Note to U.S. Bar Examinees: It Could Be Worse
American University Washington College of Law, where I teach, has recently established an exchange program with Ritsumeikan University, a law school located in Kyoto, Japan. Our students and faculty regularly visit there, and a group of Ritsumeikan students comes to American University each summer for three weeks to study U.S. law. As a result of my law school’s connection to Ritsumeikan, I have learned a little about the Japanese legal education system, which is in a fascinating period of transformation right now.
Until very recently, Japan has offered no post-graduate legal education. Instead, students would study law as undergraduates and then take the National Law Examination, a wickedly difficult exam with a less than three percent pass rate, producing only 1,200 new lawyers a year. (Compare that with the 2005 U.S. bar passage rate of 64% percent, which produced 51,958 newly-licensed U.S. lawyers that year.) Whatever one may think about the number of lawyers in the United States, the paucity of Japanese lawyers is widely recognized as a problem for the world’s second largest economy. Without lawyers, Japanese businesses and citizens are denied access to courts, with inevitable consequences for the growth of the economy and the advancement of social justice.
In June 2001, the Justice System Reform Council proposed major changes to the Japanese legal education system, which it had developed during its two years of studying the problem. In response to the Council’s recommendations, Japan has established post-graduate professional law schools, such as Ritsumeikan, to provide a three-year legal education with the goal of improving the quality and quantity of Japanese lawyers. A J.D. degree is now a basic requirement for those who will take the new National Law Examination. The pre-established pass rate is higher than before, though still extraordinarily low by U.S. standards – only 3,000 students will be permitted to pass the exam each year. It will be interesting to see how these changes affect Japan in the years to come.
So for those recent graduates of U.S. law schools (and a certain professor at Stanford Law School) who are awaiting their bar results, take a moment to be grateful that your chances of getting licensed to practice law are considerably higher than those of your Japanese counterparts.