monday, 4 april of 2016

Japanese Lawyers’ Problem: Too Few Cases

Japan is struggling with an unlikely problem: Its people aren’t litigious enough.

Fifteen years ago, the nation kicked off a plan to double the number of lawyers. Officials thought they could breathe dynamism into society by mimicking the Western legal system, where courts are more involved in settling issues such as consumer safety and corporate malfeasance.

But Japan’s new lawyers have failed to make a winning argument for why they are needed. The number of regular civil cases filed each year hasn’t budged in a decade. With crime near a record low and bankruptcies plunging, many lawyers are pleading poverty.

“It’s getting a lot harder to make ends meet, no doubt about it,” said Shinichi Sakano, who runs a law firm in Osaka with a partner.

The average income of private attorneys fell to ¥9 million—about $80,000—in 2014 from ¥17.5 million in 2006, according to bar association figures.

The number of applicants to law schools has fallen to one-seventh of the peak. When Japan’s academic year begins April 4, fewer law schools will be welcoming new students than at any time since the current education system was introduced in 2004.

“Fewer people, and especially fewer high-caliber people, are coming to the legal profession,” said Kozo Fujita, former president of Hiroshima High Court, in an internal newsletter for the Japan Bar Association. “This is a very serious problem.”

The move to overhaul Japan’s legal system dates to the collapse in the early 1990s of its stock-market and real-estate bubble—which was blamed in part on opaque regulations and shady business practices. The nation sought to move toward a more market-oriented, rule-based approach.

A government council recommended in 2001 that U.S.-style law schools be established. It called for the number of legal professionals—lawyers, prosecutors and judges—to rise to 50,000 by 2018 from 20,000 at the time.

The plan was duly put into practice and dozens of law schools offering three-year courses opened. The number of newly minted private lawyers each year doubled to about 2,000 a year, to a total of nearly 37,000 now, compared with just over 17,000 in 2000. Even with the new additions, Japan still has far fewer lawyers per capita than the U.S. and major European nations.

Mr. Sakano said the overhaul ignored cultural differences with the U.S., whose law schools served as a model.

“A system that works in a heterogeneous society like the U.S. may not necessarily be suited to Japan,” he said. “Japanese have shown preference for more informal means of resolving disputes, such as through private negotiation mainly between the parties involved.”

(Published by The Wall Street Journal - April 3, 2016)

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