Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Lawyers and Job Market in Japan

"About 40 percent of legal trainees preparing to enter the job market as lawyers later this year have yet to receive offers of employment, according to a survey by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

"One of the main reasons for this is a rapid increase in the number of people in the legal profession, meaning more competition for the few spots available at law firms.

"If the situation continues, many legal professionals will have little option but to open their own practices and try to establish themselves as lawyers in an unfavorable climate.

"Another reason for the situation is the limited areas in which lawyers are practicing.

""I've been rejected by over 70 law firms," said a 34-year-old would-be lawyer who passed the bar last year.

"He was hoping to begin his career as an "isoben" lawyer at a firm in the Tokyo metropolitan area after finishing his legal training at the end of this year. Isoben lawyers help their senior colleagues deal with client requests while working on fixed salaries.

"The man intended to cut his teeth at a law firm, find his own clients and forge out on his own. If things had gone according to plan, he would have had no need to worry about his future.

""I've even begun considering just renting space in a law office," he said. In this approach--known as nokiben--lawyers are responsible for finding their own clients and generating their own income.

"The man said he had become increasingly anxious over repaying the 7 million yen he borrowed for law school.

"This man is just one of 2,000 would-be lawyers surveyed last year by the federation. Among the nearly 1,200 who responded, 43 percent said they had not received job offers. This is up from the 30 percent who had complained of the problem in the previous annual survey.

"Fifty-eight of the legal professionals entering the job market last year were unable to find jobs as isoben or even as nokiben, and instead were forced to open their own practices.

"The federation predicts people entering the legal profession will increasingly need to open and run their own businesses, as the glut of lawyers is making it more difficult for legal trainees to get their feet in the door.

"Since 2000, the government has been pushing judicial reform to increase the number of legal professionals in an attempt to improve legal services for the general population.

"As a result, the number of people who pass national bar exams doubled from 1,000 to more than 2,000 annually. As of the end of last fiscal year, there were 28,789 registered lawyers. A decade ago, that number was 17,126.

"Riichiro Takahashi, vice president of the federation, said, "If we start to see a lot of people opening up their own firms without having trained under more experienced attorneys, we could see a lot of problems in terms of protecting citizens' rights."

"With this unprecedented situation, the federation is urging bar associations to explore new areas of need for the profession. In April, the federation opened its Himawari Chusho Kigyo Center, a center for small and midsize companies that do not have lawyers on retainer. Managers with legal concerns can call the center to be transferred to their local bar association.

""We want businesses to know there are uses for lawyers outside of court," one federation official said.

"On July 20, the federation made an urgent request to the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) and other major economic organizations, asking them to make sure their members had a full understanding of services available from corporate lawyers.

"There were more than 400 lawyers directly employed by the corporate world as of the end of last year, but this trend has slowed since Lehman Brothers went bust in 2008.

"As of March, there were 200 lawyers employed as full-time staff at the offices of the Japan Legal Support Center, which provides legal services mainly in rural areas.

"A Japan External Trade Organization official who helps companies in the Shikoku region do business overseas says lawyers are spread unevenly throughout the country.

""There is demand here for lawyers with expertise in international business and other affairs, but there are few nearby," according to the official.

"Nippon Keidanren's Business Infrastructure Bureau says lawyers tend to be concentrated in big cities and there are many regions that have a shortage of lawyers. The bureau also says further measures need to be taken to expand the demand for lawyers by, for example, expanding the network of Legal Support Centers."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (8/14/2010), Link to article (last visited 8/17/2010)

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