Wednesday, Dec. 22, 1999
Last of three parts Staff writer The push for judicial reform in Japan is prompting universities and bar associations to consider introducing postgraduate programs that will not only increase the number of legal professionals but also improve their skills. Unlike the United States, Japan does not have such professional schools to educate candidates for legal professions. Existing law schools at the postgraduate level mainly focus on fostering academics. To become a lawyer in Japan, a candidate's bar exam score must be high enough to be within a top quota, set at 1,000 this year, and the person must attend the Legal Training and Research Institute -- under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court -- for an 18-month internship. A college degree is not required to take the bar exam, thus, the door is wide open for anyone wanting to enter the judicial world. In reality, however, only about 3 percent of examinees succeed every year on one of the most difficult state exams. During the internship, the elite apprentices are trained for six months under the guidance of judges and three months under prosecutors and another three months with defense attorneys. After passing the internship evaluations and a final exam, trainees are rewarded with licenses to begin their careers in one of the three legal professions. But business circles and politicians are concerned about the current system. In 1998, both the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) and the Liberal Democratic Party expressed similar concerns on separate occasions. Due to deregulation and globalization of the marketplace, they urged an increase in the number of lawyers and those capable of practicing law in complicated and technical matters.
Set quota a key hurdle
The limit on the number of candidates that the training institute can take is also behind the call for a new type of law school, said lawyer Hidekazu Taga, a member of the law school discussion team of the Tokyo Bar Association. "Because the number of students will grow, the institute campus in Saitama Prefecture will be unable to handle all of them, and the number of instructors will not be sufficient," said Taga, who has lectured at the institute. The growing trend for college students to attend cram schools to better prepare them for passing the bar exam has also drawn criticism from scholars and legal professionals. "Most young lawyers these days are so accustomed to accepting things as they are that they are incapable of giving independent thought to issues they face," Taga said. Many young lawyers lack knowledge of history and literature in addition to an inability to write kanji, he said, adding, "We really need to educate these lawyers, to broaden their knowledge and (get them to) push their own views." Makoto Ito, chairman of Itojuku, a prep school for the bar exam that has nearly 10,000 students nationwide, shares this view. He said some students take the exam just for the challenge. However, some cramming is inevitable under the current bar exam, Ito said, adding that the roots of the problem go deeper. "It stems from the competitive education system that begins in the early stages of Japanese life," he said. "The ability to debate or think independently should be acquired before they even reach their college years." A former practicing lawyer himself, Ito stressed that his school educates would-be lawyers not just on exam techniques but on how to think like a lawyer, in addition to encouraging them to consider what they want to do with their legal career. "We struggle so much to fill the gap between our ideals and the reality," he said. "It's very tough, but someone has to do it. I really want universities to reflect on this and see how little they have done to improve the situation."
Real life, real test
In recent months, the University of Tokyo, Kobe University and other educational institutions, along with experts and bar associations, have proposed plans for a new system for educating future legal professionals. They call for not only cramming legal knowledge into students but also training them to cope with events not covered in textbooks. To replace the current bar exam, which effectively serves as an employment test, they propose a new exam that reflects student achievements in class. Compared with the current success rate of the bar exam, the new test would see an average 70 percent to 80 percent of law school graduates passing, they said. Yukio Yanagida of the Tokyo Bar Association, one of the first to launch a draft plan for a new law school system, stressed the importance of raising the intellectual level of would-be lawyers to nurture insight into people and the problems they face. To achieve this, Yanagida suggests undergraduate education be limited to liberal arts and that current law schools at the undergraduate level be abolished. Students should begin their legal education at law school after a grounding in liberal arts, Yanagida said, citing the curriculum at Harvard Law School.
Every college has one
Yanagida's plan is widely recognized as an ideal model for law schools in Japan. But because law schools exist in 92 universities across the country, which nearly 50,000 undergraduates enter every year, introducing such an innovative system could be difficult. "Undergraduate law courses have served to teach law to not only undergraduate students aspiring to the judicial world but also those wanting to become public servants or enter the private sector," Yasuo Hasebe, a law professor at the University of Tokyo, said at a symposium on law schools sponsored by Daini Tokyo Bar Association at the beginning of December. Some national universities have suggested establishing so-called Japanese-style law schools by incorporating the postgraduate law school curriculum with the existing undergraduate course. According to these proposals, undergraduates in law schools who wish to become legal professionals will be required to take exams to enter the new law school course. After receiving legal education in law school and finishing the bar exam, graduates would attend the Legal Training and Research Institute to receive practical training, according to the universities' proposals. However, some oppose such plans, saying they would not give students majoring in other departments, enrolled in other universities or those who have graduated, the opportunity to enter law school. Hasebe also noted that "holding exams to enter such law schools may invite a further problem of students going to cram schools to pass the exams." While discussion on the issue continues, Setsuo Miyazawa, a professor of law at Kobe University, encourages more lawyers to participate in the debate. "The issue is what sort of training we should be providing to those who will serve to protect citizens' rights and their properties," Miyazawa said at the Daini symposium. "Professionals should be responsible by using their imagination and creativity." Lawyer Taga agrees. "Academics and those in the judicial world were estranged from each other for a long time, but the issue needs to be discussed together," he said.