The history of Sonderhoff & Einsel is one of unusual characters whose life became inseparably connected with Japan. To this day, it is the history of German lawyers and patent attorneys successfully working in Japan and whose knowledge gained thereby advance the interest of their clients.
It was back in 1903 that Dr. Karl Vogt arrived in Japan. Originally having aimed for a career as a conductor or composer, Vogt had changed his mind and studied Japanese and jurisprudence in order to be accepted into the Foreign Service at the Department for Foreign Affairs. After passing the Japanese-translator examination, completion of legal training, and passing the law examination followed by a doctorate in law and military service, Vogt arrived in Japan in 1903 to begin his career at the German embassy. Although Vogt’s legal comments and opinions were appreciated by his superiors at the Embassy, his prospects for promotion were bleak and he was not satisfied with the progress his diplomatic career was taking. With his doctorate in German Law, Vogt was admitted as a Japanese Patent Attorney on February 8, 1910. As he was known and appreciated in the German community for his work in the Foreign Service, Vogt proceeded to set up a patent law firm in Yokohama. Together with English barrister Charles Neville Crosse and Australian solicitor Heath, Vogt founded the joint practice “Crosse, Heath & Vogt” leading the German practice at a time when German commerce with Japan was flourishing. Requests for counsel on general legal matters could be fielded by Japanese attorneys-at-law and, if necessary, they were able to conduct proceedings before the courts.
World War I broke out in the summer of 1914, and Vogt was called in for military service in the province of Tsingtao. During this time, office work was continued by his Japanese attorney-at-law colleagues.
Following his captivity as a prisoner of war, Vogt returned to Yokohama in 1919 to continue his patent practice which rapidly developed as a result of the technical advances being made in Germany at the time. On the look-out for prospective partners of the firm, Vogt met German lawyer Dr. Roland Sonderhoff in early 1927, who was working as a manager at the Norddeutsche Bank in Hamburg and showed interest in working in Japan. On March 15, 1929, before the Great Depression hit, Sonderhoff moved to Japan and was employed to assist Vogt. In 1932, Sonderhoff became a partner and the firm continued under the name “Dres. K. Vogt & R. Sonderhoff”. By 1939, the firm had 40 employees.
During World War II, Vogt remained in Japan as did his partner Sonderhoff, who additionally worked as a syndic for the German Chamber of Commerce. In 1946, the firm was shut down by the Allied occupation force. In 1947, Sonderhoff returned to Germany with his family as part of the allied general repatriation program, while Vogt was one of the few German nationals permitted to remain in Japan. Despite his failing health, Vogt dedicated himself to rebuilding the firm, which beginning in 1949, he initially operated out of his home with the approval of the Japanese authorities.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sonderhoff successfully completed his legal clerkship in Hamburg and briefly worked there as an attorney-at-law. In 1952, Vogt called his tried-and-tested partner back to the firm. On June 10, 1952, Sonderhoff returned to Japan with the first visa issued to a German national since the end of the war (“No. 1”) and continued his work in Tokyo.
In 1954, aged 76, Vogt retired as an active partner, but stayed on in an advisory role. On his 80th birthday, in recognition of his achievements, he was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class. Up to his passing in 1960 at the age of 82, Dr. Vogt was the only foreign national in Japan admitted as a patent attorney.
In 1956, Dres. Vogt & Sonderhoff called Attorney-at-law Reinhard Einsel, born 1927 in Berlin, to Tokyo to join the firm. Following military service and captivity, Reinhard Einsel trained as an English-language specialist and studied law at the Georg-August-Unversität in Göttingen. Following his legal clerkship in Celle and the obligatory 1-year period as junior lawyer, he registered as an attorney-at-law in Hanover in 1956, but began working in Tokyo just 3 months later. Upon his arrival in Japan, Reinhard Einsel immediately took up a Japanese language evening course at the famous Naganuma Language School in Tokyo, completing the program by passing the translator examination. In 1965, he was registered as a foreign Attorney-at-law in Okinawa, then still under American occupation. In 1972, following the return of Okinawa to Japan, the Supreme Court of Japan extended Reinhard Einsel’s qualification to cover all of Japan. From this day on, the firm was known as “Sonderhoff & Einsel”. Up to his passing in 2009, Reinhard Einsel served the German community in Japan not only as an attorney-at-law focusing on patent infringement cases, but also stood in positions of special trust with the German Chamber of Commerce, the Board of German School Tokyo and in the Charity Fund for German Nationals in Need (BDF). In 1975, he was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit Order of Merit on a Ribbon and in 1992 Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class.
In 1994, Reinhard Einsel’s son Felix-Reinhard Einsel, born 1968, joined the firm. He studied law in the U.S. and Japan, and after qualifying as a US attorney-at-law in the State of New York, he passed the Japanese Patent Attorney examination in 1999 and was registered as a patent attorney in Tokyo. Today, Felix Einsel is the Managing Partner of Sonderhoff & Einsel. Together with his partner, attorney-at-law Keiji Isaji, the firm represents clients in Japan for general corporate and other legal matters. Following in the footsteps of Dr. Vogt, Felix Einsel is the only German national registered as a patent attorney in Japan, and in that capacity, he looks forward to leading the firm into its second 100 years in Japan. We will continue to support our European, in particular our German-speaking clients, while growing internationally. Meanwhile, Sonderhoff & Einsel is also present with a small, continuously growing office in Beijing, established in the spirit of the firm, conscious of tradition, multicultural, competitive and facing the challenges of its time, to the benefit of its clients.