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‘Second-Best Justice: The Virtues of Japanese Private Law’: Championing mediocrity in the courts

by

Special To The Japan Times

Ignore the irony of a tenured Harvard professor railing against the pursuit of excellence and employment security and J. Mark Ramseyer’s book is fun and enlightening.

Second-Best Justice: The Virtues of Japanese Private Law, by J. Mark Ramseyer.
352 pages
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, Nonfiction.

By essentially settling for mediocrity, he argues, Japan’s civil justice system works better than America’s which, in seeking to offer excellent individualized justice to every plaintiff, actually delivers dismal results for most litigants and is easily hijacked by unscrupulous tort lawyers and frivolous class actions. Unlike American juries, Japanese judges decide predictably enough that lawyers (and insurers) know where to settle.

Even when judges get it wrong — Ramseyer cites overprotection of tenants and employees as examples — they do so predictably, meaning employers and landlords can plan accordingly. Some conclusions surprise: Japan has few medical malpractice trials because the public health insurance system is also mediocre, giving most doctors incentives to perform well-established routine procedures rather than try new treatments, a source of much U.S. medical malpractice litigation. At times his assumptions — seemingly based on the “law and economics” orthodoxy that informs much of his work — can distract: whether doctors are “good” is a function of how much income tax they pay, for example. That aside, it’s a useful overview of some key features of Japan’s legal system.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.