The debate on falling bar exam rates and law school reform

Law school reform needed to boost bar exam pass rate (Yomiuri Shimbun, Sep. 16, 2011)

More and more in recent years, a law school diploma does not necessarily open the door to a career in that field.

This year, 2,063 people passed the new bar examination, 11 fewer than last year and a pass rate of 23.54 percent. This percentage has declined for five straight years since the new bar exam started in 2006.

At a Cabinet meeting nine years ago, the government approved a plan to increase the number of people who pass the new bar exam to 3,000 by 2010. However, this year’s figure, like those in recent years, fell far short of this goal.

Since former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s Cabinet, the government has been pushing judicial reform along with administrative reform to reduce the number of public servants, and transform our society of ex ante regulations created by the administration into one that provides retroactive judicial relief.

This is also an opportunity to make the judicial system more accessible to the public so they can more easily seek legal help to deal with daily troubles. This would also make the system more dependable and better able to protect people’s rights.

A large increase in legal professionals is essential for achieving such goals for the nation’s institutional structure. More legal professionals than ever are needed to solve legal problems stemming from the Great East Japan Earthquake.


More legal pros needed

It is crucial to increase the number of applicants who pass the new bar exam to 3,000 as soon as possible. To achieve this, the government should give priority to reforming the nation’s law schools.

Seventy-four law schools are scattered across Japan, which has made enrollment easier. However, the percentage of students who pass the new bar exam remains low at an increasing number of law schools. This deters potential new students, which in turn starts a vicious cycle of deteriorating passing percentages.

For instance, Himeji Dokkyo University stopped accepting applications to its law school this academic year, and the consolidation of the law school at Toin University of Yokohama and Omiya Law School has been decided.

The culling of law schools through consolidations and closures will continue to be unavoidable in the future.


Free up curriculums

Law schools are established with the ideals of emphasizing practical education and creating work-ready legal professionals. However, the current situation has a problem in that the schools are not allowed to teach curriculums that specialize in preparations for the bar exam.

The chief ambition of law school students is to pass the bar exam. Law schools also need to help many students pass the exam and publicize this success from their own business viewpoint.

To bridge the gap between the ideal and reality, we think law schools should be granted more freedom in designing their curriculums.

The questions in the new bar exam also need to be reviewed. The new exam was based on evaluations of the old bar exam, which applicants could not pass without intense cramming. However, the situation remains largely unchanged.

The Justice Ministry is in charge of the new bar exam, and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry supervises law schools. To reform the whole system, cooperation between the two ministries will be the most important factor.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 15, 2011)

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