The Different Working Styles of America and Japan

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When we work abroad, we will not only have to adapt to the country’s culture, but also to the working culture. Indonesia Mengglobal’s Columnist Steffen Hadi had the opportunity to work as a lawyer in different countries, and in this article, he shares his observations on the different working styles of lawyers in the United States of America and Japan. 

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I believe that, generally, each country has its own unique professional culture that is different from other countries. As I had the opportunity to study and practice law in four different countries (Indonesia, the United States, Singapore, and Japan), I have experienced four distinct working cultures.

In this opportunity, I would like to reflect on the working style differences between American lawyers and Japanese lawyers from my perspective.

Detailed vs Practical

Japanese lawyers tend to provide a very detailed analysis in their work products. They tend to anticipate further queries from the clients by creating assumptions and possibilities. Meanwhile, American lawyers tend to provide straightforward and practical working products; they answer the main question and leave any assumptions and possibilities behind for further queries.

Commercial Solutions vs Risk Aversion

American lawyers tend to see issues from a commercial perspective. They would analyze an issue and provide a commercial solution, which sometimes would be on the edge of being legal. In contrast, Japanese lawyers tend to approach issues carefully. Their objective is more to avoid any risk for the client and abide by any possible interpretation of the regulations. If it is unclear whether a certain practical solution is legal or not, they would provide an elaboration of risks and potential violations if such solution were to be used.

Client is King vs Client as a Peer

Japanese lawyers treat their clients with the utmost respect. They would address their clients with all possible honorific titles. Clients’ requests are mandatory and must be fulfilled at all possible costs. Often, Japanese lawyers give free legal services for future-clients in order to get the real paid-project from them.

American lawyers treat their clients as peers. They do not hesitate to address their clients with their first names only and would invite them to parties. If a client requests for something that is almost impossible, American lawyers would not hesitate to bargain with the client.

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Those are, more or less, the main differences that I experienced when I was working at two different firms in the United States and Japan. Needless to say, these are not always the case, because sometimes American lawyers could act more like Japanese lawyers and vice versa. Again, it all depends on the situation.

Apart from these differences, I also observed that there are several traits that are shared by American and Japanese lawyers, that I believe are also common for all lawyers around the world.

Punctuality

Both American and Japanese lawyers are punctual. They respect the time that their clients give for them and put a timely product delivery as one of the priorities in their daily work life.

Thoroughness

Both American and Japanese lawyers deliver high-quality work products. They have similar work process before delivering the products to clients, namely multiple and segmented review by their peers. There are always lawyers or staffs to check for typos or grammar errors. The senior lawyers would always ensure that the products are logical, answer the question from the client, and provide solutions for the client’s problems.

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I hope that the key take-away that could be gained from the above observation is that the values mentioned above should always be our standard in maintaining professionalism. It is true that working styles are different in different countries, but there are some universal standards of professionalism that can be taken and implemented for our own standard in carrying out our professional role. For starter, looking at how American and Japanese lawyers work could be our good reference.

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Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

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Steffen Hadi
Steffen Hadi studied LL.M. in University of Pennsylvania Law School and Wharton Business and Law Certificate of the Wharton School at the same university. He was the Class President of Penn Law LL.M. Class 2016, Penn Law Students Representative in University of Pennsylvania’s council, and international associate editor in Penn Law Journal of International Law. Steffen also interned at a prominent international law firm in Philadelphia. Aside from LL.M. Steffen also holds a Sarjana Hukum (LL.B. equivalent) from Parahyangan Catholic University. Steffen has been practicing law as a corporate lawyer in Jakarta and Singapore. Presently, he is a senior associate in a prominent law firm in Indonesia and independently assisting few legal issues for start-ups. In his spare time, Steffen is a movie freak, loyal runner, and outdoor trekker.