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What is it like working as a lawyer?

—Small talk by a lawyer from Kagoshima

Yukimasa Ueyama
Lawyer, Director of Ueyama Law Office, Legal Professional Corporation Kagoshima

View of Mount Sakurajima from Sakurajima Ferry

“What is it like working as a lawyer?”—I have been asked this question by both children and adults. Most people have never actually observed a lawyer at work. It is difficult to provide a straightforward explanation of a lawyer’s profession. Recently, I heard that the number of people aspiring to become lawyers has decreased. Similarly, there has also been a decrease in the number of students entering law school and faculties of law. This does not surprise me when recalling several situations that I have witnessed. I find this decreased interest in the legal profession to be unfortunate.

My time at Chuo University

The bronze statue of Saigo in military uniform in Kagoshima

In 1981, I graduated from Kanoya High School, which is located in a remote region of the rural city of Kagoshima. After graduation, I entered the Department of Law in the Chuo University Faculty of Law. At Chuo University, I felt comfortable on the relatively suburban Tama Campus in Hachioji City. I have since heard that Chuo plans to return some of its campuses to urban areas in the near future. At the time of enrolling, I didn’t have a clear image of what is involved with becoming a lawyer and I lacked a thorough understanding of the bar examination. I proceeded to take the bar examination without being affiliated with an examinee group or legal profession laboratory. Even so, I was always optimistic about my chances of passing. I feel that many examinees at that time carried this same sort of positive attitude. My experience of succeeding in passing the exam allows me to say that unfounded confidence is surprisingly important for examinees. I will always be extremely grateful to my parents for allowing me the opportunity to repeatedly take the bar examination. Many of my friends with whom I had studied gave up after failing the examination. It was always a tearful goodbye. I really got serious about the examination after my friend, Mr. Satoshi Makino, a lawyer with whom I am still friends today, passed before me. I finally acquired a clear image of the bar examination after I began to study at the legal profession laboratory of Surugadai Memorial Hall in Ochanomizu.

Passing the bar examination and working as an associate attorney in Nagoya

The Yakushima forest, the inspiration for the animation in Princess Mononoke

After deciding that I would change my career path if I failed again, I finally passed the bar examination in 1993. Ultimately, this do-or-die attitude is required to pass the bar. As a member of the 47th class of legal apprentices, I spent the first term at legal training and research institutes in Yushima and the second term in Wako. The site for my practical apprenticeship was Nagoya, which I had listed as my third choice. Before embarking on my apprenticeship, I was invited to attend a welcome party held by the Nagoya Bar Hakumon Lawyers Association. I’m not aware of whether a similar gathering is still held today. I was deeply impressed by the breadth of connections held by the Chuo University Faculty of Law.

Working and studying as a legal apprentice was enjoyable. I was taught a great many things by lawyer Mitsuo Takayama, also a Chuo alumnus, and eventually I worked as an associate attorney in his office for two years. Even in 2017, I plan to participate in the annual New Year’s party held by the Takayama Law Office. Although Nagoya was a wonderful environment, I felt that there were especially tight-knit and closed (in a good sense) relationships among locals in Nagoya. This made me hesitant to settle down there. While living in Nagoya, I had the wonderful occasion to meet my wife, who was born in Tajimi City, Gifu Prefecture. When proposing to my wife, I told her that I wanted to go back to Kagoshima and start my own law office. I warned her that it wouldn’t be easy, but I asked her to come with me. She readily agreed. In October of 1996, I decided to re-register with the Kagoshima Bar Association.

Working as an associate attorney in Kagoshima

Train traveling between Kaimondake volcano and Nishi-Oyama Station, the southernmost station in Japan

One day, in the midst of preparations for our move to Kagoshima, I received a phone call from the lawyer, Wataru Ikeda. He had heard of my intention to re-register and invited me to work at his office as an associate attorney. Although more than 200 lawyers registered with the Kagoshima Bar Association this year, there were only about 70 registrants at that time. The Kagoshima Bar Association Building hadn’t even been built yet. Beginning in May 1997, I worked at the Terukuni Lawyers Office under the guidance of Ikeda. Although I had been worried about making ends meet in Kagoshima, my work as a lawyer started smoothly and we were blessed with the birth of our first child. The Terukuni Lawyers Office in Kagoshima was a large office that gave me the opportunity to acquire experience in a variety of duties. Just as everything seemed to be going well, my mother began experiencing health problems. Caring for her and balancing the demands from work proved to be difficult. I didn’t want to cause any trouble for the law office, so I decided to go independent in 2001. Lawyer Ikeda approved of my decision. Even today, I am deeply indebted to him both on a professional and personal level.

