A government panel on judicial reform plans to urge the government to abolish national bar examinations and introduce new tests for graduates of law schools modeled on those in the U.S. and scheduled to be established in Japan, according to panel members.

The panel’s head, Koji Sato, a professor of law at Kyoto University, said the change should be made “as soon as possible,” suggesting that U.S.-style law schools open in Japan in 2003 and that new test be conducted two years after that.

The U.S.-style law schools are graduate schools with the exclusive role of educating people to become legal professionals. Currently, people in Japan seeking legal qualifications usually prepare to take bar exams by studying independently or at small cram schools.

The plan, agreed upon during a meeting Tuesday of the Judicial Reform Council, will be incorporated into an interim report to be compiled by the panel in late November. The members will further discuss the issue before they finalize the report in July, they said.

The abolition of the national bar exam would drastically change the country’s system for nurturing legal professionals, which has been in effect since the end of World War II.

The meeting Tuesday decided on the panel’s plan that under the new exam system, applicants can sit for the test a maximum of three times and during the transfer period the current bar exam will also be held in parallel with the new test.

The panel also decided to take exceptional measures for students who cannot enter law schools due to unavoidable circumstances.

It confirmed details of the planned establishment of law schools, such as offering a three-year course for ordinary students and a two-year program for students who graduate from a law faculty.

The panel members agreed that those schools will share some uniformity, such as the type of teachers and obligatory subjects, but that their independence and diversity will be respected and that night and correspondence courses will also be offered.

They made sure of their policies to allow several universities to jointly establish a law school and to let a third-party body monitor the contents of education offered at the schools.

The panel plans to change the training for those who pass the new exam for legal professionals, following the creation of law schools and an anticipated rise in the number of judges, prosecutors and lawyers.

The council has already decided on a plan to increase the number of people qualifying as legal professionals from the current 1,000 per year to 3,000 each year.

Sato said that to raise both the quantity and quality of legal professionals and the entire process of education at law schools, the new exam and training should be prepared to replace the one-time national bar exam.

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