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Question: I’ve completed a graduate degree in Japanese, and all of the research for my thesis was from Japanese primary sources. I’m in my mid-30′s and enjoy research (in English and Japanese) but not academia. Provided I have a sincere interest in a law career, would my fluent Japanese skills negate my late-comer status, given the hordes of 20-something J.D.’s that enter the work force each year? Would it set me apart overall? Answer: These days, neither an advanced degree nor a more mature age status would make you a particularly unusual law student. There are many students with similar backgrounds and experiences, and in general, law students are more diverse than ever before. The questions you face are not whether you could succeed as a law student and find a successful career path in law, but whether the law truly suits your interests and long-term goals, and how best to use the law as a career framework. Begin by thinking about what drew you to the study of Japanese and research in that area. What about those interests do you see reflected in the law? What is different about the law that you might find attractive? Note that some of the downsides that you apparently want to avoid may be present in a legal career. At the very least, for example, even though you do not like academia, you will have to spend at least three more years in academia in order to graduate from law school. Similarly, some of the upsides that you may expect from a law career may not materialize. For example, although you like research, law is not all about research. There are many other aspects, both in litigation and in business practice. In general, research skills are good entry-level capabilities that must be supplemented with strong writing, good negotiation, client counseling, oral advocacy and many other skills. Be aware of all that law school and a legal career may demand of you. Make an informed choice after weighing all the positives and negatives. If you are resolved to go to law school, the next question is how to make use of the skills and experiences you have gathered. Consider the following suggestions: � You may want to attend a law school that offers courses in relevant areas (Asian/Japanese law, international trade and the like). Some schools, moreover, offer joint degree programs, as well as study abroad. � You may want to attend a law school in a city whose legal and business community could make use of your skills. � You may want to look for internships and part-time or summer jobs that are relevant to your interests. Ultimately, in choosing a law firm (or government or in-house) position after law school, you again may want to correlate your interests to the opportunities presented by different positions (location, client base, character of practice and background of other lawyers, to name just a few considerations). At your post law-school position, moreover, you may want to emphasize your Japanese language skills by seeking out lawyers with similar interests and by searching for work that will permit you to exercise your talents. You will need to be persistent in this regard. Unless consistent steps are taken to remind supervisors of your unique skills, most senior lawyers will simply assume that you have generic capabilities, and will assign work on that basis. The point is that you have some unique (and potentially quite valuable) skills and experiences. If you wish to make use of these talents, and to develop them further through a career in law, you will need to take some affirmative steps to gather information about career possibilities and formulate a specific career plan. Your career plan will be your own, of course. It should be clear from these comments, however, that if you wish to take full advantage of your language skills, you will need to pay particular attention to gaining legal experiences that will exploit and enhance those skills. The good news is that law is a very open profession. There are all kinds of lawyers, doing all kinds of work. Find a place that is right for you. Steven C. Bennett, a partner at Jones Day and author of The Path to Partnership: A Guide for Junior Associates, will reply to your questions about law firm life and career issues in this space every month. To submit a question, click here.

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