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Understanding the Importance of Municipal Lawyers

Tamihei Miyasato/Specially Appointed Deputy Councilor, General Affairs Department, Soka City Hall, Attorney

1. I currently work at Soka City Hall

After six years of practicing at a law firm, I started working as a municipal lawyer at Soka City Hall in April 2019. This position is the municipal version of an in-house corporate lawyer. We're regular employees of the city and work full-time in the city office for seven hours and 45 minutes a day, five days a week (depending on the municipality).

Although I've only been a municipal lawyer for about four years, I feel the importance of my job every day, and want to share some of the functions of municipal lawyers and the highlights of being one.

2. What does a municipal lawyer do?

The main job of a municipal lawyer is to provide legal advice to city officials. I repeat a process of providing consultations, researching laws and regulations, and then giving advice on how to handle certain situations. In my case, I provide more than 150 consultations per year.

The consultations I provide are extremely wide-ranging, including anything that the local government does. Examples include: issues related to infrastructure, such as waterworks, roads, parks, borders, and urban planning; issues related to social welfare, such as daycare centers, public assistance, support for people with disabilities, and support for the elderly; personnel and labor issues; contractual issues such as bidding; credit management; taxes; council meetings; school administration, and much more.

There are many related laws to research, and based on the Administrative Procedure Act and the Local Autonomy Law, I provide consultations regarding laws that I had no previous knowledge of, such as the Cemetery and Burial Act, Child Care Support Act, Local Tax Act, Vacant Houses Special Measures Act, and Road Act.

In addition, interpretations of municipal regulations are also required. I'm constantly updating my knowledge as I provide legal advice on laws and in fields that I'm not familiar with. It's a fascinating experience when I start off being surprised that a certain law even exists, and then proceed with my research to interpret those laws with the mindset of a lawyer.

The extent of the scope varies depending on the size of the municipality, with smaller municipalities tending to require a wider range of responsibilities.

3. Utilizing my law school education

Although knowledge of administrative law is necessary in order to provide legal advice, there aren't many opportunities to deal with administrative law when practicing as a lawyer in general civil cases. Furthermore, in my daily tasks as a municipal lawyer, I'm never directly asked about any specific administrative law. As a prerequisite, I must have the knowledge, understanding, and ways of interpreting administrative law.

I never properly studied administrative law outside of law school, so I'm reminded every day of how glad I am to have studied it in law school.

4. What are the highlights of being a municipal lawyer?

The first point is that when dealing with administrative issues, not everything is about winning a court case. I often provide legal consultations in areas where there are no previous court cases, situations where there's no precedent in the interpretation of laws and regulations, or even cases where there's a divergence between the letter of the law and how it is practiced. There are also many things that aren't legally the duty of the government, but should be done by the government nevertheless.

Interpreting the law while taking the above points into consideration, and adapting them into practice, as part of the process of providing legal advice from the perspective of fairness and the equality principle as an agent of the government, is a rewarding experience.

The second point is that we're in close contact with mayors, which allows us to contribute to administrative decision-making. It probably depends on the size and organization of the municipality, but in Soka City where I work (which has a population of approximately 250,000), I have many opportunities to speak directly with the mayor. This is another highlight of being a municipal lawyer--the ability to be involved in the decision-making process, such as by exchanging views with the mayor and directly advising them, or considering solutions to issues that take into account the political positions of the administration.

5. We need more lawyers in municipal governments!

As I mentioned in the title, I'm constantly reminded of the importance of municipal lawyers in my day-to-day work.

As is commonly known, the fundamental principle of government by law requires that governments must act in accordance with the law. However, it's difficult for local government officials to fully understand the law while conducting administrative tasks.

A simple example is when we provide consultation about the enrollment results for a daycare center that ended up in with a complaint being made because of an incorrect notice. Without legal knowledge, all the administrative body can do is apologize and make sure that the applicant understands that it was an error. However, this leaves the question of whether the notification of enrollment results is a matter of administrative disposition, and if so, what is the validity of the administrative disposition in cases where the government office's internal decision-making deviates from the external declaration of intent. Under these circumstances, the administrative body will need to take certain steps to revoke the authority of the administrative disposition.

These kinds of issues are where a lawyer's abilities are needed, as they can be difficult to handle without a knowledge of administrative law and the ability to interpret and apply the law to a case.

Advocacy for the decentralization of power to local administrative bodies must not only focus on allowing local governments to make their own policies, but also on making them responsible for interpreting and applying laws.

Lawyers are the best equipped to satisfy this requirement, and I believe that many municipalities would benefit from having more lawyers on staff to provide legal advice.

6. In conclusion

As the role of lawyers expands, the role of law schools is also becoming more significant, and it will be crucial for future lawyers to be aware of what to expect after passing the bar exam, and to focus on networking while in law school. In practice, there are many situations where the cooperation of experts and researchers in fields you're not familiar with is required. In my case, I was introduced to the administrative appeals board of Soka City Hall through my connections at Chuo Law School, which is how I got my appointment as a member.

Being a municipal lawyer is not the most sought-after career, but it has many highlights, and I hope that more people will take an interest. I hope to see a future where having at least one lawyer in each municipality is the norm.

Tamihei Miyasato/Specially Appointed Deputy Councilor, General Affairs Department, Soka City Hall, Attorney

Tamihei Miyasato was born in Kumamoto, Japan in 1986. In 2009, he graduated from Hitotsubashi University Faculty of Law. In 2011, he completed his course at Chuo Law School, and passed the bar exam. In 2012, he joined Junpo Law Office, mainly handling labor cases on the employees' side. In 2019, he joined Soka City Hall as a special fixed-term employee.

He contributed to the article “Lease-hoshiki ni yoru Kokyo Shisetsu no Kenchiku” (Construction of Public Facilities by the Lease Method) (Gekkan Hanrei Chihojichi No. 473, Gyosei Corporation) and “Baibai wa Chintaishaku wo Yaburu” (Sales Will Overtake Leasing) (Gekkan Hanrei Chihojichi No. 480, Gyosei Corporation).