How a College Course Led Me to Japan and Shaped the Course of My Life

07.15.14 | Permalink

An attorney in the Orlando office, Kevin Gowen represents corporate creditors in his practice from financial corporations to construction companies and health care providers handling all stages of creditor’s rights claims from the initiation of a lawsuit to post-litigation proceedings to enforce a final judgment. Kevin talks about how an elective in college led him to Japan, how that experience has shaped his life and what challenges he faces in his practice.

While studying pre-med during my sophomore year of college, I enrolled in an elective that would change the direction of my studies and my life. Medieval Japanese history grabbed my attention and led me to enroll in more Japanese language classes and to switch my major to history, specializing in Japanese history. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I went to graduate school to continue my study of Japanese history. While in graduate school, I took my first trip to Japan to enroll in an intensive Japanese language program.

Something intangible about Japan appealed to me—I admire the appreciation of craftsmanship and dedication to excellence and found it to be fascinating to study. I was lucky to spend two extended periods in Japan, and, at the time, I had no idea how it would shape my life.

After my first trip to Japan, I decided to go back and live for a couple of years before I would attend law school. While living there, my primary job was teaching junior high and high school students various levels of English. I also worked for Panasonic as an English instructor.

I lived in the city of Matsusaka, a city known for producing one of the most famous types of wagyu beef, both in Japan and internationally. I went to a cattle auction once where one cow auctioned for more than $100,000. I lived in the city, but I taught in the nearby mountain towns that grew tea.. The tea fields were surrounded by evergreens and the clearest, most pure river you can imagine. It was a very traditional and old part of Japan that I truly enjoyed. Occasionally, I would visit the nearby famous Ise Shrine that I had learned about in my studies.

I continue to live with the culture every day because my wife—a Japanese whom I met while in Japan—and I are teaching the language and culture to our nine-year-old son and six-year-old daughter. Recently, the kids went for sushi and were speaking Japanese to the servers at the restaurant. We go back to Japan as often as we can—not quite once a year—to visit our family and friends.

I planned to attend law school when I returned from Japan and since have built my practice in commercial litigation matters, including collections and breach of contract claims focusing on creditor’s rights. It’s particularly rewarding to help creditors get paid, especially when the business is struggling due to lack of payment.

It’s impossible not to share in the client’s happiness when you are able to get them paid, especially in fraud cases where money was wrongfully taken from them. In those cases in particular, the client feels some moral sense of right and wrong and that justice is served when you are able to recover funds. Some time ago, I prosecuted a multimillion dollar fraud case for a client, arising from my client’s financing accounts receivables for a customer that was producing bogus invoices. We cooperated with the authorities during the course of that investigation and recently, a federal indictment was issued against the employees who took apart in the fraud scheme; those customers may now face considerable time in prison. I handle cases that can range from small claims of a few hundred dollars to several million dollars. While many of my clients tend to be banks and financial services companies, the nature of my practice can apply to any sort of business such as  manufacturers of various products, security companies et cetera. Everyone works to get paid and if you aren’t getting paid by a customer, we probably have something to talk about.

The big challenge in my work is that a client who is owed money by another company is already out of pocket in the amount of the outstanding obligation. It’s my job to prosecute as efficiently as possible so the money the client is paying in order to get paid is well spent.

It can be frustrating for clients that even when they win a final judgment to be paid, the client’s delinquent customer  has so many additional avenues to avoid paying what is owed, such as filing for bankruptcy or claiming other exemptions. It often feels unfair that the debtor, who deprived my client of their property without due process, can force my client to jump through procedural hoops in order to be made whole. A large part of my practice is working through these challenges to enforce final judgment.

While I prosecute on behalf of creditors, I also spend defend them. Federal and state law provide debtors with potential claims to assert against creditors or those who collect funds on their behalf, and I devote a significant portion of my practice to defending those claims and advising my clients of how to enforce their rights as creditors within the scope of these consumer statutes.

In addition to finding my work satisfying, I work with a fantastic group of people. I’ve been at RKC since I’ve had my license and we have a collegial atmosphere. In addition to supporting one another and genuinely caring for each other, part of our culture is to build strong relationships with each other and with the clients. The client may be a corporation, but it cannot act without its employees; my clients’ individual employees are the client’s face, and I make it a priority to develop strong relationship with my client contacts. One way to build strong relationships is through language.

My number one hobby is language studies. In addition to speaking Japanese, I have varying abilities in several other languages and am currently focusing on learning classical Greek. My family’s heritage languages of Irish and Basque are also on my “to-do” list. One great thing about language studies is bringing it into the practice. At times, I’m able to speak with multilingual clients. Recently, I noticed a client contact had a Greek last name and she was surprised I knew a few pleasantries in modern Greek. People really brighten up if you can speak even just a few sentences to them in their native language. This is a lesson easily applied in the business world. It’s extremely important to understand the client’s business and terminology and use it. Whatever the industry, construction, manufacturing or financial services, I make sure that I can understand and speak that language and know the terminology as if I were my client’s internal employee. If you do this, you will be far more successful at building strong relationships and will better serve the client.

One of the most important relationships in my life is the one I have with my family. I certainly spend as much time as I can with my wife and children. My kids are at a great age where we are doing a lot of really fun things together. One of our favorite pastimes is watching movies. My son and I recently watched the Indiana Jones series together and I truly enjoyed seeing his reactions to the movies I first watched 30 years ago at his age. My daughter has joined the millions who are entranced by Frozen. We went to the sing-along version and had a lot of fun there. I play the ukulele and my children enjoy hearing me play the songs from the movie.

My interest in foreign language and culture has extended to the kitchen. I like cooking a variety of food. My mother’s family is of Spanish Basque decent so I was raised eating a lot of Spanish food. I grew up eating whatever the adults were eating and that has translated into our household today. My kids are adventurous eaters and have a particular fondness for sushi and Brussels sprouts, the latter of which my daughters sometimes asks me to make her for breakfast. I enjoy cooking Basque and Sichuan Chinese cuisine and certainly a lot of Japanese styles.

Despite being a native to Florida, my life has been enriched by my study of foreign language and culture. Not just Japanese, but others as well. Taking that elective course in college took me on a journey that has enriched my life in more ways than I could have dreamed.

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