Why I Founded Catherine O'Connell Law

The Story of Why I founded Catherine O'Connell Law

There is an interesting turn of phrase in New Zealand which is about describing someone as having a “Number 8 wire mentality.” It is said that all that is required for Kiwis (New Zealanders) to create or fix anything around them is “a piece of Number 8 wire.” This expression comes from the size of the gauge of steel wire (“Number 8”) that was used as fencing wire farms on in New Zealand. The wire wasn’t made in New Zealand (it came from Britain) but Kiwis worked out that the Number 8 wire was suitable to be used in many different ways. Number 8 wire became a symbol of Kiwi adaptability, of making something work using what’s at hand, and of describing an all-round “can-do” approach to life.

Modern day Number 8 wire mentality is about grasping opportunities in front of us. And that was how it was for me in terms of devising a new approach to launch legal services in a new way into the market in Japan: providing myself as a bi-lingual (Japanese and English) lawyer, available for part-time or full-time, in person or virtual secondments to help cover the temporary gaps, overflow in workload, and support with ad-hoc projects.

I struggled in my work several years back at the Japan subsidiary of a foreign manufacturing company, running a lean legal department (me plus one), and with responsibilities to also chase new horizons. I handled everything from day-to-day contract work to managing cross-functional projects - and we had just been acquired. My “plus one” left the company and It took eight months to secure another department member. It was tough to bridge the gap without another pair of capable legal hands to help out – I had to apply my own Number 8 wire mentality. At the time, temp worker dispatching agencies couldn’t do short term/part-time cover, nor dispatch lawyers under the regulations (this is still the case). The only option was full-time secondment of an associate from a large law firm - but they didn’t have the on-the-ground in-house experience (and the costs were prohibitive as well). If only I could have hired a part-time lawyer to come in and help, or even work virtually for me!

In effect, I am now that very person who I wanted to have by my side back then - someone with in-house experience who can hit the ground running and who can be flexibly placed to help both in-house teams and law firms through secondments and on an ad-hoc, ongoing, project-based advisory basis.

I also came to understand the plight of small- and medium-sized businesses (SME’s) in terms of accessing legal services in Japan. Specifically, several friends and business contacts in Tokyo lamented their challenges in securing high-quality yet affordable legal advice. My own experience was in large firms and corporations, so their pain helped me to consider the needs of SME’s – both new and maturing - who represent 90% of all businesses in Japan (foreign and domestic combined) - and how those needs could be better met.

Last, but certainly not least, my background story would not be complete without mentioning one additional motivation for setting up Catherine O’Connell Law. As a Japan-based New Zealander for the past 15+ years, it has always been a passion for me to work more closely with businesses in both my native homeland AND my second beloved homeland of Japan. I’ve worked in a volunteer capacity supporting New Zealand causes in Japan for many years and have always felt an underlying yearning for a more concrete connection to New Zealand business through the law. Founding Catherine O’Connell Law gives me the opportunity to help promote commerce between New Zealand and Japan, and for me, that is a wonderful honor.

If you have read this far, please allow me to thank you for reading. I hope we will be able to collaborate together!


Catherine O'Connell