October 2012 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Naoko Inoue Shatz

On a High Note

By Bob Klein


Naoko Inoue Shatz is living an extraordinary real life story of coming to (and succeeding in) America. With her remarkable blend of grace, savvy and determination, she emigrated from Japan and built a thriving international business and employment law practice, guiding foreign businesses through the thicket of law and custom in the United States marketplace.

Many local attorneys (including me) are domestic immigrants, coming with our law degrees from all parts of the United States, falling in love with the Northwest and staying to build our careers. At the start, it seemed like a grand adventure. We had the benefit of our education, even if we were strangers. Now, we look back on our experience as audacious or foolhardy or both.

Naoko was far more ambitious and determined than most of us. She was a Japanese businesswoman, with a Japanese college degree and a reading - but not speaking - knowledge of English, when she landed in Philadelphia in 1995 to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. This was her first trip to the United States. Her Tokyo employer had sponsored her American education after she had won a company-wide competition on an English proficiency test. She had built her English vocabulary by reading the dictionary cover to cover.

The sponsorship was too good to pass up. She decided to relinquish her secure, prosperous Tokyo life for the opportunity to attend an Ivy League university and to learn how to conduct business in America.

She was anxious, knowing just a few halting English phrases, when she got into a cab outside the Philadelphia airport and handed the cabbie a note asking him to drive her to the International House near the Penn campus. This would become her residence. In Tokyo, she had her own comfortable apartment. Now, she found herself in a cramped college dorm. Her room was big enough for a bed, a desk and little else. The bathroom was down the hall. She thought she was in jail.

Naoko immediately made a shrewd and tough-minded decision. She knew that the fastest path to fluency was through total immersion in the English language. She forced herself to speak English, no matter how awkward or hesitant she might be. She avoided her countrymen so that she would not lapse into the comfort of speaking Japanese. In a matter of months, she was conversing easily and had made a number of American friends.

Naoko spent nearly two years at Penn and concluded that she needed to develop a deeper understanding of American culture before she could competently conduct a U.S. business transaction. She decided to attend an American law school and seek a J.D. She wanted to become a full American lawyer, able to compete on an equal footing with other American-trained attorneys.

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