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Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010
Improving law school education
Under Japan's judicial reform to nurture legal professionals who can meet the increasing needs of citizens in law-related matters, 74 new law schools have been set up since 2004. The government hoped that 2,900 to 3,000 of their graduates would annually pass the bar exam. But the results of this year's bar exam, the fifth under the new system, aren't so hot.
A record 2,074 graduates passed the exam, 31 more than in 2009 but still much less than the hoped-for 2,900 to 3,000. The success rate was a record low of 25.4 percent.
The division of law schools into good- and bad-performing ones has become clear. Half of the successful applicants came from the top eight schools. More than a dozen law schools each produced five or fewer successful applicants; their success rate was only around 10 percent. One law school, which has produced only three successful applicants in five years, decided to stop taking students in and after fiscal 2011 and to close eventually.
If the number of successful bar exam applicants continues to languish, law schools will become less attractive and fail to attract talented people. This will further push down the success rate for the bar exam, creating a vicious cycle. It is imperative that law schools improve the quality of teachers and educational programs.
When the new law schools opened, they were popular, their entrance exams attracting many people. But in fiscal 2010, the number of law school applicants was about one-third of what it used to be, and those who were admitted numbered 4,122, or 70 percent of peak enrollment.
A panel of the Central Council for Education in January called on 14 law schools to make strenuous efforts to improve their quality. The education ministry also decided in September to cut subsidies to bad-performing law schools.
But the education ministry should not forget the original goal of the reform and should push the policy of preventing the concentration of lawyers in large cities, by helping law schools eager to nurture lawyers who will work in the countryside. It also should improve scholarship or loans for highly motivated students.