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Law school applicants plunge
The Asahi Shimbun
October 17, 2004

The ``sophomore jinx'' doesn't just happen to baseball players-many of the 68 new graduate law schools that opened in April under the nation's judiciary system reform plan are facing a second-year slump in applicants.

Of 46 law schools that have stopped accepting applications for the coming year, 20 received fewer than half the number than they did for this year, an Asahi Shimbun survey found.

At one school, the number of new students nosedived to 10 percent of last year's total, from 755 to 76. All but two of the 46 schools-Sophia University's law school and the Institute for Legal Practice at Fukuoka University, which had slight increases-drew fewer applicants to enter the schools in their second year of existence, according to the survey.

The drop is blamed on growing concern over future job prospects for law school graduates. The ratio of those passing the new state bar examination is expected to be much lower than originally thought.

In the exam's first year, 2006, the Justice Ministry now plans to limit the passing percentage to just 34 percent. Judicial system reformers had initially expected pass ratios of 70-80 percent.

Among current applicants, mid-career people electing to quit their jobs to enter law school fell markedly. So did the number of applicants who majored in subjects other than law in undergraduate courses.

Omiya Law School, which offers day and night-school courses, saw applicants drop from 1,605 last year to 642 for its 100 openings.

``Those already having jobs may opt to wait and see, after hearing how tough the hurdles are and how difficult it will be to pass the bar exam,'' said Hiroshi Tanaka, a lawyer and professor at Omiya Law School.

A senior official of another law school blames the expected low pass ratio for the decline, which ``came as a surprise.''

``The risks are too high for anyone who must give up a job to aim for a career in the legal profession,'' the official said.

Such concerns led a 25-year-old company employee in Tokyo to abandon her plan to go to law school. She instead enrolled in a cram school to prepare to take the current bar exam while continuing to work at her present job. The current bar exam, which anyone can take, will be given until 2010 along with the new exam.

``If completing law school does not necessary guarantee an attorney's job, I'd rather try the current exam,'' she said. ``Three years of law school are too long, and the fees are too high,'' she added.

The trend worries reform planners like Hiroyuki Kabashima, an associate professor at Waseda Law School who formerly headed the office for legal education at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

``As it is, the decline in mid-career applicants will likely shake the foundation of the reforms,'' which are aimed at increasing the number of well-trained attorneys with broad perspectives, he said.

But the education ministry doesn't appear alarmed.

``It is considered that all those who had waited (for law schools' to open) applied in the first year,'' said an official in charge of professional graduate schools. ``The number of applicants will stabilize in a few years.''(IHT/Asahi: October 18,2004) (10/18)