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A government panel plans to review and revise the system implemented to produce more lawyers, judges and public prosecutors in Japan. The main goal of the panel is to reform the bar exam and new types of law schools that were established in the 2000s.

The Justice Ministry, the education ministry, the Supreme Court and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations will take part in the review process. Reform will begin within two years. It is hoped that the government will come up with a realistic plan for helping to improve the quality of legal services for people.

On the basis of a recommendation made by the Justice System Reform Council in June 2001, 74 new law schools opened from April 2004 to April 2005, and a new bar exam began being used in May 2006 to test the graduates of these law schools.

The government adopted a plan in March 2002 that envisaged about 3,000 applicants from these law schools passing the new bar exam each year. But the government dropped the plan when it became clear that only about 2,000 graduates were passing the exam. There is an opinion that the number of successful applicants should be halved. But this should be avoided because it would lower the availability and quality of legal services.

In view of the fact that the performances of some law schools has been lower than expected, the education minister has called for lowering of the number of students enrolled and integrating some law schools. One law school has already closed.

By using two criteria — the pass rate for the bar exam and the ratio of total and successful applicants for entrance exams — the education ministry has been decreasing subsidies for law schools whose performance has been low. This measure has led eight law schools to stop admitting new students.

From next year, the education ministry will use an additional criterion — the “fill-rate” of the enrollment capacity. It will start reducing subsidies for 18 law schools that have failed to meet the three criteria. These figures demonstrate that the quality of many law schools is unsatisfactory.

It has been reported that the review panel is considering depriving graduates of law schools that have failed to resolve their problems of the right to sit for the bar exam. But concentrating on punishing under-performing law schools will not lead to productive results.

Instead, the government should focus on improving the quality of education at such law schools. It should also consider ways to encourage more people to enter law schools and improve employment prospects for graduates, particularly in rural areas where there is a shortage of lawyers. It should also beef up support for law schools whose graduates have a high pass rate for the bar exam, render high-quality legal services in local communities or are active on the international scene.

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