In the 2000s, the government pushed reform to improve the system for nurturing legal professionals, especially with a view to increasing the number of lawyers so that people could receive high-quality legal services for any field and in any part of the country. It adopted a plan in March 2002 that envisaged that about 3,000 applicants would pass the bar exam every year.
The plan was based on a recommendation made by the Justice System Reform Council in June 2001. From April 2004 to April 2005, 74 new law schools opened and in May 2006, a new bar exam started, testing graduates of those law schools.
Things did not go as planned. Many graduates failed to pass the bar exam. And even when they passed, many could not find jobs as lawyers. So the number of people who enter law schools has been decreasing every year. On April 9, a government panel came up with an interim proposal to drop the goal of having about 3,000 applicants pass the bar exam annually. It said the government should give up on setting any numerical goal.
Although the proposal is disheartening to officials and people concerned, they should accept reality. The government, bar associations and law schools should redesign the system for nurturing legal professionals. They should think about how to increase job opportunities for novice lawyers and how to improve legal services for people even if the pace of reform slows.
Before the government adopted the reform plan, about 1,000 applicants at most used to pass the bar exam annually. After the new bar exam started for graduates of new law schools in 2006, between 20 and 30 percent of the applicants were successful: About 2,000 people passed the exam each year — some 1,000 fewer than what the government had hoped for.
This indicated the inadequate education offered at the law schools. One of the law schools was closed at the end of March 2013. The gap in the quality of education among the law schools is also great. Some schools each boast more than 100 successful applicants annually, while others have none.
The panels proposed integrating existing law schools. But it failed to examine what went wrong with the current legal education system. The integration of law schools should not end up concentrating them in big cities, as one of the reform objectives was to make legal services easy to receive in rural areas.
Last year, about one-fourth of those who finished legal training could not immediately register themselves as lawyers at bar associations. Before the panel makes a final proposal by July, it should at least make concrete suggestions as to what kinds of jobs local governments and businesses can offer to lawyers.