Starting my own office

While being self-employed sounds great, there are challenges presented by the need to consider many things. I find my work to be difficult yet enjoyable, and every day is very fulfilling. Looking back, I’ve noticed that often associate attorneys tend to easily become dissatisfied at the way in which cases are assigned by the head of the legal office. Such dissatisfaction is completely dispelled when starting your own office. At the time that I went independent, there was an increase in overpayment claims against commercial/industrial loans and consumer financing. These cases kept me busy and provided a steady source of income. Afterwards, the legal industry underwent a variety of changes. Amidst such changes, I found that my prior opportunity as an associate attorney to experience and handle a large number of ordinary civil/family cases and criminal cases would prove to be a great asset. In 2005, I was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Kagoshima Bar Association. I also served as Chairman of the Kagoshima Bar Association Criminal Defense Committee from 2006 to 2010.

In 2007, I learned that my oldest son has an intellectual disability known as autism spectrum. It was not until I had a child with a disability that I truly became aware of the world of disabled people. Certainly, life would be happier without the need to deal with disabilities. However, when placed in such a situation, the only option is to learn as much as possible. Comparing your own life with the life of someone else is pointless. Although the current environment surrounding children with disabilities has improved somewhat, the social resources available at that time were extremely limited. I constantly thought about how those limited resources could be used to help rehabilitate my son for his future life. Looking back, I realize that I had been feverishly devoted to obtaining useful information on autism, rehabilitation facilities, and other matters related to my son’s growth.

During these circumstances, I hired my first legal staff in 2008. Then, in 2013, I established the Legal Professional Corporation Kagoshima. I decided to found this legal organization to create a better working environment for associate attorneys and administrative staff, and with the idea that an office with ensured continuity would be more appealing to clients. I had learned outstanding management principles during my dealings with executives at small- and mid-sized corporations, and I wanted to apply these lessons to a legal organization. Because my son has a disability, I often think of ways to make social welfare for the disabled more useful for disabled individuals and their families. I have taken it upon myself to serve as a committee member at the Center for Supporting Rights of the Elderly and Disabled (operated by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations), and a committee member of the Local Council on Promotion of Measures for Persons with Disabilities as well as the Local Council on Supporting Eliminating Discrimination Against Disabled Individuals (both operated by Kagoshima Prefecture). Looking ahead, I expect to be appointed Chairman of the Kagoshima Bar Association starting in April of 2018, which will apparently be the last year of the Heisei Period in Japan.

What is it like working as a lawyer? — Answers to some common questions

While it is necessary to attain the minimum required level of skill and ability, academic ability and talent actually have a small bearing on success in life. Instead, I believe that your path in life is opened up through encounters with other people and through work, along with displaying the attitude of working on things while taking advantage of personality and good fortune in your personal life. Working as a lawyer is no exception. With that in mind, I would now like to return to the question posed at the beginning of this article.

Q: What is it like working as a lawyer?

A: If you examine 100 lawyers, you will see that each of them performs different work. The type of work carried out by a lawyer will vary greatly depending on the one that you meet or the office that you visit. However, by valuing meetings with clients and lawyers and the opportunity to take on a case, and by approaching your work with sincerity, it is possible to find a workstyle which best suits you as an individual. In that respect, being a lawyer includes a high degree of freedom and is very appealing.

Q: Is being a lawyer a good profession?

A: Yes, I think so. Although people who visit my office are frequently in a state of distress, resolving their case allows me to help relieve them of their burden. In the end, I receive heartfelt gratitude from many of my clients. For those who find that feedback rewarding, being a lawyer is very fulfilling. I will continue to work as hard as possible to lead a fulfilling professional life.

Hopefully, more people will continue to aspire to become lawyers.

—Written during the first snow of the season in Kagoshima—

Yukimasa Ueyama
Lawyer, Director of Ueyama Law Office, Legal Professional Corporation Kagoshima
Yukimasa Ueyama was born in Kagoshima Prefecture in 1963. In 1985, he graduated from the Department of Law in the Chuo University Faculty of Law.
He passed the bar examination in 1993 and two years later, he finished studying at the Legal Training and Research Institute of Japan, and registered as a lawyer. He subsequently joined Takayama Law Office (Aichi Bar Association), and began working as an associate attorney.
In 1997, he began working as an associate attorney at Terukuni Lawyers Office. He began his own independent practice in 2001 and established Ueyama Law Office.
In 2005, he was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Kagoshima Bar Association (term: April 2005 to March 2006).
In 2006, he was appointed Chairman of the Kagoshima Bar Association Criminal Defense Committee (term: April 2006 to March 2010).
In 2013, he established Legal Professional Corporation Kagoshima.

Committee member at the Center for Supporting Rights of the Elderly and Disabled (Japan Federation of Bar Associations)
Committee member of the Local Council on Promotion of Measures for Persons with Disabilities (Kagoshima Prefecture)
Committee member of the Local Council on Supporting Eliminating Discrimination Against Disabled Individuals (Kagoshima Prefecture)

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