April 2018 Monthly Meeting Recap: Female Pioneers in Law in Japan


April Monthly Meeting 1At FEW’s monthly meeting in April, we heard from two dynamic women working in law in Tokyo: Naoko Matsuzaki, Director, International Anti-Corruption and Global Intelligence for PwC Japan’s Forensic Services Group, and Catherine O’Connell, Founder and Principal of Catherine O’Connell Law and the first foreign female to set up as a sole legal practitioner in Japan.

The evening opened with a pop quiz, and we invited participants to guess how many lawyers there are in Japan, and how many of those are female. As many of us imagined, the numbers are startlingly low, and as Catherine pointed out, the reality is that Japan is traditionally not a country where people sue each other rather, resolving disputes amicably outside of court and Naoko remarked the situation was such that law schools are closing down here.

Naoko lived in the U.S. as a young child, then returned to Japan and graduated from university here before starting work for Japanese industrial companies in their legal departments. As a fresh, new 22-year-old, she found herself working on anti-dumping issues, and having to explain to the U.S. Department of Commerce how the companies worked. She quickly found that the high marks she’d got in written exams in English in the Japanese system weren’t going to help her much, and she actually took a professional simultaneous interpretation course to develop her spoken English skills. As Catherine said, being able to present an argument clearly and concisely is so important as a lawyer.

Being confident when standing up in front of a judge to defend a client is a skill that Catherine says is learned, and she explained tricks to us such as how to hold onto the edge of a desk when talking to appear calm and collected, and to stop your hands from waving all over the place. Catherine didn’t start out in a law. Her first career was as a was a tour guide for JTB in New Zealand for two years before inspiration from her Japanese tourist clients questioning her about law and business in New Zealand, drove her to decide to return to university to study law to train to be a lawyer. She worked for seven years at a law firm in New Zealand, and eventually with her strong Japanese skills and a solid base in commercial and business law, she was hired for a post in Japan in 2002, and has based herself here since.

In their discussion about the ‘Me Too’ movement, and whether there’s any discrimination against female legal practitioners in Japan, Naoko pointed out that one good thing about law is that people are treated equally. It’s not really about being male or female, but it’s about being logical, she said. Skills such as communicating logically and articulating your views clearly are needed for the legal profession and are learned skills, according to Catherine.

After discussing how they developed their careers and some of the skills needed for lawyering, Catherine and Naoko gave us some insights into the broader issues for women in law in Japan. When it comes to speaking up again harassment issues, or even any kind of wrongdoing in a company, Catherine said that it’s incumbent on us all to speak up and to have a voice. The important of keeping evidence, to be able to document everything and support what you want to say, even if it’s just a voice message or an SMS, is something that they both stressed as well.

April Monthly Meeting 2