U.S. lawyer gets the impossible done in Japan

by Angela Jeffs

Legal beagle Tim Langley is both blessed and dogged with an interesting surname. “When I worked inside the Diet as a blue-eyed, moustachioed, Japanese-fluent American fresh out of Japanese law school, the CIA in Langley, Va., naturally came up. Some thought my name was a joke.”

No joke. Langley is now president of Langley & Associates, a relatively new operation (since January) offering services in legal and political, real estate, and in real and virtual Web site design. “It’s going well,” he says. “Not many can cleanly pull off the political and lobbying stuff. I guess that’s where my real strength lies.”

Asked how an army brat broke into the corridors of power in Japan, Langley acknowledges it’s quite a story. “Home was where the furniture was. With Dad a logistics specialist in the military, we were always on the move.”

Langley’s longest stay — in Okinawa between ages 11 and 16 — proved the most impressionable. “I got into a lot of trouble. The youngest boy of eight kids and perceived as a small G.I. in this small but buzzing island, I got away with an awful lot. My dad gave me two months to straighten out, or else, so I walked into a karate dojo and fell in love.

Langley came to Japan for law school. The education ministry (Monbusho) had a scholarship that he failed while in university so he went to Akita Prefecture, taught English and studied Japanese.

Returning to the U.S. to take the qualifying exam, he became the first Monbusho recipient from the seven-state Southeast region. “Spending the next two years buried in books at Tohoku University studying law, my understanding of Japan totally transformed.

“I then tried everything I could think of to simply sit for the bar exam, without success.”

This was in the early 1980s — a time when Toyota cars were being literally bashed on the Capitol steps. “One day, reading LDP Diet member Taro Nakayama’s explanation of Japan’s position, I thought his staff must expand, so I applied to his office.”

The only available position was for a “tea lady” so that did not go very far. But Langley’s approach was so unusual that, upon meeting the Dietman, he was offered an experience that would change his life.

Langley became a Diet aide, the first foreigner ever in such a position. “It was quite a notorious story at the time. ‘Sixty Minutes’ even did a segment on me.”

As for Dr. Nakayama, he rose to become foreign minister, pushed through organ transplant laws and today chairs the committee discussing changes to the Constitution.

Full of anecdotes, Langley’s greatest gain (he has to say) was his wife, also an aide in the Diet whom he wooed for many years. Now with four children, they live in Tokyo’s Yoga where he indulges his hobby of tinkering with cars. (He founded the Rolls Royce and Bentley Club of Japan.)

But back to business: “I’ve assisted thousands of companies, even those caught on the other side of the law. I remember one company accused of dumping their products in the U.S. Their first reaction was to burn all incriminating documents. I had to tell them that failure to produce normally available evidence was considered definitive of guilt under U.S. trade law. They just about went crazy!”

Another time, Kentucky was wooing Toyota to build a factory there. “They searched for a Kentuckian as representative, but I was born in Virginia. “Well honey,” my mom said, ‘tell them your great-great grandfather was sixth governor of Kentucky . . . that’s where the family silver came from after all.’

“After I was appointed, papers (in Kentucky) wrote big headlines like ‘Local Boy Returns.’ “

Later, Langley worked for Apple Computer to build a presence in Asia and break NEC’s stranglehold on the PC market. “My job was to make sure that when the hammer fell on non-Japanese manufacturers (it did), it did not fall on Apple (it didn’t).”

Later, Langley created a lobby for U.S. companies to approach the Japanese government to simply discuss issues — directly.

“Though the board of the American Chamber of Commerce was somewhat reluctant, visiting the Diet building as a trial proved a resounding success.

“Now the lobby is an annual event, today under the able leadership of Bill Bishop.”

Langley’s favorite story concerns the first visit to Japan of President George Bush Sr. after his presidency. “I was hired to take care of him. Briefing him on his first day, he asked if I could set up additional meetings including with the Emperor, the prime minister, the foreign minister, with visiting Polish Premier Walessa, and ‘with that interesting guy Ozawa (Ichiro).’

“With four days in his itinerary and with that kind of lineup, you can perhaps imagine my state of mind. But he met everyone and was very gracious in his appreciation.”

Naturally enough, this legal mover and shaker extraordinaire is known as the American who can get the impossible done in Japan: Mr. Fix-it, perhaps?