June 16, 2020

Class of 2020: Law grad brings global worldview to his studies

Kenryo Mizutani wanted to develop a legal mindset that he could use in the energy sector

They don’t come often, those elusive moments when a professor — especially one in UCalgary’s Faculty of Law — searches for words to describe a student.

“He’s not really just a student,” attempts Dr. Rudiger Tscherning, PhD, assistant professor of law, adding: “He is not really just a law student. He is not really just Japanese. In German, we would call him a true Kosmopolit. It doesn’t translate well, but it means that he is basically at home in the world.”

And, in a nutshell, that global worldview is what Kenryo Mizutani has brought to the Faculty of Law since he first entered the JD program three years ago.

  • Above, Kenryo Mizutani is an avid hiker and a true 'kosmopolit.'

Having previously completed a BA in Economics and International Development from Boston University, and a Master of Public Administration in International Development from the London School of Economics, as well as worked as an international petroleum negotiator in Japan, Mizutani could have studied ... well, anywhere.

Kenryo in Badlands, AB

Kenyro Mizutani enjoys Alberta's badlands. At first, he was intimidated by the province's big skies.

Photo, Kenyro Mizutani

New path emerges for talented energy negotiator

Endlessly curious, it was while negotiating oil exploration contracts in Tokyo that Mizutani began wondering, “Why am I hiring a lawyer? Wouldn’t it be more efficient if I could do both jobs at the same time?”

Not wanting to abandon the energy industry, Mizutani did his homework and discovered that of all universities across the planet, the one with the sharpest focus on energy law was the University of Calgary.

“Of course, I knew people who had worked here, but I had never been anywhere in Canada other than Vancouver,” says the 31-year-old, whose first foreign language is German. “Which is why I still remember getting off the plane from Tokyo and being intimidated by your sky.

For the first three weeks, I was actually scared because there was no cover. I think it was a bit of an animal instinct.

Now an avid hiker who’s more than comfortable with our colossal sky and even bigger mountains, Mizutani confesses that besides the attraction of energy law, he wanted to develop what he calls “a legal mindset ... a structured way of thinking.” He predicted UCalgary’s curriculum would give him precisely that, which is why he says, “I took specific classes that would best train me how to spot and critically assess the severity of the risk.”

Toughest negotiators were 'nicest guys'

At first, Mizutani was told he was “negotiating too hard,” he says, laughing, blaming the years he studied in America, where he was told: “You have to be a hard negotiator; you have to show them who the boss is.”

But in Calgary, he was told: “’You don’t do that — you’ll hurt the relationship,’ which is more similar to how we operate in Japan, where there’s an emphasis on long-term relationships," he says. "That’s one of the many things I will cherish about the education I received here — learning a different style of negotiation. What I learned was that some of the toughest negotiators were the nicest guys.”

Kenryo by Plain of Six Glaciers

Kenryo Mizutani pauses for a break by the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail near Lake Louise.

Photo, Kenryo Mizutani

Tscherning may bestow the title of Kosmpolit on Mizutani, but Al Lucas, associate director of the Canadian Institute of Resources Law and former dean of law at UCalgary, describes the soon-to-be articling student at Bennett Jones LLP as “the most intellectually curious law student I have encountered in all my years at U of C and UBC. And Kenryo is also the most strategic. An example is his publications profile. Some are in academic journals; but a number are legal articles in industry publications.”

Student 'superb and challenging conversationalist'

In fact, one of Mizutani’s proudest highlights was winning a scholarship from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation for his written contributions to the energy sector. “When a Japanese petroleum association asked me to write a piece on ESG (environmental, social and governance) investment, with a look to the future as far as how that relates to climate change and the energy industry and how money moves within the industry ... well, that’s what I’ve been focusing on, so I was thrilled.”

Besides maintaining a 4.0 GPA and winning scholarships, Mizutani — who speaks English, German and Japanese fluently, but is also conversant in French, Turkish and Russian — is a natural networker.

“I see part of my purpose of being in Calgary to not only absorb knowledge, but also to build a network,” he says. “The connections that faculty members have with Calgary’s law community were really helpful. A lot of the downtown firms host negotiation and advocacy competitions where you get honest feedback from practitioners ... I loved it. That’s probably where I learned to listen, really listen to the other party.  

Too often, negotiators and lawyers are so embedded in what we want to convey to the other party that we forget to listen to what they want, not what we want them to want.

At some point in Mizutani’s education, Lucas remembers wanting to meet the Japanese Consul General here in Calgary. “Kenryo very kindly arranged a lunch with the Consul General, which was so enjoyable and where I learned a lot,” recalls Lucas. “It’s not often that a student will facilitate a networking event, but he did.”

That may be, in part, because Mizutani “truly brings people together, as he’s a superb and challenging conversationalist,” says Tscherning, adding how he once skipped a reception in order to keep chatting with his student.

“Neither of us realized how long we were exchanging global energy musings until the last class of that evening emerged,” says Tscherning. “As we progressed with our discussions, people politely moved away. I realized only after that we must have sounded like two very animated and loud energy law nerds. Our coolness factor may not have been helped by the fact that we switched between languages and peppered our chat with cultural references at an alarming pace. It was fun, at least for us!”   

Kosmopolit, indeed!

Kenryo by Lake Louise

Kenryo Mizutani enjoys a quiet moment near Lake Louise.

Photo, Kenryo Mizutani