Nation’s law schools must improve for the good of the profession, society
If things are left as they are, talented young people may no longer be attracted to careers in law. The nation’s law schools, meant to be the core of efforts to foster legal professionals, have fallen into a critical situation.
The number of people who passed this year’s national bar exam after graduating from law school stood at 1,929. The pass rate remains low. Hovering around 26 percent, it is a far cry from the 70-80 percent rate originally assumed.
In light of such a reality, students are becoming less interested in going to law school. The number of applicants for law school enrollment this spring has fallen to one-fifth of what it was at its peak.
The popularity of law departments at universities is also declining. At national and other public universities, the number of students applying to law departments has fallen by about 10 percent over the past two years.
As one of the three branches of government depends on a strong pool of legal talent, the foundation of a state under the rule of law may be shaken if the number of young people who aspire to enter legal circles declines.
The first law schools opened in 2004 to further judicial system reform by “fostering an ample source of legal professionals both in terms of quality and quantity.” The schools were initially expected to produce work-ready law practitioners equipped with specialized knowledge and legal analytical abilities.
Yet as the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry broadly allowed many academic institutions to open law schools, as many as 74 law schools with varying levels of quality have opened. As a result, a number of schools had only single-digit numbers of their students pass the national exam for the year.
Weed out subpar schools
Next fiscal year, the education ministry is set to cut its subsidies to 18 law schools that have failed to produce strong results, as the pass rate of their students remains low. The cut is designed to urge these schools to integrate with other schools or leave the field altogether. Law schools that fail in fostering legal professionals must inevitably be weeded out.
Meanwhile, the number of people who passed the bar exam without graduating from law school has been increasing sharply. Such people become eligible to take the bar exam after passing a preliminary qualification test. This year, the number who succeeded surged to 120, nearly double last year’s figure.
The preliminary test system was introduced to open the way for people unable to enroll in law school for economic reasons to tackle the bar exam. Despite this purpose, many law school students used the preliminary exam to take and pass the bar exam without graduating from law school.
If an increasing number of people use the preliminary test as a shortcut to pass the bar exam without completing their law school studies, the hollowing out of law schools will only accelerate.
If the law school system is to be maintained, it is necessary to review it, such as by allowing law school graduates to take the bar exam more often, so that students will become more willing to go on to law school.
Needless to say, law schools, for their part, are asked to strive to improve their quality of education.
Furthermore, the current situation in which many of those who have passed the bar exam and become lawyers are unable to find jobs is serious.
It is naturally expected that students will tend to shy away from entering the legal profession as long as there is little prospect of employment.
The government and legal circles must discuss ways to expand the range of activities for lawyers by, for instance, expanding their job opportunities in local governments and private businesses as soon as possible.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 17, 2013)