The country has suffered from a shortage of them for sometime. The bar examination has been known for being notoriously hard, with only two to three percent passing it.
Then in 2002, because of the scant number of lawyers to deal with everyday civil and business matters, including bankruptcy (on the rise) and corporate mergers & acquisition (also rising), the national government asked the Ministry of Internal Affairs to expand the number of lawyers by 3,000 per year by 2010.
About 1,000 lawyers passed the exam before 2002 and the end of the period 2009 to 2011, the number reached more than 2,000.
There are now too many lawyers, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The global economic crisis and the swift increase of new lawyers, has made it harder for them to find jobs.
There were 30,516 attorneys registered with the Japan Bar Association as of March 2011. That would be approximately one lawyer for every 4,119 people. By comparison the American Bar Association claimed over 1.2 million active attorneys in the United States. That would be roughly one lawyer for every 250 people.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs has recommended to the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science to cutback on the number of graduating lawyers and reduce the number of law schools. There are currently 74 schools offering the J D. Such a law degree was formerly a requirement before candidates were allowed to take the bar exam, according the 2011 Harvard Law School report on the Japanese Legal Profession.
Reforms taken to increase the number of lawyers
The Japanese legal education system has dramatically changed during the last decade.
“Before March 2004, after students passed a very difficult bar exam, they were required to participate in a one-and-a-half year apprenticeship program at the Legal Training and Research Institute of the Supreme Court,” read the Harvard report. “Then in April 2004 a new system was introduced.”
Forty to 50 percent of law school graduates pass the new bar exam (passage number are capped by a quota) and participate in a one-year apprenticeship program at the Legal Training and Research Institute of the Supreme Court, according to the Harvard Report.
Unlike the old system, students typically studied for several years. Under the new system students study for about one year. They are now limited to taking the exam only three times and within five years of graduation. But due to quotas governing maximum bar passage numbers, approximately half of law student will never be admitted to practice.
The push to create lawyers is now evident in the legal community, where more than 25 percent of the lawyers surveyed were admitted to the bar within the last 5 years.
In the past, Japan rarely used lawsuits as a means to handle disputes. With the rise of patent disputes and international mergers, Japan became acutely aware of the shortage of lawyers.
It remains to be seen, however, whether a long-term drought of lawyers will end up being beneficial to Japan or whether it will result in future gridlock in the legal and judicial systems.