At a recent conference sponsored by the University of Washington School of Law, and the law firm of Perkins Coie, speakers from leading Japanese and foreign law firms in Tokyo opined on the state of Japan’s legal profession since the downturn. A brief summary:
“The panel discussion covered three principal areas: the fall in demand for legal services following the 2008 financial crisis and law firms’ responses to it; legal education and the supply of lawyers; and the effect of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and its aftermath. The panelists viewed both the 2008 financial crisis and the Tōhoku earthquake as “one-time” events that would not affect the long-term health of the legal profession in Japan.”
“The changes during this time included 1) the rise of large corporate law firms, 2) an increase in both the demand for corporate legal services and the supply of lawyers, 3) an expansion in the range of work activities of big firm lawyers and their increasing influence with Japanese businesses and government, 4) mergers, among both domestic and international law firms, and 5) a greater presence by foreign law firms in Tokyo.”
“As noted in the panel discussion four years ago, the Japanese legal profession has emerged from its insularity and limited social role. This panel discussion confirms that reform efforts in the direction of a larger number of lawyers and a greater social role for attorneys are likely to continue, despite recent challenging circumstances that might prompt some to long for the “good old days” when lawyers in Japan were a small elite and passage of the bar exam assured a comfortable life. If anything, recent events have prompted even stronger “American-style” practices at large law firms and have highlighted some of the costs to lawyers and law firms of adopting a broader model for the legal profession. However, by all indications the system is in place, the course has been set, and the voyage across uncharted waters will continue.”
You should definitely take a read to get an understanding of the relative importance of lawyers in Japan historically:
“These changes in the legal profession contradicted a long-standing image of Japan as a place where law and lawyers were of little importance.” (which not many people on the outside know)
And to check some fairly fascinating numbers. For example, goals set for the presence in the early 2000’s:
“The Justice System Reform Council releases its recommendations for reforms to the justice system.
• Graduates of new law schools are intended to have a 70-80% bar passage rate.
• Goal of at least 1,500 successful bar examinees annually by 2004 under the old bar examination.
• Goal of at least 3,000 successful bar examinees annually by 2010 under the new bar examination (with the goal of having
phased out the old bar examination).
• Goal of 50,000 practicing lawyers by 2018.”
Read the full paper…
And stop by Law Alliance to see what’s on offer for local and expat lawyers in Japan.