A Joint Degree Journey

by James W. Hofman, II

James 1Looking back on the last several years, I’m reminded of John Lennon’s oft-quoted lyrical missive, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Those words certainly have a familiar ring.  I remember that when my plane first touched down in Hiroshima, Japan on a sweltering late-August day in 1997, I had the sense that a different chapter of life—however uncharted and uncertain—was about to “happen.”  Certainly at that point I hadn’t charted any lines between Japan and St. Louis on the map of my future.

 Now nearly 8 years later, the map has been radically redrawn, I find myself one semester away from receiving a joint JD/MA degree from Washington University.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to describe briefly how Washington University School of Law, and the Department of East Asian Studies helped me achieve a unique educational experience.

Like some of my college peers, I considered entering law school straightaway.  But a study term abroad in Oxford, England had whetted my appetite for overseas experience. Upon graduation, I wanted to go somewhere where I really felt like a foreigner.  Japan seemed like a good place to do that.  In retrospect, I don’t think I went to Japan to “find myself” so much as to postpone the inevitable encounter with the self I was pretty sure I would become, that is, the self that always had one eye on law school. 

 After four years of working in Japan and several unexpected and wonderful developments (finding myself increasingly conversant in Japanese, meeting my future wife, and making friends with young professionals, including Japanese and foreign lawyers) I realized that I needed to make concrete plans for law school.  I took the LSAT in Tokyo, and began researching law schools.  After reading the faculty bios of several noted scholars, I contacted Washington University’s John Haley. Professor Haley responded enthusiastically and put me in touch with faculty all over the country whose focus is on Japanese law.

Increasingly convinced that Wash U could provide a great balance between a solid legal education and my experience in Japan, I applied and enrolled here in the fall of 2002.  When my 2L year began, I started to integrate Master’s courses in East Asian Studies. In particular, Prof. Elizabeth Tsunoda’s Core Seminar and Prof. Lori Watt’s “History and Memory in WWII” were notable for both the quality of instruction and the depth and substance of the material.  My JD/MA has also benefited from some “custom” classes.  For example, the law school and I worked together to create a class in Legal and Business Japanese, taught by Mr. Kenichi Emi, a visiting scholar and judge from Japan.  Naturally, I’ve also benefited greatly from the advice of Professor Haley over my three years at the law school.  He is a very bright star in the Asian law galaxy, and the law school is very lucky to have him. 

After my 1L summer as a research assistant to Prof. Haley, I landed a summer associate position the San Francisco office of Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold. I have accepted a post-graduation offer from Sedgwick, and am clerking there again this summer.  One of my long-term goals is to help the firm develop its client base in Japan and the rest of Asia.

This fall, I am heading to Tokyo to finish my JD/MA.  I have been accepted for an internship as an administrative secretary and researcher at the office of Takashi Shinohara, a member of Japan’s House of Representatives.  I also plan to enroll in a class in Japanese law at Aoyama Gakuin University.  I’m very excited about this opportunity.  The support of the law school, particularly the encouragement from the Dean of the Joint-Degree Programs, Michele Shoresman, has been outstanding.   I was also honored to receive a Dagen-Legomsky Fellowship from the law school for my study and work in Japan. 

Even with one more semester to go,  I participated in the graduation ceremony with my classmates this past May.  While I couldn’t help feeling a little envious that they had finished their formal legal education, I’m happy I chose Washington University School of Law and the joint-degree program.  And if the past three years are any indication, while I’m busy making plans for my life after law school, many more exciting things are waiting to happen.