Thought leadership from our experts

Towards a Legal Career with Diversity: An Attempt in a Business Law Firm in Japan

The Ratios of Female Lawyers in Japan to all Lawyers in Japan and Female Partners of Japanese Law Firms

The ratio of female lawyers among the aggregate number of lawyers in Japan is steadily increasing. As of the end of September 2015, 18.2% of Japanese lawyers were female. In 1986 when I qualified as a lawyer in Japan, the same ratio was 3.2%. During the last 30 years, the percentage of female attorneys among all lawyers in Japan has increased by around 5.5 times. It is considered that the number of female lawyers in Japan may continuously increase because there are female students now account for about 30% of students in law schools in Japan (See, the White Paper for Gender Equality by the Cabinet Office in Japan, 2016, page 33).

However, we still see fewer female partners in large and medium sized law firms in Japan. For example, among so-called "Big Four" such as Nishimura & Asahi, Mori, Hamada & Matsumoto, Nagashima, Ono & Tsunematsu and Anderson Mori Tomotsune, it is said that there are only 50 female partners among the 441 partners among these firms, which is a ratio of approximately 11% (See, "Japan Still Fewer Female Law Firm Partners", The Asian Lawyer, at July 14, 2016 by Anna Zhang,

The Female Lawyers at Atsumi & Sakai

Atsumi & Sakai, where I am now working, is one of the top 10 largest law firms in Japan. It is a business law firm, the strength of which is cross-border practice. Sometimes lawyers are required to work long hours due to differences in time zones. However, as of August 2016, 14 female partners are working in Atsumi & Sakai comprising approximately 29.2% of the partners, and the number of female partners is approximately 45% of all female attorneys in the firm. In addition, there are 5 female partners in the management committee of the firm among 14 partners on that committee, comprising approximately 35.7% of the management committee.

Furthermore, these female partners have shown good achievements, having been ranked in various international rankings in the legal profession in Japan. For example, among 6 lawyers of our Firm who are ranked in as Market-Leading Lawyers in Asialaw Profile published in July 2016, 3 lawyers are female. The relevant areas are competition & antitrust, projects & infrastructure and construction, and capital markets. This contradicts the stereotyped idea that increasing female lawyers may invite deteriorating work efficiency in law firms.

Why This Is Possible?

The Japanese government set up the goal that the ratio of female leaders of society including executives in offices will be 30% in 2020. But in respect of chances for women in Japan to join political or economic activities or decision making in organizations, gender disparities are bigger than other countries (At the gender gap index in the International Economic Forum in 2015, Japan was ranked 101st among 145 countries.)(See, the White Paper for Gender Equality by the Cabinet Office in Japan, 2016, page 36 ) .

In 2015, the Daini Tokyo Bar Association (the "DTBA") established the Family Friendly Award (the "Award"). Bearing the government's goal in mind, the award is designed for the purpose of encouraging gender equality in law firms. It is proposed to give the Award to the firm where pioneering work-life balance is implemented and to introduce such advanced management of staff to the DTBA members and Japanese society. Atsumi & Sakai was the first recipient of the Award.

The DTBA listed three reasons for awarding this honor to our firm. Firstly, our firm has a policy to develop its business by promoting excellent lawyers regardless of gender allowing each lawyer to work efficiently with attention to their family lives. This office policy has reflected in decision making of the firm by the high rate of female lawyers in management. Not only there is no unreasonable gender discrimination but also the office culture in this regard is firmly rooted in the firm.

Secondly, Atsumi & Sakai has incorporated maternity leave and child care leave policies in its internal rules which all lawyers can see through the office intranet. This is why female lawyers can use these leaves without psychological barriers. Accordingly, we do not see in this firm the resignation of female lawyers solely due to maternity or child care reasons.

In addition, we set up teams for each project in order to implement the maternity or child care leave policies. By this team work system, other lawyers in a team can substitute for lawyers who have to leave the office early to take care of their children. Furthermore, the office culture for efficient team work has been built up in the firm.

It was also favorably pointed out by the DTBA that at our firm lawyers can work from home safely by use of advanced IT systems, that the office rules prohibiting sexual and power harassment, the whistle blowing system against violation of these rules and annual training sessions therefor have been established in the firm, and that monthly visits by a doctor to the firm is implemented in order to provide appropriate advice to the lawyers and staff for their healthcare.


The systems indicated above are not new at all. They all require patient efforts without eye-catching measures. However, it is important that at our firm this is actually implemented with continuous efforts for creating a workable system. Because many organizations or businesses fail in the implementation of these systems, we consider it innovative that we create a working environment in which women can become active.

This year, Atsumi & Sakai was ranked as one of the FT 25 law firms in the Asia-Pacific region in relation to the 2016 FT Innovative Lawyers Report and Awards for Asia-Pacific hosted by the Financial Times. We believe that together with our challenge to some innovative area of law i.e. risk management or FinTech, our efforts to operate a gender free firm contributed to this nomination.

For Future

The maintenance of work-life balance at work requires ceaseless efforts by the management to create a viable system. This year, Atsumi & Sakai noted the importance of mental support for the lawyers and staff to set up a new committee dealing with mental support care including stress checks and handling complaints against various harassments. In addition, the firm begins to monthly check the working hours of young lawyers and to provide advice individually to the lawyers who recorded too long working hours.

During the process of implementation, Atsumi & Sakai has noticed the importance of not only the gender issue but also office culture respecting diversity such as nationality, age, race, specialty, etc. As the first and only domestic Japanese law firm to set up and operate a foreign law joint enterprise which is partnership on equal basis with foreign qualified partners with special registration in Japan, Atsumi & Sakai has developed its cross-border practice together with foreign partners from various jurisdictions. Recognition of diversity in the firm members, accepting differences and using the synergistic effects arising from the internationally joint work, the professional attitude towards practical solutions has contributed to the development of the international practice at Atsumi & Sakai.

Atsumi & Sakai will continue to make efforts to promote legal careers in diversity among its members.