The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan



Seeking Legal Advice

Where to look and what to consider

By John Ghanotakis, Amir Khan, and Timothy Trahan

Being a foreigner in any country is both a rewarding and challenging experience, but when you are faced with legal issues, the challenge can soon become a nightmare. For foreigners in Japan, the complexity of the legal system coupled, for many, with a language barrier, can make it especially hard to get practical advice. There are various types of support available.

1. Law firms
In Japan there are a little over 35,000 attorneys, of whom the vast majority—about 97 percent—are in private practice. When deciding to go this route, try to identify whether your legal issue is substantial or complex enough to require specialist legal support or ongoing advice.

At a cost of between ¥20,000 and ¥50,000 per hour, depending on a counselor’s seniority, this can be an expensive option.

Note that many of the smaller firms may not have an English-speaking lawyer, and larger firms may not accept private clients. Thus, it is absolutely vital not only to choose the most suitable firm and specialist lawyer, but also to do ample research online.

Seeking advice from friends or colleagues, or even from your embassy, also may help identify the best options to serve your needs. One universal truth is that you get what you pay for, and real expertise never comes cheap.

2. Legal aid centers
An effective and reasonably priced option for minor issues is visiting legal aid centers. The fee is about ¥5,000 to see a licensed lawyer for 30 minutes, and includes a translator should one be required.

However, given the brief duration of appointments and lack of specialist focus, you may not receive instant answers or expert opinions. Nevertheless, these locations can be a good starting point and may provide answers to fundamental questions regarding Japanese law.

These centers are especially helpful for simple matters and for motivated individuals who are willing to do their own follow-up research on issues troubling them.

3. Other sources
i) Trade unions

Many workers have conflicts with their employers, and while such issues can often be resolved amicably and internally at a company, sometimes objective expertise is sought. Japan has numerous trade unions, many of which offer open membership programs for Japanese and non-Japanese. Such groups can be a useful source of information and support in workplace disputes, and when necessary will instigate collective bargaining on your behalf.

ii) Public offices

In your area of residence, immigration and government offices—including foreign residents’ immigration centers—can prove helpful for visa or immigration issues. But, you will need to speak Japanese fairly well to make the most of such interactions. Embassies, too, can be a starting point when legal issues arise. In addition, Japan has a category of lawyers called gyosei shoshi, who are certified legal specialists in administrative procedures and immigration. Their fees are generally lower than those of standard lawyers (bengoshi).

iii) NPOs

Groups such as the government-related Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), which promotes mutual trade and investment between Japan and other countries, can assist with matters related to corporate foundation. Foreign startups can get legal advice as well as offers on other services such as office space leasing.

Japan has other consultant services that employ non-licensed professionals, who may have practical experience in labor and/or immigration concerns.

While these individuals cannot give legal advice, they can often assist with processes and paperwork, or negotiate on your behalf for a modest fee. Their services are mostly unregulated, so quality and knowledge levels may vary. In such circumstances, always ask around and perform due diligence before proceeding.






John Ghanotakis (chair), Amir Khan, and Timothy Trahan (vice chairs) are members of the ACCJ Young Professionals Group Subcommittee.