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Seventy-four new law schools have been established since 2004 under a reform policy for the legal profession. A new bar exam was introduced for graduates from these schools while the traditional bar exam, open to anybody, was continued. The latter, which had a history of more than 60 years, came to an end recently. It is important that the government improve the new bar exam so that passing it signifies competence in lawyers, judges and public prosecutors.

The government pushed a plan to let some 3,000 applicants pass the new bar exam to be held around 2010. The plan was based on the view of the government’s judiciary reform panel that Japan should have a large number of people in legal profession who have wide social experience, expert knowledge in legal matters and a keen sense of human rights. But in 2010, only 2,133 people passed the exam.

In December, the number of lawyers in Japan surpassed the 30,000 mark for the first time. The government’s plan calls for eventually increasing the number of lawyers, judges and public prosecutors to 50,000.

Although the new bar exam was designed for graduates of newly established law schools, the government has decided to revise it. Under the revision, people who are not graduates of such law schools can take the bar exam if they pass a preliminary test.

The shape of the preliminary test poses a difficult problem. If it is too easy, the raison d’etre of the new law schools will be destroyed. If it is too severe, it will only benefit people who have enough time and money to prepare for the test. Each time the preliminary test is given, its results must be closely examined to accumulate data to improve it.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations is rather negative toward raising the number of lawyers, saying that demand for lawyers’ services is not increasing under the current economic downturn. People who have newly acquired a lawyer’s license have difficulty getting jobs. But it must be remembered that many people need timely and appropriate assistance in legal matters.

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