Japan Times Op-Ed Misdiagnoses U.S. Legal Education

Walt Gardner sends “Japanese and U.S. Law Schools at a Crossroads” to The Japan Times.

Regular readers should be familiar with my opinion on Japan’s failed, futile expansion of its legal education establishment: When criticized for over-emulating the U.S. law school system, it acquiesces when it should double-down on all the arguments their U.S. counterparts give.

But Gardner has his own opinions:

In the United States, the 200 American Bar Association’s accredited law schools are questioning whether too much emphasis is placed on the theoretical over the practical. Possession of a law degree does not necessarily mean graduates are ready to provide legal services, even though three-year tuition can exceed $150,000.

As a result, the number of applicants is down by more than 37 percent compared to 2010. The future is no brighter. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be some 21,880 new jobs for lawyers by 2020 but more than 45,000 graduates by then.

The practical training thing has always been a red herring. What’s important is jobs. Taking Gardner’s numbers as true, we find that there are too many law graduates relative to the number of lawyer job openings. Being well-trained for jobs that don’t exist doesn’t create jobs.

Meditate on that wisdom, Grasshopper.

Gardner, for his part, recommends law schools in both countries “raise their standards to admit even far fewer students” and toughen bar exams.

In the U.S., it would seem, law schools are efficient charities that don’t waste student loans and will self-terminate rather than accept students who have little hope of entering the profession or passing the bar. I had no idea.

Incidentally, does anyone know where this “practical training solution” myth came from? I keep seeing it without any question, as though admitting that there is an oversupply problem will anger Zeus enough to chuck a thunderbolt at you.

Gardner concludes:

The Ministry of Education and Science, which has been accused of being too lax, in accrediting law schools, could take a page from the ABA … in order to protect the integrity of a law degree. Too much is at stake for the Ministry to sit idly by.

Indeed. Thanks to the ABA’s tough standards that Japan should emulate, there are barely 200 law schools scraping by to keep their accreditation. The deans’ nights are sleepless before ABA site visits, and they tremble and stammer whenever the Imperial Accreditors interrogate them about the most trivial infractions.

In the real world, I can only think of three law schools that have lost their accreditation or were denied it in the last few decades. The ABA resisted Western State’s bid because it was a for-profit; it rescinded La Verne’s accreditation because of its graduates’ low bar pass rate, and then reapproved it without explanation; and it denied Lincoln Memorial’s bid in late 2011 only to change its mind last summer.

But the problem isn’t that the standards are too lax, it’s that we don’t need postbaccalaureate legal education. Same goes for Japan, even though it has a different type of legal system. Jobs should come first, and mandatory training should be kept to a minimum. It doesn’t make for an interesting editorial, I guess.

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