By Christopher Atlee F. Arcitio | Staff Writer
On November 20, 2015, Staff Writer Christopher Arcitio met with Yasuhiro Saito, Esq., Managing Partner and founder of the firm Saito Sorenson Lurie LLP to discuss Mr. Saito’s road to starting his own successful boutique firm that now specializes in complex commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defense.
Mr. Saito’s Background
Mr. Yasuhiro Saito was born and raised in Japan. In 1989, Mr. Saito received his Bachelors of Laws (LLB) from Keio University, Japan’s first modern institution of higher education. While there, Mr. Saito began writing to law schools in the United States to pursue a Juris Doctor (JD). St. John University’s School of Law (“St. John’s Law”) was one of the only two law schools that mailed him JD application forms in response. All others responded with LLM applications.
After deciding to attend St. John’s Law, Mr. Saito moved to the United States to begin his pursuit of the JD. Looking back, he now laughs about how “clueless” he was about what awaited him in the US. For example, he recalls a nervous moment when he was not quite sure if “Jamaica” was really in New York — or even in the United States.
Mr. Saito feels that it was actually this cluelessness — and the fear it engendered — that made him perform his best in law school. Mr. Saito stressed that people can exceed their own limitations only when they are faced with unexpected difficulties. Mr. Saito received stellar grades in his first semester of law school and maintained a high grade point average for the semesters thereafter. His academic success allowed him to obtain a prestigious Clerkship with the Honorable John T. Elfvin, United States District Court Judge for the Western District of New York. To this day, Mr. Saito feels that he is forever indebted to Judge Elfvin — who had to obtain a special exemption from Washington DC in order to hire Mr. Saito as a federal clerk despite his non-US citizen status.
Mr. Saito’s Decision to Start Saito Sorenson Lurie LLP
Mr. Saito finished his clerkship in 1994 and was invited to join Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP as an Associate in the firm’s Litigation Practice Group. As an Associate, Mr. Saito excelled within the firm, and his reputation grew. Within a few years, major multinational companies began to look to him to represent them in a variety of complex litigation and white-collar criminal matters. For instance, he represented large accounting firms in a string of accounting scandals in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Hughes Hubbard asked him to establish his own Practice Group specializing in Japan-related litigation with him serving as the leader.
Mr. Saito’s success at Hughes Hubbard did not leave him unnoticed. Other prestigious firms began extending unconditional offers to him to become a Partner and head Practice Groups at their firms. The offers kept coming for several years, and Mr. Saito recalls this period as his time of “indecisiveness” — and a great learning experience. He realized that no amount of analysis can dictate what firm will be the best fit for him — and that he should seize a new opportunity simply for the sake of gaining and growing from the change and new experience.
In 2009, Mr. Saito accepted an offer to become a Partner at the Litigation Practice Group of Carter Ledyard & Millburn, LLP, one of the nation’s oldest law firms headquartered on Wall Street and once home to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was an associate there. Albeit Mr. Saito was very happy to work with the firm, he realized that, in general, the traditional law firm business model made it difficult to serve his clients fully and efficiently — especially in the current changing economic environment.
In 2011, Mr. Saito founded Saito Sorenson Lurie LLP (then called Saito Law Group PLLC), a premier boutique law firm that specialized in complex commercial litigation and white-collar defense matters.
Saito’s Ingredients to Success
All senior attorneys at Saito Sorenson Lurie LLP used to work as partners or senior attorneys at large, prestigious firms and Mr Saito jokingly describes his leadership style as letting his fellow colleagues “boss him around.” That is, Mr. Saito believes that you have to treat people as equals and extend true respect to each person’s goals and desires for each individual — and the team — to perform well.
One secret to Mr. Saito’s success is derived from his performance under stress. Over the years, Mr. Saito realized he performed well under stress — without panicking or becoming overly emotional — even compared to other established attorneys. This ability came as a bit of a surprise to Mr. Saito — and thus even more cherished — because, according to Mr. Saito, he was raised in a relatively “low stress” household and long considered himself very averse to stressful situations.
Advice to Current Law Students
Naturally, Christopher Arcitio posed a question seeking words of wisdom from a successful attorney of Mr. Saito’s caliber. Mr. Saito singled out two important skill sets that every attorney should have: (1) ability to understand complex situations and (2) ability to understand people.
Mr. Saito believes that you simply must have the analytical skill to understand and solve complex issues in order to work and succeed in a large firm environment. Unfortunately, often the only way law firms can measure a candidate’s analytical ability is by looking at a student’s grades. A positive upshot of this is that law students can pretty much focus simply on getting the best grades they can if they seek to be hired by a large prestigious firm.
Additionally, Mr. Saito stressed the significance for all attorneys to be able to understand and interact well with people — including clients, colleagues, and adversaries. This skill becomes more and more essential as an attorney progresses in his or her career. Mr. Saito noted that it is truly a shame to see talented lawyers self-sabotage their own careers because of their lack of “people skills.” Mr. Saito believes this particular skill can be improved significantly — more so than analytical skills — by engaging with people, by becoming aware of your strength and shortcomings, and by constantly striving for emotional and mental growth.