The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (Nichibenren) has made an emergency proposal to slow down the government’s plan to increase the number of successful applicants in the annual national bar exam to 3,000 by around 2010. Nichibenren said that since the current system of nurturing legal professionals is still in an evolving stage, attention should be paid to maintaining the quality of people who enter legal profession.

In August 2000 a government panel decided to increase the number of successful bar exam applicants from an annual 1,000 to 3,000 and increase by 2.5 times the number of legal professionals, to 50,000 in about 10 years. In 2004, 74 graduate-level law schools newly opened. The number of successful bar exam applicants topped 1,500 in 2006 and 2,000 in 2007.

Nichibenren pointed out that some law schools are giving graduate diplomas to unqualified students, that the law school curriculum is not well coordinated with legal training of successful bar exam applicants at an institution of the Supreme Court, and that new lawyers face difficulty in getting employment at law firms and thus have fewer chances to receive on-the-job training. It also said the fee for initiating civil lawsuits is too high and that government ministries and agencies and business enterprises are not well prepared to employ lawyers.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura criticized the federation for appearing interested only in keeping lawyers’ bottom line in the black. Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said the government will stick to its plan. But Nichibenren’s proposal is likely to have a great effect on the plan since its membership comprises about 80 percent of the nation’s legal professionals.

The federation should realize that increasing the number of lawyers is indispensable for meeting a higher demand for court-appointed lawyers to defend criminal suspects and to ensure that no local area are without lawyers. While the government should make efforts to improve the quality of law schools, Nichibenren on its part should try to find new job areas where lawyers can work.

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