Agovernment forum on nurturing law professionals — judges, public prosecutors and lawyers — has started discussions. It is scheduled to come up with proposals by the end of this month on the question of whether the scholarship system for trainees at the Supreme Court’s Legal Training and Research Institute should be continued. Those who have passed the bar exam join the institute to become law professionals.

The forum, headed by Mr. Takeshi Sasaki, former president of the University of Tokyo, includes legal experts, representatives of labor and business organizations, and senior vice ministers from the Justice Ministry, the education ministry, the internal affairs ministry and the trade and industry ministry.

Discussions by the forum are open to the public, except when bar exam content is being considered.

At one point it was decided that the scholarship system, which uses tax money and covers all legal trainees, should be replaced by a student loan system. But last year, it was decided to extend the scholarship system for one year, mainly because of a request by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

In principle, there should be no objection to the scholarship system as long as state finances are in good condition. But state finances are in bad shape, and the imminent reconstruction of the coastal areas of the Tohoku region that were devastated by the 3/11 triple disasters will require an enormous budget.

Legal trainees experiencing financial difficulties should be helped with a scholarship. But the government should consider using at least part of the annual ¥10 billion now allocated in support of such scholarships for other meaningful purposes such as helping people who need legal aid.

A more important task for the forum is how to improve the quality of education at the 74 new law schools that have been set up since 2004 as part of Japan’s legal system reform.

The forum must find ways not only to strengthen students’ knowledge about legal matters but also to help them acquire a balanced sense of humanity.

It should also find out what kinds of legal services society now wants, and decide on how to make law professionals responsive to society’s demands, what the bar exam should be like, and what should be the appropriate number of successful bar exam applicants.

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