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Trojan Family Values
USC Gould School of Law

Friday, December 3, 2021

Japanese LLM alumni support new students with guidance, activities

By Carren Jao

Kazuki Inoue, Class of 2010 social chair, Keisuke Masuda, Student Bar Association representative for the Class of 2012 and Kei Sato, currently a member of the Japanese Legislature’s House of Councillors and Parliamentary Vice Minister of METI, former Class of 2011 social chair.

In the Land of the Rising Sun, the Trojan spirit is alive and well thanks to a self-starting group of Japanese Gould Master of Laws alumni. Theirs are often the first faces many newly accepted LLM students from Japan see and interact with before stepping onto the USC campus. The group took shape in 2011, after USC closed its Tokyo office, and alumni realized new and prospective students needed guidance and wisdom.

“Somebody said ‘It would be nice to have some kind of gathering to send off new students, so we could share our experience — how to survive in law school, but also to welcome newly accepted students.’ And so we did it,” says Kenji Hirooka (LLM 2004).

The alums fielded questions about where to live, activities in Los Angeles and favorite professors, much like older siblings dispensing advice. “One of the attributes of USC that we promote to our students is the Trojan Family, so it’s wonderful to see the USC values really embodied in our Japanese alumni community,” says Sarah Gruzas, director of the Graduate & International Programs (G&IP) at USC Gould School of Law.

Hirooka, now a partner at one of the largest law firms in Japan, Anderson Mori & Tomotsune, learned the basics of setting up the sessions after volunteering to help send off a group of new LLM and MBA students in 2010. Hirooka connected with Japanese alumni including Kazuki Inoue (LLM 2010), a Japanese government official with the Legislative Bureau of the House of Representatives; Takashi Yoneyama (LLM 2009), a partner in one of the five largest firms in the country, TMI Associates; Yuichi Kono (LLM 2009), an attorney with Marubeni Corporation; and Hiro Takahashi (LLM 2015), a partner at Vasco Da Gama offices, a legal accounting firm. Together, the alums comprise a core team that organizes at least two events each year: a year-end reunion for Gould alumni following an annual G&IP information session open to all prospective Gould candidates in Japan, and a send-off party for all accepted Gould LLM students.

Shared planning and hosting duties build community

Given the group’s collective busy schedules, their consistency is something of a miracle. Their secret is a community-centric mindset in which planning and hosting are shared. “It’s nice to keep in touch and allow friendships to expand, but at the same time, it had to be sustainable. It shouldn’t be something that one person shoulders,” says Hirooka. An agreed-upon rotation system designated two graduating generations to be in charge of planning the events each year and passing on the responsibilities to the succeeding class the next year.

This system also helps alumni from different graduation years communicate and get to know each other. This year, the 2009 and 2015 LLM classes are at the helm. Since the pandemic interrupted their original plans, the more collegial in-person events will likely be replaced with online Q&As, says Takahashi, in charge of organizing this year’s iteration.

Despite the uncertainty, the group maintains its enthusiasm, thanks to what they themselves experienced at USC, Hirooka says. “I just had a very good experience at USC, especially with the people who were able to communicate, were so friendly and supportive. When I traveled to take some courses, the G&IP office tried to adjust class schedules or really took the extra step for me to achieve my goals.”

“Work hard, enjoy hard”

Some of the lessons don’t involve books and the classroom. Yoneyama says that he learned other ways of thinking by playing the Monopoly board game with fellow LLM students during breaks — a lesson he applies today in international transactions. “I learned that if you want to win this board game, you should focus on your benefit, but also the other party’s advantage.”

For Hirooka, his Gould education widened his worldview, while strengthening his writing, logical thinking and negotiation skills. “I grew up in Japan and I didn’t live in other countries before I went to USC.”

Kono says that Gould and USC open the door to worldwide friendships. “People don’t know the University of Tokyo, how big that is, but they know USC, even just because of football. It makes it easier to communicate, to establish common ground.”

If there’s anything these alums want new LLM students to know, it’s “Work hard and enjoy hard. Everybody studies hard because they are students, but also enjoy the sports, the culture, the weather,” says Kono. Inoue adds that he often pushed himself to try difficult courses even though his grades weren’t always stellar in the end. He invites new students to find similar courage. “Each person has only one life, and it’s your only chance to do your best and challenge yourself.”

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