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Elizabeth Hilliard Fulfills Lifelong Dreams

July 9, 2012

Elizabeth Hilliard

Third-year student Elizabeth Hilliard, who will graduate in August 2012, shared this story about her study abroad experience in Japan:

Lifelong dream #1:  going to law school.  Check. 
Lifelong dream #2:  going to Japan.  Check. 
Both of them at the same time?  Priceless. 

Initially, I was disappointed to learn that I would need to get in some more units this summer before graduating from Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL).  But after accepting that fact, I decided to turn it into an opportunity to follow another dream I’ve always had: to go to Japan.  When I did an internet search for study abroad programs in Japan for law school, I found a program through the University of Santa Clara.  And, as luck would have it, the program just happened to be focused on intellectual property issues – the area of law in which I plan to practice. 

The program offered a 3 week course on the Japanese legal system, international trade, and intellectual property law worth 4 units, and an additional 1 unit was available for a class in patent and copyright law.  The latter took place over the course of a month following the core classes, during which one could do an internship.  Unfortunately, by the time I learned about the program, the internships were full. However, they were impressive; some with highly regarded American and Japanese law firms, as well as with corporations. Also included in the program were tours of the Supreme Court of Japan, the National Diet of Japan, and the Japan Patent Office.  This was exactly what I was looking for!

Off  I went.  The first 24 hours of being in Tokyo by myself was daunting to say the least.  While I speak a little Japanese, I found it to be insufficient knowledge for maneuvering the subways and getting around.   I just had to jump in the water and try to swim.  And I did.  By the time I left, I was a pro at using the Japan Metro system, and my Japanese vocabulary had improved significantly.  Fortunately, the Japanese are incredibly kind, patient, and hospitable.  So everyone is more than happy to try to help.  If all else fails, gesturing is an international language.

The classes were excellent.  All three of the professors were very knowledgeable and distinguished, having been published extensively.  Two of the three professors were Japanese, which provided the additional benefit of getting their perspectives on the issues.  The education provided me with an excellent base knowledge of the legal issues surrounding international trade, the differences in our legal systems, and doing business in Japan. 

The tours were strategically scheduled to supplement the class lectures.  After learning about the Japanese legal system, we toured the Supreme Court.  After learning about doing business in Japan, we visited the National Diet of Japan (the House of Representatives).  As a bonus, the director of our study Abroad program was able to arrange an impromptu meeting with one of the representatives:  Mr. Akira Amari.   We were able to ask him questions about the role he plays in governing his district, and what are the current issues of concern for Japan and their government.  Finally, we were granted an unusual opportunity to tour the Japan Patent Office.  We learned about how their Public Gazettes Reading Room works, the resources available to applicants and owners of intellectual property, and how the appeals process works when applicants are denied. 

I also used the opportunity to network in Japan.  Before I left, I asked a few of my mentors at TJSL if there were any alumni currently residing in Japan. TJSL Associate Dean William Byrnes connected me with Maji Rhee, who is a graduate of the LL.M. program at TJSL.  Currently she is Associate Dean and a professor at the School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University in Tokyo.  She responded almost instantly to my email, and we were able to connect shortly after my arrival. 

As if an LL.M. isn’t impressive enough, Maji also holds a Doctorate in Education, a Ph.D., and is currently working on her J.S.D.  One would expect to be intimidated by such a highly educated individual, but Maji was warm and welcoming, and we hit it off right away.  She invited me to Waseda University as her guest, and introduced me to numerous professors and directors.  As a successful professional woman living in Japan, she was also able to give me a feel for the opportunities available to an American lawyer; particularly if they speak Japanese.  Maji was a great contact to make; both professionally and personally.  

The Tokyo program enhanced my legal education, gave me experience living in a foreign country, and improved my Japanese language skills.  Reaching out to TJSL alumni made the experience even better.  As always, the value of networking cannot be overstated.  

Elizabeth Hilliard
J.D. Candidate August 2012
Thomas Jefferson School of Law