Failing Law Schools: Japan Edition

Editorial, “Law School Enrollment Blues,” in Japan Times

Perhaps the right rate of expansion for law schools was miscalculated.

In Japan, newspapers don’t throw up their hands and blame applicants; they sometimes criticize the government’s goals. That said, I cherish the Japan Times mistakes-were-made passive voice.

Recruitment failed to meet enrollment goals at 63 of Japan’s 73 law schools in 2011. The number of students enrolled was less than half the quota at 35 law schools, compared with only 14 under-filled schools last year.

Twenty law schools had fewer than 10 new students. The Justice Ministry’s plan to increase the number of lawyers in the country, begun in 2004 with the opening of new law schools and the introduction of a new bar exam, needs serious reassessment.

Yeah, most people who have passing knowledge on Japan’s Justice Ministry’s plan know it’s completely failed. I wrote about it last year here, “Quick Link: In Japan, Blame for Widespread Bar Exam Failure Placed on Exam, Not Scores of ‘La Vernes’,” if you’re enamored with the topic. I also bring it up because the ABA provisionally re-accredited California’s University of La Verne, despite its low bar passage rate. I’m not looking into whether it’s improved since 2011 right now, but La Verne has obviously been included in ABA or LSAC data even though it had lost its accreditation.

As for the Japan Times editorial, it veers off course, which is sad because it’s usually a good publication.

Still, the need for more lawyers is evident. Japan has one lawyer for every 4,119 people, compared with one lawyer for every 250 people in the United States. More lawyers are needed, for example, for businesses expanding abroad and for clearing up the aftermath of the Tohoku disaster. In addition, judges, prosecutors and other law professionals are needed to develop Japan’s domestic legal system, both civil and criminal.

In the above link, I searched up and down for evidence that the new law schools were justified on “lawyers per capita” reasons, but I couldn’t find it. The passage here is as good as any. It’s still a bad justification. The U.S. is a common law country, not a civil law one, and there are all kinds of rationalizations/gimmicks for why there’s not more litigation in Japan, ranging from increased reliance on mediation to resolve disputes (at all levels), Japan being a low-litigious society, to requiring plaintiffs to pay large filing fees.

Also, as far as I’m concerned, the 1:250 ratio is not the one I’d use. It’s probably the ABA’s number of lawyers active and resident in the United States, which includes down-to-earth folk like me who ain’t a-practicing. Given the 35-year rate of law degrees, the ratio is 1:231, which at least implies that the number of ABA grads who don’t take or pass a bar exam is fairly low. This appears good. The reality, though is that the ratio of employed lawyers is much lower. Nearly 1:300 for the Current Population Survey and 1:425 by the Occupational Outlook Handbook. This of course means there are more legally educated Americans than lawyer/judge/clerk/government jobs for them. Not a shining comparison to aspire to.

As for the Japan Times excuse of needing lawyers to clean up Tohoku and to “develop” the law, I doubt the attorney shortage will hamper any litigation against the government for radiation discharges that are less than what you get when flying on an airplane.

The editorial rights its footing on blaming the applicant drop on the country’s improved bar exam: only a quarter of test-takers pass it, which means law schools are better off teaching the test in order to stay alive rather than “how the law actually works”—whatever that means.

Japan needs a more realistic exam with questions pertaining to the theory as well as the practice of law. Lawyers, like doctors and teachers, also benefit greatly from an apprentice system that provides hands-on experience.

These are good ideas. A professional licensing system is costly to either consumers of their services, the professionals, or the public if it nationalizes the education system. To the extent that licensing works, easing the costs while improving training is the only solution.

The editorial moans:

Many aspiring students have spent millions of yen, often at both law and cram schools, only to fail the bar exam repeatedly.

Hey, at least they didn’t put six figures of debt into IBR.


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