KorumLegal Consultant: Heath Havey addresses bridging the gap between foreign companies and their Japanese employees.

Heath is a qualified attorney in California and Nevada, USA,  He has over 25 years of experience practicing in three AmLaw50 firms, advising on employment law, litigation and class actions, for clients in retail, fintech, transportation, construction, tourism/hospitality, utilities and the banking industry. Most recently Heath spent 5 years with a Fortune 5 e-commerce giant, where he oversaw all employment law for Japan and South Korea, such as wage and hour, transactional advice and counsel, global projects and litigation.

1. Hi Heath! Can you tell us a little about the work you are currently doing / have been doing? 

I assist employers in finding solutions to Japan employment problems to ensure both compliance and an efficient and happy workforce. Most Western companies have little understanding of the Japanese work rules and culture, and vice versa. I bring East and West together to synthesise company values and vision with practical solutions to fit the Japanese workplace. These problems arise not only from laws and regulations, but also from a lack of understanding cultural differences that often drive a wedge between Japanese workers and their supervisors or stakeholders. We look at issues such as timekeeping, leave laws, NDAs and restrictive covenants, union and litigation matters, negotiation and HR handling of employees, hiring and firing, discrimination and harassment, DEI and disability accommodation, handling of a contingent workforce, and health and safety issues, among others. My bilingual abilities and time living off and on in Japan since 1991 assist in this process. With my help as trusted advisor, global employers learn to conquer cultural, legal and language barriers. Most recently, I oversaw all employment legal matters for Amazon in Japan and South Korea, and overseeing projects in the APAC region.

2. What made you take the leap into working in NewLaw for ALSP's? And why is it a good fit for you?

I have seen how even mega-companies from foreign countries encounter many problems handling their Japan workforce. This is as true now as it was when I worked as an international lawyer in Japan in 2002. Though the Japanese are not litigious by nature, employment law is the one exception. Their jobs define their lives in so many ways, and Westerners often do not know how to approach this from the perspective of compliance, the corporate vision, and perhaps most importantly, the employee experience. I have heard from almost everyone I talk to in Japan about how the companies are not following Japanese laws or customs. Taking a leap into working with KorumLegal allows me to expand my consulting beyond Amazon to many clients in an effort to help bridge the gap between foreign companies and their Japanese employees and stakeholders. I thrive on feeling that I have added value, and this allows me to spread the value to more than one company in a way that goes beyond an "attorney" and into the realm of a "trusted advisor."

3.  What's the most rewarding assignment you've ever had and why? 

I have seen almost every kind of employment situation imaginable, but one incident in particular sticks out as impactful in a way that does not happen every day. An employee had not shown up for work, and the client reached out to me about what to do—such as discipline or terminate. We did some deep diving and found out from his girlfriend that he left in an attempt to commit suicide, which is unfortunately all too common in Japan. I was in the US on another assignment but immediately jumped into the mode of instructing HR and supervisors to involve the police in a welfare check and into proactively trying to help this employee without worrying about discipline or other procedures. We were able to track down the employee and help him realise the value of his life while seeking out help and taking a leave of absence to deal with his personal issues. It is not very often an attorney can help literally save a life, but when it happens, it stays with you.

4. As an experienced NewLaw/ ALSP consultant, where do you see NewLaw/ ALSP fitting into the matrix of the legal sector and how have you seen it evolve?

Clients are more savvy and sophisticated than they used to be. The old models are being supplanted by flat fees and new models, especially during the last decade. Clients want to have the value they receive match the cost of the legal services. NewLaw/ALSP is the future. Not only does it provide a specialised and personal service, that service and cost can be much more easily controlled by clients. It also builds a relationship with the clients in a way that traditional law practices do not, in that they are true collaborators and partners instead of simply service providers. Clients want options, and adding this option to the mix helps the industry in both value and control by putting these in the hands of the clients.

5. What trends do you expect to see in the legal services industry in the next 5 years? 

Innovative legal services have been trending for the past 5 to 10 years. To remain competitive, firms have had to be flexible instead of clinging to the traditional models. I do not see this trend slowing down. The fluidity of the job marketplace for lawyers does not make loyalty of a firm brand the key component that clients look for, and many companies use different firms for different matters as a way to experiment with different models and service providers to see what works best. As always, it is the relationships with the advisors that are most important. New models that emphasise and facilitate these relationships will likely prevail over firm names and reputations. 

6. Your favourite tune? And why? 

My favorite song is "The Impossible Dream" from the Broadway musical "Man of La Mancha." My motto has long been "go big or go home." We should do nothing halfway, and this song highlights that we should be reaching for "that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far...And the world will be better for this, that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star." I have a T-shirt with a picture of Bigfoot that reads: "Believe in yourself even if no one else does." These are the types of mottos that push me to "run where the brave dare not go, to right the unrightable wrong." The world can be a highly negative place that tries to tear people down far too often; I seek to pull myself and others up, to have empathy, and to help clients even when they feel hopeless or frustrated.

Lily Evans and Heath Havey