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  • Writer's pictureGary O. Haase


Japan, like many jurisdictions, provides for the status of a “registered foreign attorney.”

This status allows an attorney, who is licensed outside Japan, to be a member of a local bar association in Japan, for the purpose of providing services related to the laws of the non-Japanese jurisdiction.

Registered foreign attorneys in Japan are also referred to as “gaikokuho jimu bengoshi” or “gaiben.”


If you are a business or an individual in Japan, and if you are presented with a legal matter that has some overseas aspect to it, why might you consider the engagement of a gaiben?


Among other reasons, *Gaiben have satisfied, and must continue to satisfy, many licensing requirements both in their state of primary qualification and in Japan; *Gaiben must maintain their status as a member in good standing in their state of primary qualification, therefore gaiben are subject to continuing education and professional responsibility obligations both in their state of primary qualification and in Japan; *Complaints about a gaiben’s legal malpractice can be submitted to a local bar association in Japan, and disciplinary action taken in Japan may be adopted by the disciplinary authorities in the gaiben’s state of primary qualification; and *Gaiben are required to have the means to compensate clients in cases of legal malpractice.

In other words, gaiben provide legal services under a regulatory framework that is designed to help ensure the competency of practicing attorneys and protect the public from professional misconduct.  And when members of the public are seeking assistance with legal issues and choosing from among various legal service providers, some may appreciate the potential benefits of working with a local bar association member who is a product of this system.

In order to become certified as a gaiben in Japan, the typical candidate must meet the following standards: *Law License outside of Japan:  Be licensed to practice law, and be a member in good standing, in a foreign jurisdiction. *Experience as a Qualified Attorney:  Have engaged in the practice of law for several years in a foreign jurisdiction. *Favorable Discipline-Criminal History:  Have no serious disciplinary actions or criminal convictions. *Japanese Residence:  Have the ability to live in Japan in order to perform professional duties in a proper manner.  (Gaiben are required to stay in Japan for at least 180 days per year.) *Financial Solvency in Japan:  Have the ability to meet financial obligations in order to perform professional duties in a proper manner. *Malpractice Insurance in Japan:  Have sufficient professional liability insurance, or ability to qualify for other means, to adequately compensate clients harmed by the gaiben’s legal malpractice. *Approval of Three Japanese Screening Bodies:  Have obtained clearance from Japan’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA), and the local Japanese bar association covering the office location where the gaiben candidate intends to work (e.g., the Osaka Bar Association (OBA)). 

A gaiben in Japan is qualified to perform various acts, including: *Providing legal services associated with the laws of the state of primary qualification; *Becoming a partner or an owner in a Japanese law firm; *Representing parties in international arbitration proceedings; *Hiring Japanese attorneys (bengoshi) and other gaiben; *Establishing his or her own law office in Japan; and *Obtaining a special gaiben work visa that may allow the gaiben to live and work in Japan without a sponsor, and that may allow the gaiben to sponsor the work visas of others. 

According to the online attorney-search directory maintained by the JFBA, there are approximately 390 gaiben registered in Japan at the time of this writing.  The countries providing the largest number of gaiben are the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Australia.  About 360 (or 90%) of Japan’s gaiben belong to bar associations in the Tokyo area.  Once you leave the Tokyo area, the gaiben population drops considerably.  The location with largest amount of gaiben after Tokyo’s 360 gaiben, is Osaka, where a total of 10 gaiben are members of the OBA.

Each gaiben must designate a foreign jurisdiction where the gaiben obtained their required years of law practice experience.  Of the roughly 390 gaiben in Japan, the two most popular U.S. jurisdictions are New York, the home jurisdiction of about 110 gaiben, and California, the home jurisdiction of about 50 gaiben.

Of the 10 gaiben who are members of the OBA, four (4) are registered with China, three (3) are registered with New York, one (1) is registered with Illinois, one (1) is registered with Paraguay, and one (1) is registered with California.

As a gaiben who works in Osaka, and who is a member of the State Bar of California and of the OBA: *I provide support (i) to Japanese individuals and businesses engaged in overseas activities, (ii) to the expatriate community in Japan, and (iii) to overseas parties who are interested in Japan; *I provide legal advice regarding California law, and the federal laws of the United States; *My practice areas include U.S. immigration law and business transactions; *I assist international couples who wish to move to the United States; *I advise about the formation, maintenance and dissolution of California business entities; *I draft, review and negotiate legal documents (e.g., licensing agreements); *I draw on my experience as an in-house counsel for a biotechnology company based in South San Francisco; *I conduct legal research; and *I use my legal training and native English language skills to support Japanese attorneys.

Sources for gaiben information: *Act on Special Measures concerning the Handling of Legal Services by Foreign Lawyers (Act No. 66 of 1986) ( *The MOJ website ( *The JFBA website ( *The OBA website ( *Timothy J. Blanch and Daniel S. Potts, Practicing Law in a Foreign Jurisdiction: The Roles and Restrictions of Foreign Attorneys in Japan, Michigan International Lawyer, Volume XXIV, No. I, Winter 2012 *Personal experience 


Gary O. Haase is a California attorney and a registered foreign attorney in Japan (gaikokuho jimu bengoshi) at GOH Foreign Law Office in Osaka, Japan.  This article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.  You should contact a qualified legal professional to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue.  The opinions expressed are those of the individual author and do not reflect the views or opinions of any government agency.



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