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Alumnus Spotlight: Tohru Iokibe, Sony Pictures

One of the great things about working at Abraham Lincoln University? Getting people started on their journey toward a more fulfilling career for the first time.

Another type of student that comes through our school every semester that many on-site institutions will rarely encounter: one who has already established the foundation of their career and is seeking the next big step forward. Abraham Lincoln University’s flexible online law program offers professionals working full-time the opportunity to attend law school and achieve everything they’re capable of.

Tohru Iokibe is one such individual; he already had plenty to be proud of when he first approached ALU as a prospective law student.

From Japan to Hollywood

Mr. Iokibe was already the Senior Vice President of client operations at Sony Pictures Entertainment when he began with ALU – a lofty position, one many in his shoes would be more than content with. Building upon his background in imaging information engineering (proving that, yes, even the quiet academics among us are able to move on to become executive leaders in international Forbes 500 corporations), he later obtained a Master’s in mass communication and film studies at Cal State Northridge after moving to the United States from Japan. While he was successful in finding a prestigious role in the entertainment industry, he felt as though he had more to offer.

As a result of his own intellectual curiosity, he enrolled in UCLA Extension’s paralegal program. A friend encouraged him to take things to the next level in the form of a obtaining a Juris Doctor (Becoming a Doctor of Jurisprudence, otherwise known as getting your JD, is the process by which one becomes a lawyer in the United States – literally, “Juris Doctor” means “Teacher of Law” in Latin). He became a student at ALU, and the rest is history.

Being Vice President at a place like Sony Pictures Entertainment is no laughing matter – they’re one of the biggest conglomerates in entertainment. What could a law degree possibly have to offer somebody already so deeply engaged in their career? According to the man himself, quite a bit.

Mr. Iokibe began in operations at Sony, distributing intellectual property to the platforms that would later put these programs on the air. It goes without saying that this involves a lot of high-level legal communication with many parties, especially when it comes to handling contracts. He says that his law degree from ALU has increased his credibility within the company and those they associate with greatly. With the skill set he acquired, he became his department’s designated internal legal expert. The legal literacy now at his command allows him to decipher complex agreements without the need to get Sony’s legal team involved. He says it’s rare for executives in his position to have a JD or even anything more than a rudimentary level of knowledge when it comes to IP law.

Tohru’s Take on Distance Learning and the Art of Law

Mr. Iokibe describes himself as being a lifelong learner – even in his youth, he always sought out the opportunity to better himself intellectually in whatever way possible. We inquired about the toll he felt that earning a degree remotely had on the quality of his education. He suggested that the effect was negligible – his experience in an online setting was on par with what he had come to expect from his previous degrees, both earned at on-ground institutions.

The most useful thing he learned at ALU? He was positively raving about the IRAC method of writing during the interview. “IRAC” stands for issue, rule, application, and conclusion – these are the four basic tenets that all legal writing is based on and mastering it is an essential part of any education in law. He says he was instantly taken by the elegant logic of IRAC writing and has identified many applications for its use since graduating – he finds himself turning to its conventions for everything from internal business communications to helping his kids write essays for school.

One facet of his law education at ALU that he remembers really enjoying was the mock trial experience his professors coordinated between him and his peers. Not only did the activity put the neophytes right into the thick of things – it also gave them an opportunity to think critically about the cases put before them and to collaborate with one another, very similarly to how a trial would be performed in a real court. He is definitely a proponent of taking part in similar exercises while still in law school. It’s an incredible way to prepare oneself for the challenges that come along with the job.

Another ALU highlight he cites as being very helpful while he was a student: the support system the school was able to provide. His professors were responsive and able to help him through every obstacle he encountered. While things have changed here at ALU slightly since Mr. Iokibe was with us, he will be pleased to know that we still offer plenty of faculty support, including an academic coach for the student’s entire first year.

The Future is Looking Bright

His law degree is certainly coming in handy in light of a relatively recent promotion he earned at Sony – now, in addition to his responsibilities as Senior Vice President, he is also at the helm of Sony Pictures’ IP Acceleration effort, putting him in negotiations with creators, studios, and aggregators both domestically and overseas. This position demands not only a potent creative vision but also a nuanced understanding of IP law and how our practices related to those of other countries. He laughed as he explained that he has now become his department’s go-to team member – he’s able to decipher complex contracts on the spot, and while the company can easily call on its legal department as necessary, his developed set of legal skills that focus on transactional legal aspects has come in handy on more than one occasion, saving his company time and money.

His biggest piece of advice for law students on their way to graduation: taking the bar exam seriously. Tohru, unfortunately, did not have the luxury to take time off to prepare for his own sitting, due to both work and family obligations. He recommends allowing anybody considering becoming a lawyer after school an adequate amount of time to prepare – taking a month off to study at the very least. It is an investment that they will not regret.

We’re proud to be a part of Mr. Iokibe’s story and hope that current students will be able to take his advice and run with it.

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