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What happens when a Japanese corporation needs savvy in-house counsel but has not a single Ben-Goshi on its payroll? In the case of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. — which, like most Japanese corporations, has a legal department that consists of a few business people who have read a few law books, as opposed to Ben-Goshi, certified members of the bar — executives contacted their longtime U.S. lawyers to propose an experiment. Send us a trusty associate for one year, they asked partners at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and let us be guided by mutual benefaction. And why not? What had already proved successful — the Osaka-based manufacturer has sent Japanese lawyers to train at Weil Gotshal since the mid-1970s — would become a two-way street of professional and cultural exchange. “I was a second-year associate when I went over [to Osaka],” said Jeffrey D. Osterman, 31, a graduate of Harvard Law School and currently a partner in Weil Gotshal’s trade practices and regulatory law department. “It was an enormous professional boost for me. It gave me insights into what a large corporation is looking for — insights impossible to teach.” After returning in January from his year in Osaka, litigation associate Richard A. Simon spoke of cultural as well as professional gains from the experience. “We live here in the U.S. and tend not to think too much about people elsewhere,” said Simon, 34, a graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “I have a much better global view now.” Adam C. Hemlock, who was placed for not one but two years at a Yokohama subsidiary of Matsushita, said he enjoyed “a wonderful opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have the chance to do here — getting my hands dirty on the business side of things, as opposed to being an outside counsel and just focused on the legal stuff.” CULTURAL DIFFERENCES A Japanese lawyer in training at Weil Gotshal in New York, Sanae Okada, 28, studied law at the University of Tokyo and last year earned a master’s of law degree at Columbia Law School. She explained how the Japanese and American legal systems are based in distinct cultural differences. “Here, everybody is very close to the legal system,” said Okada, an attorney at Oh-Ebashi LPC & Partners, an Osaka firm also retained by Matsushita as outside counsel. “In Japan, the people like to solve the problems themselves. Many people never get in touch with any attorneys in their whole lives.” Besides which, it is seriously difficult to become an attorney in Japan. Typically, 95 percent of those who undergo the series of Japanese national bar examinations flunk. It is neither uncommon nor shameful for would-be Ben-Goshi to take the exams as many as seven times, after which they are required to spend 18 months with the Legal Training and Research Institute of the Supreme Court of Japan. This schooling augments an academic concentration in law during the equivalent period of a U.S. undergraduate college program. Okada is one of many Japanese attorneys since the mid-1970s who have gone beyond professional requirements at home to train at Weil Gotshal in concert with picking up an LL.M. at an American law school. “Because we’ve enjoyed Matsushita as a client since 1968, it’s been very important to us to have a good understanding of the Japanese culture and legal climate, and to communicate those differences to make sure there are no misunderstandings,” said Jeffrey L. Kessler, the Weil Gotshal partner responsible for placing U.S. lawyers at Matsushita and its subsidiaries. Of the exchange developed, he said, “From a client standpoint, it’s given [Matsushita] on-the-ground expertise, people who can help coordinate U.S. legal matters and provide on-the-spot answers. “From our standpoint, it’s been great for training our associates,” Kessler added. “They come back with skill sets that would take a much, much longer time to develop.” To be sure, there have been cultural clashes. How could it be otherwise, Hemlock suggested, when physical distance is a factor. “They’re reading our e-mails in Japan while we’re sleeping in New York,” he said. LANGUAGE BARRIER Like the other Weil Gotshal attorneys assigned to stints at Matsushita, Hemlock took a crash course in Japanese before departing and immersed himself in the language as best he could while dealing in international matters, most of which were conducted in English. On off-duty days, Hemlock enjoyed venturing out from Yokohama and adjacent Tokyo to other parts of the country, necessitating his having to ask for the locations of lavatories. “After about four months, I realized I’d been asking all along, Where’s the Buddhist temple?” said Hemlock. “The Japanese people are so polite. They all knew what I actually wanted, and nobody ever corrected me.” Osterman, too, had fleeting moments of embarrassment. For instance, he was in the habit of sending accumulated mail in a Federal Express packet to the U.S. until a Japanese FedEx worker warned him that this was a violation of international law. FedEx was on to him. When a package of wrapped gifts from his family in New York arrived at his apartment in Osaka, Osterman noticed something amiss: A suspicious FedEx worker had apparently inspected the packet, which involved unwrapping and then carefully re-wrapping the gifts. The incident was humorous rather than annoying, said Osterman, for whom the important lesson during his year abroad was an increased understanding of corporate structure. “I learned what is not so obvious to a junior associate working as outside counsel. When clients send you a fax, they’ve already gone through the difficult decision of investing hundreds of dollars an hour talking to you. It’s that important to them,” said Osterman. “Working as in-house counsel changes your perspective this way. You gain a real understanding of the conflicting business pressure — not just competitive business pressure, but the pressure of working within a large corporation.” These days, lessons are under way in Japan for three Weil Gotshal associates spending their own year in Osaka: Edward Coutroul of the firm’s Dallas office, Steven G. Morgan from Houston and Sean Murphy from New York. In July, Okada returns home to Japan, with fond memories of New York — “The city is so open to everybody, nobody is excluded” — and travels to the Midwest, Florida and California. “But this winter,” she said. “It made me homesick.”

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