Saturday, July 12, 2008

Judicial Reform: JFBA and The Increase in the Number of Lawyers

"The Japan Federation of Bar Associations is set to withdraw its backing of a government initiative to sharply increase bar admissions, it was learned Thursday.

"The umbrella body of bar associations across Japan plans to recommend that the Justice Ministry "slow down the pace of personnel increase for the near term," by setting aside targets for the number of people passing the bar exam, according to sources.

"The government plans to expand the quotas annually, to 3,000 by 2010, as one of the pillars of the country's ongoing judicial reform.

"The federation's administrative board will adopt the proposal in a meeting to be held as early as next week, federation sources said.

"The ministry may review its policy of increasing the number of legal practitioners in light of the federation's proposal and other views, a move that would fundamentally alter judicial reforms, ministry sources said.

"The number of people passing national bar exams surpassed 2,000 for the first time in 2007, after hovering around 500 annually until around 1990.

"If the government proceeds with current plans, the judiciary--including lawyers, judges and prosecutors--will be 50,000-strong within a decade, from about 29,000 today.

"But many lawyers and other legal experts still oppose the policy switch, and the federation's move will likely spark controversy.

"According to the draft proposal, the bar federation believes that the increased number of people passing bar exams has resulted in "lower quality" legal trainees, because some law schools offer insufficient education on basic subjects.

""To only pursue the quota of 3,000 will make the legal community one that lacks the fundamental legal knowledge and practical ability," the draft says.

"The draft also points out that many newcomers to the legal profession now practice law without having had sufficient opportunity to learn from senior lawyers at law firms because of the rise in legal trainees who fail to find work at law firms.

"The shortage of job opportunities is partly to blame for the degraded quality of legal services, the draft said.

"In an extraordinary general meeting in November 2000, the federation adopted a resolution calling for measures to increase the number of legal professionals, to address the shortage of lawyers in rural areas and make them play a larger role in society.

"The plan to increase the bar admission quota to 3,000 by 2010 was subsequently approved by the Cabinet in March 2002 as a part of a judicial reform package that also includes the planned introduction of the lay judge system.

"In the wake of reported difficulties encountered by young lawyers finding work at law firms, however, the federation changed its stance. Many senior lawyers also fear that their client numbers will dwindle.

"During the federation's presidential election in February, pro- and anti-reform candidates went head to head. Current president Makoto Miyazaki, who pledged to proceed with the judicial reform, won the seat, but only after he proposed to "reconsider" the federation's stance on the reform.

"One reformist federation member expressed regret about the planned proposal, which, the lawyer said, runs counter to ongoing judicial reforms.

""It is as if the federation is setting aside its ideal to aspire to a judicial system that plays a larger role in society," the lawyer said."

By Miako Ichikawa (7/11/2008), Asahi Shimbun, Link to article (last visited 7/12/2008)

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