July 12, 2023

Shearman & Sterling Alumni Spotlight: Joe M. Sasanuma, Senior Corporate Counsel, Amazon Web Services

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SHEARMAN & STERLING ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT

Through the Alumni Spotlight series, you can meet a few of our distinguished alumni to learn how they leveraged their time at the firm to advance their careers and what advice they would give to those looking to have similar success.

 Alumni Spotlight Joe Sasanuma   

Joe M. Sasanuma

Senior Corporate Counsel,
Amazon Web Services


After earning a Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor from Boston College, Joe M. Sasanuma ’07 (Capital Markets, 2008–2016, New York and Tokyo) clerked for The Honorable Peter E. Doyne in the Chancery Division of Superior Court of New Jersey before beginning his tenure with Shearman & Sterling in New York City, eventually joining the team in Tokyo, the city in which he was born. He left Shearman & Sterling in 2016 for a position with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) legal team that supports selling cloud services to commercial companies in Japan. He currently leads the public sector legal team at AWS Japan that supports selling cloud services to Japanese governmental and quasi-governmental institutions.

What is your favorite memory or story from your time at Shearman & Sterling?

I have a lot of great memories, particularly the people—both in New York and Tokyo. I still drop by the Tokyo office all the time and they always welcome me back. I tremendously enjoyed my time at the firm, and I’m thankful for the friendships that I continue to have.

Outside of the people, I have several fond memories of growth moments.

One time, I was working on a deal with a partner and a mid-level associate who left the firm in the middle of the deal. The partner told me no other associate would be staffed, which meant that I had to take over the matter. Shortly thereafter, I started typing an e-mail to the partner as if I was writing to a mid-level associate on an issue I already knew the answer to; I was basically just looking for the security of receiving an assurance from someone more senior. Then I stopped and thought, “Oh, if a more senior associate didn’t get staffed, it must mean I’m supposed to handle this.” It was a growth moment for sure, but more memorably, I really appreciated that the firm was trusting me with an important transaction.

Another time, when I was a mid-level associate, I had several matters on my plate and a junior associate came into my office to ask a question about a deal she was working on. I’d been out of pocket, just letting her run the deal because she was very competent. So, when she asked the question, I just blurted out, “I have no idea what’s going on with your deal.” When she heard that, she looked straight into my eyes and said, “Joe, when you tell me that, I get nervous.” She was right; a captain of the ship needs to project order and control. At that moment, she taught me an important lesson in management.

What skills or capabilities did you gain from your time at the firm that prepared you for future roles?

Being a good lawyer. It’s hard to put into words precisely what that means—things like strong analytical skills and attention to detail come to mind—but Shearman & Sterling certainly gave me a solid foundation. What I do now is very different from what I did at Shearman, and when I moved to AWS I didn’t know anything about cloud services. I worried about whether the skillset and knowledge I had gained at Shearman were transferrable, but I learned that they were.

What has been your career journey since leaving Shearman & Sterling?

After a few years in New York, I transferred to Shearman & Sterling’s Tokyo office. When my colleague in Tokyo moved to AWS, he pushed hard for me to join him. My first role with the company was to support the sales professionals who were going around Japan selling cloud services to companies in many industries, like finance, gaming, retail and manufacturing. As in-house counsel, most of my time was spent negotiating contracts and addressing legal questions related to cloud usage that came from customers and business clients.

After three years, management asked if I was interested in supporting the public sector side of the business. This meant that instead of selling to private entities, the sales professionals were selling to governmental entities, educational and healthcare institutions as well as NGOs. I jumped at the opportunity to do something a bit different. It’s hard to believe that after four years, I’ve now been supporting the public sector business longer than I supported the commercial business.

Tell us about your current job. What do you enjoy most about your work?

On the commercial side, many of the big companies were already using cloud services when I joined. In the public sector, the usage was pretty much zero when I moved, so I came in when there were no contracts to negotiate. Hence, my job became less about reviewing contracts and answering legal questions and more about persuading the customer to not be afraid of cloud services. In essence, I needed to help build a world in which the Japanese government could feel comfortable moving to the cloud.

It may be hard to believe, but Japan has fallen behind in digital transformation. All of Japan is trying to play catch up, and I get to play an important role by supporting the government’s adoption of cloud. Indirectly, I’m contributing to the betterment of Japanese society as a whole by helping the government become more digital. That’s super exciting, and very rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone looking to have a similar career path?

The most important advice I have, especially for junior people, is that, even though it may not seem like it, what they’re doing now matters; it will build the foundation that they can leverage for rest of their careers. As I look back on my time as a junior associate at Shearman and having observed lawyers who didn’t come from similar backgrounds, I can definitely say that Shearman provides a unique opportunity. My advice for junior associates is to appreciate the environment they are in, even if it’s hard when they’re laboring through things like churning comments to documents late in the evening.