Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Law School Curriculum

"In an effort to improve the quality of law schools, the government is considering setting minimum curriculum criteria for such institutions, sources said.

"While the government intends to significantly increase the number of people passing bar exams, it is concerned the increase may have a negative impact on the quality of newly qualified lawyers.

"To alleviate such concerns, the government plans to draw up a so-called minimum curriculum, under which most education programs at law schools will be made uniform with the aim of guaranteeing and improving the quality of education.

"The Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, is expected to examine the issue for about two years before coming to a conclusion, according to the sources.

"Based on Education, Science and Technology Ministry ordinances and other regulations, law schools are currently required to set a minimum number of credits and courses for specific subjects, such as legal basics. However, details are left to individual schools.

"When the government decided to set up law schools as part of efforts to reform the country's judicial system, it was hoped that 70 percent to 80 percent of graduates would pass the new national bar exams, the first of which was held in 2006.

"In reality, however, only 40 percent of examinees passed the second bar exam held under the new system last year.

"By school, Chiba University's School of Law had the highest percentage of successful examinees, at about 65 percent. On the other hand, many schools saw pass rates of below 10 percent.

"The National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation, an independent administrative corporation that rates universities' education and research activities, concluded that five law schools failed to meet specified criteria and were not offering appropriate education. The number accounts for more than 20 percent of the 24 schools that have so far been evaluated by the institution.

"In light of this, members of the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations and other legal experts called for the establishment of core curriculums for law schools, according to the sources.

"In response, the Central Council for Education set up a working group in March to study ways to guarantee certain levels of education at law schools. The group comprises jurists, lawyers and judges, among others.

"In 2001, medical and dental schools around the country introduced core curriculums drawn up by the education ministry. At medical schools, the core curriculum accounts for about two-thirds of the entire curriculum.

"Taking into consideration the situation at medical and dental schools, the central council's working group is expected to work out the outline of law schools' core curriculums and examine whether to link them with areas to be covered by the bar exam, according to the sources.

"Observers believe that the government started considering the introduction of core curriculums for law schools due to concern over the bar exam system.

"Though the system was designed to boost the number of qualified legal experts, various concerns have been expressed over the quality of the law schools, the foundations of the system, with some people also calling for a review of the exam.

"The government aims to increase the number of people passing the bar exam to 3,000 per year by around 2010. However, the goal is expected to be difficult to achieve.

""As long as education at law schools remains at current levels, it will be difficult to achieve the government's goal without making the exams significantly easier," a senior official of the Justice Ministry said.

"But law schools oppose any move to enforce a uniform curriculum. "It will deprive law schools of their independence and take away teachers' ability to innovate," said a university official. "The idea runs counter to the purpose of the law schools, which is to nurture legal experts with various backgrounds."

"According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey in May, at least 10 of 74 law schools that opened in April 2004 are planning to cut their quotas of students.

"The 74 graduate schools were launched in 2004 as part of reforms to legal education. With so many schools opening, however, many found it difficult to fill their quotas.

"A further problem has been the disappointing pass rates for the new national bar exam.

"The new schools are now forced to decide whether they should educate students in smaller numbers in an effort to prevent a decline in standards."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (6/2/2008), Link to article (last visited 6/3/2008)

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