A very brief introduction to the Japanese legal profession
I have just come back from Kobe, Japan, where I attended a meeting with the Japanese and Chinese bars. This is an annual event in our calendar, and a beneficial one.
There is much to learn from both China and Japan. For instance, you can tell the state of China’s changes when you discover that the new president of the All China Lawyers Association is the Stanford-educated, English-speaking co-founder of King and Wood, one of China’s largest law firms, with over 1,000 lawyers and other legal professionals, and offices in the US and Japan. Whereas we Europeans told the meeting about the effects of the financial crisis on the regulation of lawyers, the Association spoke about new investment in legal services in underprovided rural areas in their country.
I shall write this week, though, just about developments in Japan - no secrets of course, but material which you would otherwise have to search for on the Japan Federation of Bar Association’s (JFBA) website. I always find the representatives of the JFBA extremely well-informed about changes abroad. They seem to know more about alternative business structures, for instance, than the Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority combined, and follow their development closely. I was pumped for information on the minutiae of the ABSs roll-out programme. (It won’t surprise you to hear that they find them a worrying ethical development.) So it is time that we knew a bit more about them.
The pass rate for the exam to become a Japanese lawyer has for a long time been much lower than the traditional pass rate in European countries. As a result - and doubtless for cultural reasons, too, related to the approach to litigation and the resolution of conflicts - there have always been far fewer lawyers in Japan (population: 128 million) than in comparable-sized Western countries. In 1991, there were just 14,000 lawyers in Japan, of whom 5% were female. Because of a deliberate raising of the pass rate, there is now just over twice that number - 30,000 - of whom 17% are female.
That is still an extremely low comparative number (for instance, the UK has a population of less than half that of Japan, at round 62 million, but has around 150,000 lawyers). Yet the JFBA is worried because the new entrants now cannot all find jobs. As opposed to many European countries like Spain and Italy, where the lack of jobs at the end of qualification as a lawyer does not seem to have had an impact on the numbers wishing to qualify, Japan has seen a drop off in the number of new attorneys over the last few years - only by a couple of hundred per year, but noticeable nevertheless.
The JFBA takes its social responsibilities seriously. We have been told in the past about their programmes to send young lawyers to parts of the country which have no lawyers at all. They keep annual statistics of the regions with no lawyer, or just one lawyer, in them. Even as recently as 2000, there were 34 district courts and branches with no lawyer, and 34 with one lawyer; that figure has reduced to zero with no lawyer and only one with one lawyer.
In our conference pack, there was an advert addressed to woman lawyers. ‘Women attorneys, wouldn’t you like to work actively in rural areas? We are short of women attorneys!! … There are 77 district court branch jurisdictions with no women attorneys.’ The same leaflet goes on to say that the Cabinet Office plan for gender equality wants to increase the number of women attorneys up to 30% (from its current 17%) by 2020, and the JFBA is trying to eliminate the number of areas with no women attorneys.
The JFBA’s other principal concerns are the same as ours: the independence of the legal profession, the protection of confidentiality. They have been more successful on the money-laundering front, having managed to fight off their government some years ago when it wanted to introduce lawyer reporting of suspicious transactions. They have also opened their market slowly but steadily to foreign lawyers, and are often seen as an Asian model to follow by other countries in the region thinking of market-opening.
I am embarrassed that this is so brief when there are volumes to be written (blame the Olympics, or the holiday season, or the fact that it has stopped raining). But the lesson is the old one: there is comfort to be found in knowing that others have our problems, and lessons in how they resolve them.
Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents about one million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs
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