Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Law schools fail to fulfill role

"Why has the success rate for the new bar examination been lower than expected since it was introduced in 2006?

"One reason cited is the excessive number of law schools. Only graduates of these schools are entitled to take the new bar exam held in May every year. The bar exam is designed for students who have completed two-year or three-year courses at law schools established since 2004.

"The new exam for graduates of a two-year course after completing an undergraduate law course started in 2006, while the exam for those who complete three-year courses at law schools after earning a non-law undergraduate degree or accumulating significant work experience started in 2007.

"The conventional bar exam, for which the success rate is as low as 3 percent, will continue until 2010.

"Successful candidates in this year's exam totaled 2,043, marking the first year-on-year decrease. The success rate stood at 27.64 percent.

"The results disappointed the Justice Ministry, which hoped 70 percent to 80 percent of law school graduates would pass the exam every year after receiving enriched education at law schools.

"Some examinees have decried the new bar exam system linked to law schools as "fraud by the state."

""What has become of the ideal of bringing a wide spectrum of people into the judicial world?" asked a 26-year-old man from Aichi Prefecture on Sept. 10 when exam results were announced. He was shocked by the low success rate.

"It was his second unsuccessful attempt to pass the test. Those who fail three times in five years are disqualified from further attempts to pass the exam, so he has only one chance left.

"He studied art at university. Knowing that the judicial world was seeking to recruit a wide variety of people, he studied for an entrance exam to enter the three-year course of a law school that accepts graduates of departments other than that of law. He could not spare the time to do part-time jobs to help cover school fees because he had to study hard, so he took out a student loan on which he still owes about 7 million yen.

""If I fail the exam next time, I'm not sure whether I can find another career to pursue," he said.

"A professor of a law school in the Chugoku region, whose student in his 30s failed the bar exam for the third time this year, said: "Due to the recession and his age, it's very difficult for him to find a job. We'll help him, but if the number of students in similar situations increases we can't afford to support them."

"A senior Justice Ministry official attributed the low success rate "to an excessive number of law schools accepting too many students."

"The new bar exam was introduced as part of a judicial reform aimed at increasing the number of lawyers and other legal practitioners with a broader range of experience. The ministry set a goal of increasing the annual number of successful examinees to 3,000 by around 2010.

"Unlike the conventional bar exam that was said to require cramming, the new bar exam gives priority to thinking ability. The law schools are asked to educate their students to the point at which 70 percent to 80 percent of their graduates can pass the new bar exam.

"Initially, the ideal number of law schools was set at 20 to 30. However, as many as 74 law schools were established with the fixed number of students ballooning to about 5,800.

"The number of persons disqualified from sitting the new bar exam after failing this year was 571. "Producing a great number of people every year who cannot find jobs easily is a real social problem," one person said.

"The Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, held a special committee meeting on law schools on Sept. 14 to discuss this year's bar exam results. With the success rate for examinees who attended law schools without an undergraduate law degree being about 20 percentage points lower than for those who attended law schools with an undergraduate law diploma, many panelists questioned whether the standards for passing the examinees sufficiently accommodate people who do not have undergraduate law degrees.

"But the Justice Ministry, which has jurisdiction over bar exams, said, "It's impossible to set different pass standards for examinees who have or don't have law degrees."

"Even in the case of exams for judicial apprentices to take before becoming legal practitioners, the number of unsuccessful examinees has been increasing. Answers by one unsuccessful examinee from a law school included one that indicated the examinee did not even understand the principle of the presumption of innocence. This calls into question the quality of education provided at law schools.

"Given the low success rates for the new bar exams, the number of people aspiring to become legal practitioners has already dropped. The ratio of the number of entrance examinees to the fixed number of students has fallen below 2:1.

"Due to the reduced rate, law schools eventually decided to reduce the fixed number of students. The number of students to be enrolled next year is expected to stand at about 4,900.

"Prof. Setsuo Miyazawa at the Graduate Law School of Aoyama Gakuin University said: "Cuts in the fixed number of students are still inadequate. If the situation is left as it is, the number of people aspiring to become legal practitioners is expected to decrease further. If more and more people who do not have law degrees shy away from the judicial world, it will be impossible to foster legal practitioners with a wide variety of backgrounds.""

By Aki Nakamura, Yomiuri Shimbun (9/26/2009), Link to article (last visited 9/27/2009)

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