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Lawyers of any nationality are a relatively recent phenomenon in Japan. Before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, legal representation was provided by specially designated “innkeepers” who would present issues before the shogun’s court. Even after the arrival of Western-style legal representation, the idea of consulting a lawyer on business matters was unheard of, as implied by the term bengoshi itself, a compound of bengo (defense) and shi (samurai). Literally, a noble defender. Given this narrow view of the profession, Japan simply has not needed lots of lawyers. Those who are licensed must pass a three-phase admission test (which had a pass rate of only 2.6 percent this year), attend the Supreme Court’s Legal Training and Research Institute (an 18-month program focusing primarily on trial work), and pass an exit exam (that few fail). Survivors go on to become judges, prosecutors, or private practitioners. Since the institute focuses on courtroom training, corporate legal departments tend not to hire bengoshi, preferring people with undergraduate legal degrees or just an interest in the law and training them in the specific legal needs of their industry. It’s not surprising then that bengoshi take great pride in themselves. The honorific given bengoshi is sensei, or “teacher,” and the lawyer’s attitude follows: A client with a problem approaches the lawyer, who explains how to resolve it. Success is less about winning than resolving the problem, preferably avoiding court altogether. Alexander “Sandy” Calhoun, counsel at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in San Francisco, is a longtime veteran of the Japanese legal community. He practiced with Blakemore & Mitsuki during the post-World War II period when foreign lawyers were admitted. Bengoshi view themselves as ippiki okami, or lone wolves, Calhoun says. He adds: “Lawyers don’t like being managed anywhere, but it’s especially pronounced in Japan.” As a result, bengoshi historically have favored solo practices or small firms. When Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu passed the 100-lawyer mark in 2000, a new era began. Since then, four other firms have reached 100 lawyers, big enough to develop specialties that are competitive with foreign firms. But even these firms fear for their future, according to Kimitoshi Yabuki, director of the Office of International Affairs at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. After all, the institute offers only general training, forcing the firms to invest precious manpower in training new hires, or send them overseas for LL.M.s or to intern at foreign firms. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has urged that Japanese business and legal systems become more transparent and uniform — and friendly to foreign investors. But that would take more lawyers, more than the institute alone could possibly produce. In July the Diet passed sweeping reforms, including a mandate for universities to open U.S.-style, graduate-level law schools by April 2004. The goal is to raise the ratio of lawyers to citizens, currently at 1:6,300 people, to 1:2,400 by 2018. According to The Japan Times, France is next among industrialized nations with 1:1,640 (the United States has 1:290). Seventy-two universities have applied for licenses to open law schools next year, bringing the number of potential graduates to 5,950, more than four times the number that graduated from the institute this year. Though the schools are to offer specialty courses of study in various practice areas, much remains up in the air, including a new bar exam, which will be introduced in 2006.

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