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Joshua Schwab, JD '00

Director, Alternative Investments Group
Credit Suisse, Tokyo, Japan

In April 2008, I joined Credit Suisse in Tokyo in the real estate group in a “non-legal” position. My position was transitioned into the “alternatives investment” group following some internal restructurings. Prior to joining Credit Suisse I worked in the Tokyo and Hong Kong offices of Allen & Overy, a large British law firm. Prior to moving to Tokyo, I worked for Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in NYC. I obtained my position at Allen & Overy by using a legal recruiter who was experienced in placing people in international postings and I was recruited directly from Credit Suisse for my current position. As prospective students may be interested in coming to Asia in either a legal or business capacity, below are brief descriptions of both experiences.

Legal Career
As a member of Allen & Overy’s international capital markets department, I generally worked on debt and equity issues by Japanese corporates into the overseas securities markets, particularly the United States and Europe. The clients were generally the Tokyo branches of large international investment banks, but at times included local companies as well. Although securities offerings were in many ways my “expertise,” working in a small branch office allowed me to sample a variety of other types of legal work including mergers and acquisitions. Also, being in a small office necessarily means that I was involved in marketing and firm strategy at an earlier stage in my career than if I had remained in New York. On the other hand, lawyers who come directly to a foreign outpost may be isolated from key decision makers in New York or London.

If you have an interest in eventually working abroad, seek opportunities to obtain international experience during the summer. One option is to seek employment with a foreign law firm. These firms are often interested in hiring a fluent English speaker for the summer. For example, for my first year summer job search, I sent around 100 cover letters/resumes across Asia and received job offers in Thailand, Korea, the Philippines and Japan. The best way to search for this type of position is to use the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory to learn about foreign firms and determine if any Yale Law School graduates work at these firms and tailor your application letter to such person. In addition, it may be easier, and to be candid, more rewarding, to find an international position in the public sector during your first summer.

The other option is to apply to domestic law firms with international offices or large international law firms. Although these firms typically won’t hire first-year students for the summer, it is worthwhile to apply and mention that you would be interested in meeting someone from that office while abroad. This can provide a valuable connection and reference point for your second-year interviews.

Your best opportunity to work for one of these firms will be for your second-year summer. During your interviews, be sure to mention your interest in working in an international office, but don’t make this your sole platform—you don’t want a firm thinking that you are just using them as a glorified travel agent. Recently, interest in international offices has increased and it is important to get on the international office’s radar screen as early as possible. After you begin your summer it is crucial that, without being a nag, you remind the relevant members of the firm that you are interested in spending part of your summer abroad. While posted at the international office, you should ask direct questions of the associates and partners about your realistic chances of being sent back as an associate and what they expect of those working abroad in terms of time commitments, language and work experience.

In the past, firms generally did not post new associates directly in international offices as they felt it was better to provide the training and critical mass of people that the home office can provide. However, as some international offices, such as in London and Hong Kong, have grown exponentially, some firms have allowed associates to commence their careers abroad. Whether or not you wish to do this is largely a personal decision. If you have little to no experience with law or finance, it may be best to spend one or two years in the firm’s domestic office first.

If you do indeed begin at the domestic office but still want to go abroad, it is essential that you remind the relevant parties both in the domestic office and international office of your desire to eventually work abroad. You should also give them a good idea if you think going abroad would be a good experience, but is not a crucial part of your career path or if you are planning your life (rent terms, etc.) around eventually going abroad. Making sure that you are on the same page as those who have the power to send you abroad can avoid confusion down the line and may give you the necessary indications that you may need to look at other firms to fulfill your goals of working abroad. If you are hoping to go to an office in a country in which English is not the official language, it is very important to stress your language skills, if any. The days when firms sent out anybody who was willing to go abroad have generally come to an end, and language proficiency is a prerequisite for many firms for sending somebody abroad, especially a junior associate. Of course, you should not rely merely on your language proficiency, as the ultimate decision will come down to lawyering skills. It is important to impress people at the home office so they can vouch for you to the foreign-based partners.

In making the decision to work abroad, it is also important to consider the nature of work you may be exposed to in a foreign office. It is easy to make the logical conclusion that one who practices law abroad is an “international lawyer” by dint of living outside of the United States. However, “international law” more accurately describes those involved in negotiating treaties or arguing in front of the Hague, not those who work for international offices of global law firms.

At the end of the day, an associate at a global law firm’s international office is an American lawyer who happens to be based outside of America. That said, working abroad necessarily introduces elements of “internationalism” that are not present in the standard domestic office. For example, local customs, languages and laws all play a major role in the way that transactions are structured and carried out. This can lead to interesting, challenging and often frustrating experiences that may not be as common in a U.S. office. Also, since foreign offices are usually thinly staffed, the range of legal experience is more varied than in a domestic office. This can be rewarding, as you may get more responsibility than the average lawyer at your level, but can also be frustrating as there will likely be few or no junior lawyers to pass down grunt work to as your colleagues in the United States will be doing.

Business Career
I joined the business world at tumultuous time but it has been an interesting learning experience.

My primary focus when hired was real estate finance and securitization—essentially aiding the team in structuring loan products for commercial real estate and then attempting to take those loans off balance sheet through various forms of dispositions. Following the sub-prime crisis this was a very difficult market in which to operate, but it also required creativity and thinking outside of the box as traditional forms of financing and dispositions are difficult to achieve. While we were successful in achieving some dispositions, given the state of the market the crux of the team was transferred to the “alternatives investment” group where our focus is more on managing the loans and properties in our portfolio.

My position is technically a “non-legal” position in that I am not part of the in-house legal and compliance team. I am charged with making commercial decisions and promoting the firm’s business. That said, my legal background was the reason I was able to obtain my current position and proves quite helpful in my day-to-day work. I obtained my position after being directly recruited by Credit Suisse following a securitization transaction on which I served as their counsel. In my current role, I must read and analyze complex legal documents (in English and Japanese) and having a background of drafting similar documents makes the work much easier.

Working at an investment bank is quite different than being at a law firm. There are quite a few more “deals” going on at one time as banks usually test the waters on a number of possible structures and transactions before bringing them to outside counsel. In addition, there is a lot more bureaucracy in terms of obtaining internal approvals (as would be expected for a much larger global entity) and much less in terms of direct support (e.g., the team shares two assistants while at the law firm I shared a secretary with one other lawyer). The compensation scheme is also much different; law firms provide a steady cash flow each month while bank compensation (particularly on the business side) is concentrated in the year end bonus.

While still difficult, moving from a law firm to a bank in Asia is likely easier than in many other regions. Banks are keen to hire people who they know are committed to Asia and thus taking somebody from a law firm in Asia can give them a sense that the person is likely to stick around for a while. If you are interested in moving to the business side, it is important to show a sensitivity to, and understanding of, commercial and business matters when working for investment bank clients.
-2013