Tough exams blamed for dearth of lawyers

July 16, 1999

Japan urgently needs more law students to meet a national shortage of lawyers.

The country's prolonged recession, which has been accompanied by a record number of corporate and personal bankruptcies, has resulted in increased pressure on law schools to accept more enrolments.

A recent survey revealed that Japan has 16,800 lawyers, or one lawyer for every 6,600 people.

This compares with one lawyer for every 300 people in the United States and one for every 650 people in the United Kingdom.

The principal barriers to a significant rise in the number of lawyers are difficult exams.

"Would-be lawyers have to pass the rigorous entrance exams set by university law faculties and then pass one of the world's most difficult bar exams," said law student Masao Ichigawa.

"Only 1,000 students passed Japan's bar exam last year and most only achieved a pass after

sitting the exam at least five times."

The demand for careers in the law profession forces many students to attend after-school crammer colleges to enhance the chance of passing the difficult entrance exams.

Students from high-income families, who are more able to afford the hefty cost of after-school tuition at crammers, as well as the high cost of tuition at prestigious law schools, continue to win a majority of all those places on offer.

There is also growing concern that too many places in law

faculties are being taken up by men.

Although the number of women entering law faculties has been increasing in recent years, male students are nonetheless still taking up more than two-thirds of the places on offer.

"Much has yet to be done to ensure that students entering law faculties and the legal profession are more representative of Japanese society," said Masao Ichigawa.

A panel of members drawn from the ministry of justice, the supreme court and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has been meeting to consider ideas for easing the shortage of lawyers and for attracting a more diverse range of student.

The panel has already agreed to small increases in the bar exam pass rate but is reluctant to back the sort of big increases that are required to meet the national demand for lawyers.

Panel members have stated that careers in the law profession should remain highly coveted ones.

Students such as Mr Ichigawa also believe there is a strong vested interest in keeping the number of law graduates to a minimum.

"A shortage of lawyers enables legal firms to charge higher fees," he said.

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