Friday, July 25, 2008

"More Lawyers Needed

"Given the size of its population, Japan, with just 25,000 lawyers, 3,200 judges and 2,400 public prosecutors, has far fewer legal professionals than do Western industrial nations.

"What this shortage of lawyers means is that unless people can find reliable legal professionals in their community, the ideal of making judicial services easily accessible to all is just pie in the sky.

"Aiming to improve the situation, the government has crafted a policy to increase the number of legal experts to 50,000 by around 2018. To achieve that, the plan calls for raising the number of individuals who pass bar examinations to 3,000 per year.

"Last year, 2,099 passed bar exams.

"But now the Japan Federation of Bar Associations says that number is too large. It has called for the government to scale back the pace of growth in the legal profession for the time being.

"The federation will shortly submit a proposal to the Justice Ministry, which oversees the national bar exams.

"Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura opposes the move.

""I doubt the federation's judgment in this matter. It is acting in a way that is totally inconsistent with its involvement in judicial reform by suddenly making such a proposal," Machimura said recently. This criticism is valid, and the government should not change its policy of increasing the number of people who pass bar exams.

"The federation says it opposes the expansion because the quality of legal trainees at the Legal Training and Research Institute has declined. It says candidates are receiving insufficient education at law schools, many of which were established under a system introduced in 2004.

"The problem, the federation says, is that once they pass the bar, many law students cannot find jobs at established law firms, where they would receive the benefit of training with experienced lawyers. Instead, these neophyte lawyers are setting up their own legal practices.

"Yet, many experienced lawyers are hired by law schools as instructors.

"If these institutions are indeed failing to provide adequate education, the federation should first try to help the schools improve their ability to train legal professionals.

"The job crunch among rookie lawyers is certainly a vexing problem. Many rural areas still have an acute shortage of lawyers.

"For instance, in 24 judicial districts of the branches of district courts nationwide, there is only one practicing lawyer. Both the federation and local bar associations should try harder to figure out how to encourage the glut of lawyers concentrated in large cities to set up practice in other areas of the nation.

"Many overworked lawyers are serving too many clients. To solve this problem, law firms should hire more young lawyers, even if training them means adding an additional burden for a while.

"Meanwhile, we are seeing a spate of bid-rigging and slush-fund scandals involving employees at the central and local governments and in companies. These public and private organizations should hire lawyers as full-time employees to foster a corporate culture of legal compliance.

"With income gaps rapidly widening, many people around the country find it difficult to access legal services. Japan Legal Support Center (Houterasu), an independent organization that provides advice and counseling on legal affairs to the public, received 220,000 requests for help last fiscal year.

"Next year, the citizen judge system begins. Under that system, judges trained in the law will, together with a randomly selected group of citizen judges, decide serious criminal cases through intensive court hearings. In addition, starting next year, crimes such as theft and injurious assault will be added to the list of crimes under which suspects before indictment are eligible for court-appointed attorneys. The list at present only includes grave offenses such as murder and robbery.

"These changes will inevitably increase demand for criminal trial lawyers.

"Since the practice of law is a for-profit business, we can understand the bar community's concerns about excessive competition. But an appropriate amount of competition is good for the profession.

"It is high time that the legal community began to support the principle of judicial reform and to promote plans to increase the number of lawyers in Japan."

By Editorial (7/23/2008), Asahi Shimbun, Link to article (last visited 7/25/2008)

No comments: