Mr. Kenji Utsunomiya, a lawyer known for his expertise in the area of multiple debt, has been elected the new president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, winning out over Mr. Takeji Yamamoto, a mainstream faction candidate. The contest was decided in a runoff — the first held since the current election system was introduced in 1975.
To become federation president, one must win more votes from the nation’s some 28,800 lawyers than any other candidate, and have the support of more than one-third of the nation’s 52 bar associations. In the March 10 runoff, Mr. Utsunomiya received a majority of votes and won the support of 46 bar associations.
His election underlines opposition to a government plan to lift the number of successful bar exam candidates to 3,000 a year — about 1,000 more than the current figure. Under legal reform, 74 law schools modeled after U.S. law schools have been opened since April 2004, with the aim of remedying the shortage of law professionals. The election of Mr. Utsunomiya, who wants to limit the number of successful candidates to 1,500 a year, will impact efforts by the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Court to increase the bar exam pass rate.
Apparently Mr. Utsunomiya received strong support from lawyers in rural areas who are having a hard time finding work, and young lawyers who fear an increase in competition. Ironically, about 20 percent of the nation’s lawyers graduated from the U.S.-model law schools.
Mr. Utsunomiya’s first priority in his two-year term should be to develop more employment opportunities for lawyers. At present, lawyers rely heavily on lawsuits but there should be more opportunities related to the corporate sector, administrative and social welfare services, and criminal suspects facing indictment. He needs to boost lawyer numbers in areas where the profession is underrepresented, and push for measures that will help to prevent the filing of false criminal charges, such as compulsory videotaping of entire interrogations of suspects.
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