Lisa Kitagawa '82

Partner, Kitagawa & Ebert

Kitagawa didn’t want to get a job when she graduated law school, but rather, she wanted to go back to school—in Japan. Despite her classmates’ advice to accept a position in a tony downtown law firm, Kitagawa opted instead to obtain an LL.M. from Kyoto University (even though she could not understand a word of Japanese). “I told them: the sun will rise again. I’ll be back,” the California native said, alluding to the famous Hemingway fictional travel-journal.

As the last American to have obtained an LL.M. from Kyoto University, the “Harvard of Japan,” Kitagawa is now fluent in Japanese. A partner of Kitagawa & Ebert, her eponymous firm caters to Japanese business clients. Her impressive list of corporate clients includes: All Nippon Airways, Daiwa Steel and Fujitsu-Ten. Kitagawa says that she got the idea for a bilingual firm directly from her clients, who confessed that they desperately needed a law office whose staff could speak both Japanese and English.

Kitagawa has also expanded her jurisprudential reach with an active hand in the Japanese-American legal community. She founded the Orange County Japanese Lawyers Foundation in 1989. There were times when she longed for the East. “I had the opportunity to return to Japan,” she pauses. “But I’m just more comfortable here. You can take a person out of the U.S. but you can’t take the U.S. out of me,” she says.