Attorney at foreign law

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Attorneys at foreign law (外国法事務弁護士 gaikokuhō jimu bengoshi?), or gaiben (外弁?) for short, are lawyers from foreign countries licensed to practice law in Japan.

Use of the term 'gaiben'[edit]

The term gaiben is composed of the characters for 外 (gai?), defined as "outside, without"[1] and 弁 (ben?)", defined as speech, tongue".[2] Two authoritative translations of the term are Registered Foreign Lawyers [3] (RFL), or Foreign Special Members.[4] The colloquial term gaiben is often used by individuals, but is not determinative.


Before becoming a gaiben, a lawyer must:

  • be admitted to the bar in a foreign jurisdiction,
  • have at least three years of experience practicing law in that jurisdiction (one year of which may be spent working in Japan), and
  • show that reciprocity exists with their home jurisdiction—i.e., that a Japanese attorney could become similarly qualified to practice there (this condition is waived for lawyers admitted in WTO member states).

A 13-member screening committee of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations reviews each application, a process which usually takes several months. Upon approval, the lawyer's official title becomes "Attorney at Foreign Law for [state]," with their home jurisdiction filled in.


By law, gaiben can only give advice pertaining to the law of their home jurisdiction, and cannot draft legal documents or represent Japanese clients in intrastate matters or probate matters without the assistance of a qualified bengoshi (attorney at law). They are also prohibited from representing clients in courtroom litigation, although they may represent clients in private arbitration. As a result they are generally involved in intermediating between foreign clients and Japanese lawyers, intermediating between foreign and Japanese clients, or assisting Japanese clients with foreign legal matters.

Several thousand foreign-qualified lawyers, many of them Japanese nationals, work in Japan as employees of law firms or corporate legal departments without being admitted as gaiben.[5] Nonetheless, there are several legal benefits to qualifying as a gaiben:

  • They may open their own offices (外国法事務弁護士事務所 gaikokuhō jimu bengoshi jimusho?, sometimes abbreviated "GJBJ").
  • They may become partners in Japanese law firms. Gaiben offices may also enter joint ventures with Japanese law firms; several major U.S. and British law firms have structured their Tokyo operations in this manner, notably Baker & McKenzie and White & Case. In 2005, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations circulated a letter requesting that all foreign partners in law firms in Japan register as gaiben.[6] This was followed in 2009 by a similar letter requesting that all foreign attorneys providing legal services in Japan be registered as gaiben, regardless of their title within their firm;[7] the JFBA later clarified that this was not intended to impose new requirements but rather to remind firms of existing requirements.[8]
  • They may enter Japan on special "attorney" visas, which permit them to sponsor the visas of others. Non-gaiben attorneys must enter Japan as general professionals sponsored by a law firm or company.

The main drawback to qualifying as a gaiben is the cost of Japanese bar association membership, which is often over ¥60,000 per month.

As of June 2013 there were 363 gaiben registered in Japan, almost all of whom were registered with one of the three Tokyo bar associations.[9] The main jurisdictions of admission were New York (102), England and Wales (60), California (45), the People's Republic of China (29), New South Wales (16) and Hawaii (14).[10]


  1. ^ Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, 4th Ed. p305
  2. ^ Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, 4th Ed. p 81
  3. ^ Gaikokuho-Jimu-Bengoshi (Ministry of Justice)
  4. ^ Information for Gaikokuho-Jimu-Bengoshi (Japan Federation of Bar Associations)
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ [2]

See Also[edit]