Japanese Law Schools in Crisis: A Study on the Employability of Law School Graduates

Date01 January 2016
Published date01 January 2016
Subject MatterArticles
Japanese Law Schools in Crisis:
A Study on the Employability
of Law School Graduates
Masahiro Tanaka1
Fifteen years ago in Japan, the fact that the ratio of legal professionals to the population as a whole
was the smallest among G7 countries (for instance, in 1997, the number of legal professionals per
100,000 people was about 345 in the US and 16 in Japan) became a subject of discussion. Moreover,
the disproportional distribution of Japanese legal professionals into big cities was also a major challenge.
As a policy to increase the number of legal professionals while maintaining their quality, a system of
law schools was created in April 2004. However, a decade on, after the creation of this system, these
schools are facing an unprecedented crisis, and their existence is extremely precarious. The main
purpose of this article is to describe this crisis. The Japanese government has employed a policy to
reduce both the number of law schools and the number of slots for enrolled students in the country
because many law schools currently operating in Japan fail to attract students, and only 25 per cent of
graduates pass the bar examination. As a counterargument against this government policy, this article
proposes that Japanese law schools should strengthen their graduates’ employability by improving
their career support systems, with a focus on producing and supporting law school graduates who
can become not only legal but also non-legal professionals. As support for this position, this article
quotes outcomes of previous studies and uses information from questionnaire surveys and field surveys
conducted by the author and completed by deans at Japanese law schools.
In Japan, until recently, those who had passed the (old) National Bar Examination and completed
apprenticeship training at the Legal Training and Research Institute were able to practise as ‘legal
professionals’ (a generic term encompassing judges, public prosecutors and lawyers), regardless of
their educational credentials. This means that there was no university degree requirement to sit for the
bar exam, nor was an age limit set. Indeed, many apt students passed the bar exam before they had
graduated from their universities. In 2000, 93 universities had law faculties accepting students at the
1 Associate Professor, Research Centre for University Studies, University of Tsukuba, Japan.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
3(1) 38–54
© 2016 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2322005815607133
Corresponding author:
Masahiro Tanaka, 3-29-1, Otsuka, Bunkyo, Tokyo 112-0012, Japan.
E-mail: tanaka.masahiro.ft@u.tsukuba.ac.jp
Acknowledgement: This study was nancially supported by the CASIO Science Promotion Foundation.
Tanaka 39
undergraduate level—about 44,000 new students in total that year. Most teachers in these faculties were
researchers with no experience as practising legal professionals; hence, the educational content they
provided was often not directly useful for applicants to the bar exam. Many of these 93 universities
offered MA and PhD courses in law: however, these courses were designed for the training of legal
scholars, so that they too were not attractive for bar exam applicants.
Bar exam applicants, at that time, instead tended to enter preparatory schools for the bar exam
(although many of them were also university students in law). In June 2001, the Justice System Reform
Council criticized this ‘double school’ situation, and proposed a law school system to replace it, as
A new legal training system should be established, not by focusing only on the ‘single point’ of selection through
the national bar examination but by organically connecting legal education, the national bar examination and
legal training as a ‘process’. As its core, law schools, professional schools providing education especially for
training for the legal profession, should be established.2
In April 2004, this proposal became reality, with 68 Japanese law schools opening as professional schools
at the postgraduate level. In April 2005, six more law schools were added, for a total of 74.
However, these law schools are now facing an unprecedented crisis and their existence is, in many
cases, extremely precarious. Figure 1 shows that at the system’s peak, there were 72,800 applicants
(in 2004), 5,825 slots for enrolled students (during the 2005–07 period) and 5,784 actually enrolled
students (in 2006). By 2014, the total number of law schools had fallen to 67, and drastic reductions in
the aforementioned numbers had taken place, with only 11,450 applicants (15.7 per cent of the peak
figure), 3,809 slots for enrolled students (65.4 per cent of the peak figure) and 2,272 actually enrolled
2 Justice System Reform Council, Recommendations of the Justice System Reform Council—For a Justice System to Support
Japan in the 21st Century 49 (12 June 2001).
Figure 1. Trends in the Number of Applicants, Slots for Enrolled Students and Actually Enrolled Students
Source: Created by the author based on data on the number of successful candidates each year posted on the web page of the
national Ministry of Justice.

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