women are fit to handle corporate affairs.”

As an attorney, her belief is to “never waver” in her judgement. “If we take a case from a corporation and I feel certain from my interpretation that my client is not breaking the law, then I’ll support them no matter what anyone says. In a contrasting situation, if my client’s action will lead to conflicts with the law, I will stop the company even if I end up losing the assignment. If I waver in my judgement, the younger attorneys in my office will be confused. I’ve been firm in this belief for the last 30 years. I think that clients come to us because they like these aspects of my work, including my Osakan woman negotiation style (laughs).”

Being an attorney is my lifetime profession

Her decision to become an attorney owes a great deal to words from her professor at OU’s School of Law. “When I was voicing my concerns about whether it’s possible to improve society by law and whether I should make legal work my career, I was told, ‘In the 2000 years since the Code of Hammurabi, there has not been a single country without laws. Think about what that means.’ I thought to myself, okay, law doesn’t have the power to bring about a revolution, but it is necessary for people and can change society in a good way, though gradual. This made me want to become a law practitioner who can make full use of legal knowledge.”

On what is required of attorneys active on a global scale, Ms. Namura said, “You have to like people. This is true of an attorney’s duties as a whole, but it’s more important to be talkative than contemplative when it comes to understanding people who speak a different language.” To current law students, she said, “I want them to keep what they learned as undergraduate students in the back of their minds, and always be aware of compliance, no matter where in society they may be.”

• Hiroko Namura

Ms. Namura graduated from the School of Law of Osaka University in 1983 and the University of Chicago Law School in 1996. She joined Weil, Gotschal & Manges LLP in 1996 and OH-EBASHI LDC & Partners in 1998, after which she started her own firm with 3 partners in 2000. In 2002, Namura & Associates was opened. In the same year, she became representative partner of the firm. In 2014, she began to work as a director of the Toranomon Chuo Law Office.

Corporate Information

• Toranomon Chuo Law Firm, 2-6-8 Nishi-temma, Kita-ku, Osaka

Ms. Namura (representative lawyer) and 6 other lawyers make up the Osaka Office of Toranomon Chuo Law Firm. The office works on resolutions for all kinds of legal issues in corporate activity, ranging from general legal affairs, compliance, M&A, IP rights, domestic and foreign litigations/disputes, anti-trust law, and corporation rehabilitation/bankruptcy.

Note: This is a reprint of the article posted in the Osaka University NewsLetter No. 68 (Summer 2015).

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