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My Student Life in New York —Learning from the City and the People

Shinsuke Kaneko
Lawyer, Morrison & Foerster LLP Registered Associated Offices of Ito & Mitomi

Year of Presidential Election

Rockefeller Center with dozens of Stars and Stripes billowing

At 3 A.M. on November 9, 2016, I heard the victory speech of President-elect Donald Trump in a taxi as I returned home from Hillary Clinton’s gathering at Javitz Center in New York. Listening to the cheers of supporters from radio, I recalled a young man I encountered in New Hampshire nine months ago. I wondered what he was thinking.

After working for Morrison & Foerster LLP Registered Associated Offices of Ito & Mitomi for five and a half years starting in 2010, I studied at the New York University (NYU) School of Law for about ten months from the summer of 2015 to May 2016, with support from my firm. Since I dealt with patent litigations, international arbitrations, and refugee-related lawsuits in Japan, I chose NYU’s IBRLA program, which specializes in international business regulation, litigation, and arbitration.

I started living in New York in the summer of 2015. The presidential election was more than a year away, but was already the main topic on TV programs. One of my purposes for studying in the U.S. was to directly feel the dynamism of the presidential election, so I travelled six hours to Nashua, New Hampshire from New York in late January 2016 to attend then-candidate Trump’s town hall meeting for the Republican primary election.

Huge Cheer in Nashua

Supporters seeking autographs

I arrived there just after 6 A.M. The temperature was near freezing. There was a line of people in front of the venue early on this Friday morning. I saw families including grandmothers and grandchildren and the veterans of the Vietnam or Iraq War. It was like a local festival and participants were enjoying it. I was often asked, “Where are you from?” or “Are you a supporter?” I replied, “I came here to find out who is supporting him.” They reacted like, “Oh, we’ve got a rare guy here!” and kindly answered my questions openly.

I waited for four or five hours until Trump showed up. People were energized by his speech and it was like a rock concert. As soon as it ended, the audience rushed toward the podium and asked for his autographs while holding a red cap or his photo. Pushing through the bodyguards trying to hold back the crowds, people extended their arms and pointed their smartphones at him, shouting “Donald!”

Amid the bustle, which lasted about fifteen minutes, I found a young man sitting in a dazed manner. He was teary-eyed, while holding an autographed book, saying “Mr. Trump is my hero.” His words reflected the excitement in Nashua.

People With Their Own Voice

Election Protection badge

The strong energy I felt in New Hampshire motivated me to attend the speeches and speak with the supporters of Bernie Sanders, who filled parks in New York with tens of thousands of participants, and also Hillary’s speech at Apollo Theater in the heart of Harlem. I was an outsider without a vote, but I was pleased to hear many supporters saying, “I am glad just to know that you have interests in our election.”

On the November 8 election day, I participated in a non-partisan election volunteer program called “Election Protection” as part of my firm’s pro bono activities to check whether the voting rules were being observed. I was in charge of five polling places in Upper West Side, Manhattan. At the polls, one of the many election staff members working at counters said, “I have been serving as a staff member for every presidential election since President Nixon.”

Thinking back on the election, the news and debates on each candidate had been discussed every day at schools, cafes, and bars for over a year. Needless to say, it is a significant matter to determine the next president, but it was not until I lived in the U.S. that I realized how earnestly all citizens continued discussions for the entire year to make a single decision in this rapidly changing age.

Meeting and Talking With People

With IBRLA’s classmates at the Convocation Ceremony

NYU’s LLM program has over 400 international students from more than 50 countries. We had events almost every day. When there was major international news, we got together despite our hectic schedules to discuss and encourage each other. Before I knew it, the news in some random countries changed into the news in my classmates’ countries, giving it a more personal flavor. IBRLA is a course for about 30 students offered by Professor Franco Ferrari. We had a sense of unity like a big family, partly because giving a presentation and writing papers were graduation requirements for all of us in the program. Serving as an arbitrator in a mock arbitration with other countries’ practitioners was a rare and valuable opportunity for me to listen to the counsel’s arguments from the judge’s viewpoint.

The students of the three-year JD program I met were enthusiastic about volunteer activities. Some students organized job interview training for unemployed people in New York; some challenged public schools that had improperly suspended their students; and others negotiated with employers who had unfairly dismissed their employees. Students in the U.S., who grew up watching the debates for presidential elections since they were kids, gave persuasive arguments with confidence even though they had just started studying law. I learned a lot from them through participating in Professor Paula Galowitz’s simulation course covering a full range of civil procedure for one semester.

Washington Square Park in front of the NYU School of Law

Since I worked with American lawyers in Tokyo, I had opportunities to use English on a daily basis. However, after living in New York for about half a year, I noticed that English is not merely a communication tool, but also becoming a part of me. In this city, people talk to strangers casually. New Yorkers often chat with people around them in stations, streets, cafes, and elevators. Through these interactions, I gradually increased my vocabulary and felt each word take on new significance based on actual experience. I’m feeling like I can express my feelings in English more easily.

Manhattan landscape from Brooklyn

Living in a new environment, especially a foreign country, means meeting people you have never seen, having conversations with them, learning new vocabulary and acquiring new perspectives. You need to have some courage for living in a faraway town and interacting with strangers, but you can gain significant benefits in return. I have received generous support from really great people. I truly wish to offer my full support to those embarking on their new adventure.

Shinsuke Kaneko
Lawyer, Morrison & Foerster LLP Registered Associated Offices of Ito & Mitomi
In 1983, Shinsuke Kaneko was born in Yamaguchi. He graduated from Sugamo High School and the University of Tokyo Faculty of Law.
In 2008, he graduated from Chuo Law School.
In 2008, he passed the bar exam, and underwent training as legal apprentice in Kanazawa.
In 2010, he was registered as a lawyer (62nd term), and joined Morrison & Foerster LLP Registered Associated Offices of Ito & Mitomi.
He specializes in litigation and arbitration regarding intellectual property rights, system development, international commercial transactions, and other inter-enterprise disputes.
In 2016, he obtained the LLM degree of New York University School of Law (IBRLA).
In 2016, he underwent training at New York Office of Morrison & Foerster LLP.