Changes in Japanese Legal Education

WATSON, Andrew (2016). Changes in Japanese Legal Education. Journal of Japanese Law, 21 (41), 1-54.

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This article seeks: to explain features of the previous system of legal education in Japan; to present criticisms made of it; to describe, in the context of wider social and economic reform, the origins of the Judicial Reform Council and its key recommendations including the creation of law schools, the most important development in Japanese legal education for sixty years; to recount their opening and the preparation beforehand; to give an account of the factors that have obstructed achievement of their goals; to set out how law schools, students and commentators responded; to list the very real achievements of law schools and finally to offer some concluding thoughts about their future and attempt to put them in an international context. At the beginning of the last decade the Japanese government saw a reformed legal system as key to social ordering and resolving disputes, which were expected to rise as the country moved away from organisation by central administrative planning and guidance towards the free market, individualism, personal autonomy, and fuller participation in globalisation. Vital to this was the creation of graduate law schools intended to increase both the size and capabilities of the legal profession. The most striking – and much commented upon – characteristic of the old system, that of tens of thousands of candidates sitting the National Legal Examination, and on average two per cent passing, vanished as a result of the inception of law schools in 2004. However, although capable of teaching a deeper intellectual, critical and more reflective understanding of law and many useful lawyers’ skills, law schools have been hindered in their ability to do so by a decision taken in 2003 which permitted many more to be created than was originally anticipated and subsequently by government refusal to allow the number of their graduates who pass the new National Legal Examination to rise to that initially projected because, contrary to predictions, demand for legal services did not increase. These factors combined to produce an annually decreasing pass rate. Understandable preoccupation by students, and their teachers, with success in the National Legal Examination led to concentration at many law schools only on examinable subjects and marginalisation of those not but nonetheless beneficial. Also features from the previous system appeared, including students attending cram schools for exam techniques and even absenting themselves from classes in order to do so. Because of considerable anxiety about passing the National Legal Examination, substantial expense and uncertain job and salary prospects, uniting to form what one professor described “as a process of suffering,” student enrolment at many schools, especially those whose graduates perform badly in the NLE, sharply decreased. Most law schools have suffered reductions in the amount of subsidy they receive for their courses from the government. At the time of writing, 23 out of the 74 law schools had stopped accepting new students, more were anticipated to follow, and many of these were expected to close when existing students completed their courses. Substantial reductions in places available and in students to occupy them – many law schools now report they are undersubscribed – may well lead to fewer taking the National Legal Examination and hence a rise in the success rate, notwithstanding the capping of the number who may pass to 1,500. Freed from intense competition with each other and from the enormous exam anxiety of their students, the remaining law schools may be able to deliver the deeper and broader legal education recommended over a decade ago by the Judicial Reform Council: Certainly this is the optimistic prediction of some law school professors. Law schools are much exercised with the Preliminary Examination, introduced in 2011, successful candidates in which are allowed to take the National Legal Examination without attending law school. Critics say this exam, intended for people unable to afford law school but wanting to become lawyers, or those who had practical legal experience, has become a shortcut used by undergraduate law students and law school students to take the National Legal Examination. If numbers passing this examination continue to rise, it is feared it will become a grave threat to the existence of law schools.

Item Type: Article
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Law Research Group
Departments - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities > Department of Law and Criminology
Page Range: 1-54
Depositing User: Andrew Watson
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2016 10:30
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 04:03

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