Longing To Litigate

2 minute read
Ilya Garger

How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb? In Japan, it doesn’t matter: there aren’t enough of them around to do it. The nation of 127 million has just 20,000 licensed lawyers; on a per-capita basis, the U.S. has 25 times more. This week, however, 68 graduate-level law schools around Japan will open their doors to more than 5,000 would-be attorneys. “I don’t want to be a salaryman,” says Yuki Imai, 22, a freshman at the University of Tokyo’s new law school. “A law degree will give me more freedom.”

For decades, the government, believing lawyers were better suited to litigious Western societies than to consensus-oriented Japan, prevented the legal population from getting out of control by making the national bar exam notoriously difficult. But with courts backlogged and lawsuits mushrooming, the scarcity of lawyers is becoming dire. “There are lots of cities in Japan without a single lawyer,” says Hiroshi Asako, a dean at the newly opened Waseda Law School in Tokyo. The Japanese Diet passed a bill in 2002 allowing universities to establish graduate law schools, and the “if you build it, they will come” approach is working. Waseda, one of Japan’s largest law schools with 300 first-year students, received 15 times as many applications as it had openings. Law school is even becoming cool: a TV drama last fall followed the lives and loves of a feisty freshman law class. As for the bar exam, it’s still a killer, but the number allowed to pass has been gradually raised. Welcome to the new court order.

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