Japan International Trade in Legal Services

Japan International Trade in Legal Services


Is there legislation governing the legal sector

Attorneys Act of 1949

Under what title do lawyers practise?


How does an individual lawyer obtain a "licence" to practise law? How often must this be renewed?



In order to qualify as a Bengoshi, an individual must complete an undergraduate degree in any field (which requires 4 years of study), a Juris Doctor (which lasts 2 or 3 years), pass the national bar exam, and undertake a 12 month apprenticeship which incorporates additional coursework and passing the graduation examination of apprenticeship

Does this entitle the holder to practise throughout the country? If the law license only permits one to practice on a sub-national level, please explain the jurisdictional limits




Are there certain activities that are "reserved" to those who are licensed to practise law in the jurisdiction?






Lawyers (bengoshi) are granted by the Attorneys Act, the exclusive right to provide legal services unless explicitly stated to the contrary. This includes the unrestricted right to appear in all courts in Japan. The law also defines unauthorized practice of law as a criminal activity. In addition to Bengoshi there are a number of other types of legal practitioners: Judicial Scriveners (shihoshoshi) handle registration and cash deposit matters with the Legal Affairs Bureau, and prepare documents to be filed with the court and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Tax attorneys (zeirishi) prepare tax returns, represent clients before the tax authority and provide consultation services on tax matters. Patent attorneys (benrishi) represent clients concerning all matters relating to patents, utility model rights, design rights and trademarks at the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and before the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) (The JPO comes within the control of METI). Administrative Scriveners (gyoseishoshi) handle documents to be lodged with administrative agencies.

Do you need to hold local nationality to be eligible to practise law?


What legal forms can lawyers work in? (e.g. self employment, partnership, limited liability partnership, multi-disciplinary partnership, incorporation)

Bengoshi may work as sole practitioners or in Legal Professional Corporations.

What other ethical or regulatory requirements must a licensed lawyer comply with? 

The current rules governing the conduct of attorneys are "The Basic Rules on the Duties of Practicing Attorneys" (2005).

Do law firms need to receive a "license" (or permission/approval) to practice law?

An attorney must only establish an office in the district of the country in which he is registered, he cannot have more than one office and he must notify the relevant district Bar Association and the JFBA when establishing such an office. A Legal Professional Corporation may have more than one office but each office must have a designated attorney who is registered in that bar district.

Which authority issues licences? Are there different authorities for individuals and firms? 

The Japanese Federation of Bar Associations maintains the roll of individual attorneys admitted to practice nd their places of work but attorneys and law firms must also register with their local bar associations.



Are there any explicit rules or restrictions other than visas on fly in fly out practice of law? Ie. Do you need to obtain a licence for temporary practice?

There is no express rule allowing temporary practice by foreign lawyers and the import of Japan's GATS commitments is that a commercial presence is required for the conduct of legal practice in Japan unless through a local lawyer.

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a visa to visit clients or to market but not to practice?

Most OECD countries have reciprocal visa exemptions with Japan for visits up to 90 days. Lawyers from other countries may obtain a visa for the purpose of visiting contacts but not to obtain remuneration or to make profits  or accept payment in Japan.

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a licence to establish and practise as a foreign legal consultant and what is the scope of this limited licence?

A foreign lawyer may register with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations as a "Gaikoku-Ho-Jimu-Bengoshi”.  Their scope of practice is limited to the law in which service supplier is qualified and to international law,  provided that the relevant international law is or was in force  in the jurisdiction.   The practice of third  country law and  Japanese law is  not permitted. This also excludes juridical procedures in  courts and other government agencies as  well as preparation of  legal documents for  such procedures (unless undertaken in conjunction with a Bengoshi), notarial acts, advice on transactions relating to land or property rights and advice on any third country law in which the supplier is not qualified.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled once a foreign lawyer has been granted a limited licence (e.g. residency requirement)

A foreign lawyer must be resident in Japan for 180 days a year. In addition, once GJB registration has been obtained, the foreign qualification to practise must be maintained, otherwise the registration will be withdrawn.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled for a foreign lawyer to qualify for a limited licence? (e.g. prior practice)

In order to register as a GJB a lawyer must a)have practised for at least three years (at least two of which must have been in their home jurisdiction); not be subject to disqualification; intend to undertake the profession in good faith; plan to perform his or her functions properly and reliably; possess the capability to compensate for damages caused to a client, if any. Any individual applying for registration must not have any prior criminal conviction.  Scope of practice is limited to the law of the lawyer's home country.

Are foreign lawyers permitted to undertake arbitration and mediation? Representation in arbitration is permitted, provided that the applicable law in the arbitration is the law which the service supplier is qualified to practice in Japan (source: WTO commitments)
Are foreign lawyers allowed to appear in court under any circumstances?


Can foreign lawyers requalify as local lawyers?

There is no special requalification route for foreign lawyers who must follow the domestic qualification route to be admitted in Japan.


Can a foreign law firm obtain a licence to open an office?


Even if a foreign law firm does not require a legal licence must they register in some form in order to set up an office? (e.g. with a ministry of company affairs etc)

Foreign firms establishing will also need to comply with the relevant business, tax and employment registration requirements.
Are there different types of foreign law firm 'licence'  (e.g. Joint Law Venture, stand alone foreign licence etc)

A foreign law firm may establish either as a stand alone foreign law firm or as a joint enterprise in partnership with Bengoshi.

Is there a quota on the number of licences available?


Are there geographical restrictions on foreign firm licences or on the number of branches a foreign firm can have?

A foreign law firm may only open one office in Japan.

Are there "scope of practice" rules that apply directly to foreign law firms (as opposed to lawyers themselves)? (e.g. home, host, international law), if so, what are they? Foreign law firms are covered by the same scope of practice rules that apply to individual foreign lawyers.
Are there restrictions on the corporate form a foreign law firm can take? Foreign law firms may only have one office and may not take limited liability forms.
Are there rules about the name a foreign law firm can take? Use of firm name is unrestricted, provided that it is followed with reference to “Gaikoku-Ho-Jimu-Bengoshi  Jimusho”. (WTO commitments)
What entity grants a 'license' to a foreign law firm? If that entity is on the Internet, please provide the URL The Japanese Federation of Bar Associations: www.nichibenren.or.jp


Are there restrictions on the ownership share of foreign lawyers in a law firm?


May a domestic lawyer be employed by a foreign lawyer or law firm?

Following the Act on Special Measures Concerning the Handling of Legal Services by Foreign Lawyers, registered foreign lawyer s, acting through the foreign law firm of which they are a member, if applicable, are permitted to employ Japanese-qualified lawyers (bengoshi).

Can a domestic lawyer enter into partnership with a foreign lawyer?


Can a domestic lawyer or domestic law firm employ a foreign lawyer?




Other useful sources or comments or links

Japanese Federation of Bar Associations: www.nichibenren.or.jp; Japanese Ministry of Justice (Judicial System Department): www.moj.go.jp