I May Start My Career in Asia

Dear Ex-Bitter:  I am currently a 1L at a top-20 school.  Because I have a language fluency and a connection to Asia, I was very lucky to receive a Summer Associate offer at the Asia office of a large US firm.  Eventually, I want to work and live in Asia long-term. 

During my experience, I’ve been receiving mixed messages. In both the Asia office and the New York office where I originally interviewed, the managing partners said they would prefer that I start right away in Asia (assuming everything went well during the summer) after law school.  However, other partners throughout the firm have suggested that I spend at least a couple of years working in the US before making my move to Asia.  They said I will get better training in the US and that a lawyer’s advantage to working in Asia is being a US lawyer with US law capabilities and experience, which, coming out of law school, I have none.  They also say working in NY or CA will look better in terms of my credentials (to the clients and other opposing lawyers).

Given the economy, if I get an offer, I may not have the opportunity to choose the particular office in which I’d like to work.  I’d prefer the option to stay in the US when I graduate in 2011, but the offer may be exclusive to an Asian location.  Assuming I do get an offer and have a choice in office locations, what is your take on this situation?  Is it better for a fresh law grad to start in Asia right away as opposed to spending a couple of years in the US?  Thanks!

From a purely practical standpoint, it’s better to start in the United States than Asia.

First off, the power base of all American firms is based in the United States.  If you start in Asia, you’ll have a hard time making a name for yourself with the people that actually matter.  It’s like working in satellite office – times 10. 

Second, if you start in Asia and want to move back to the US, firms may question your training/experience, making it difficult to relocate.  Some firms may even balk at giving you full credit for time served. 

Having said that, if you intend to live in Asia permanently (as you suggest), then it’s a no-brainer.  Take the gig and don’t look back.

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Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

14 Comments

  1. BL1Y

    August 17, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Just to clarify, working in the US will give you the appearance of experience.  Doc review and closing binders don’t really help anyone learn substantive issues.  You might get more real experience in Asia if the office is more thinly staffed.

  2. Anonymous

    August 17, 2009 at 7:12 am

    do your time in the states, and head for Asia in two years.

  3. Craig

    August 17, 2009 at 7:18 am

    This is a tough one.  Is money a factor at all?  If you get paid considerably more in the US, maybe it would be best to build a base in the US first, and then head to Asia when you have already been established a bit.  If money is non factor, and you really want to live in Asia long term, then just get out there. The only way to follow your dream is to just do it. Practicing in the US will not get you to Asia any quicker or help you learn the Asian law system any better.

  4. BL1Y

    August 17, 2009 at 8:14 am

    What do you mean build a base and establish yourself?  A first year at a big law firm is going to be doing mostly mindless busy work.

  5. Er, no.

    August 17, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Many firms have substantial expat packages for asian associates, $50-$100k+.  You’d be a fool to turn this down if you’re planning to stay in Asia anyway, and you can certainly make a name for yourself at the firm without starting in the U.S. where associates are being laid off left and right and doing busywork for two years in a slow economy anyway.  Go directly to Asia, or you will not pass go and collect your $200.

  6. Desi

    August 17, 2009 at 9:45 am

    This sounds like a tough decision.

  7. Guano Dubango

    August 17, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    This is easy.  You go where you get a job that pays buckaroos.  Right now, you have nothing.  If you get a job you take it.  Even if you have to go to Asia.  What difference does it make?  You can work in Japan, Korea or Indonesia–as long as you get paid, you will be able to find companionship.  You should resist the temptations over there.

  8. Lucy

    August 17, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Get home, Desi, Right not.  I keep finding you ogling the lawyers on this site.  Shame on you!

  9. Anonymous

    August 17, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    desi and lucy. ENOUGH!

  10. BL1Y

    August 17, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Anyone want to hire a corporate attorney with virtually no experience?

  11. Alma Federer

    August 18, 2009 at 1:58 am

    Women should be careful before accepting work in some Asian countries.  In Japan, I know that the men go out to drink almost every night, and women attorneys are generally not included, because the men often go to places where women service them sexually, and this would be bad if a woman at work knew what they were doing at night.  Women also have to worrry if they go out alone, as this is a signal to men that they are available sexually.  I think that Asia is about 50 years behind the USA in terms of being progressive.  If you are a woman, stay in the USA.

  12. Douglas

    August 18, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    hard choice.

  13. Almaiskindaignorant

    August 18, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Alma dont believe what you read in the papers. no one would harass someone as ugly as you. and what you are talking about is a type of japanese bar where women serve men drinks. they dont have sex. hostess bars have existed forever. and that is only a japanese thing. every other asian country is different and most of those guys wouldnt want to touch you with a ten foot pole anyways. Asia is safer than LA or NYC any day of the week. AKA no scarry minorities except for the few foreigners who chose to work in asia.

  14. Bourgie, JD

    August 18, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    FYI, you cannot become licensed to practice law in Japan as an American if you do not first practice law in America for at least 2 years. That’s not to say you cannot do legal work in Japan. You can. You just have to do so under the arm of actual Japanese attorneys (Bengoshi) or a Japanese law firm. Lawyers there aren’t like lawyers here as there are different kinds of legal professionals. You can’t become a gaikokuho jimu bengoshi or “gaiben” (registered foreign lawyer) without the prereq 2 yrs in your home country.

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