The Japanese Attorney System
Duties of Attorneys
The duties of attorneys are to provide services relating to civil and criminal lawsuits, family matters such as divorce, etc., petitions against administrative agencies, out-of-court settlement negotiations, legal consultations, and other legal services.
The Attorney Act specifies the mission of attorneys as “protecting fundamental human rights and achieving social justice.” In other words, attorneys shall not only render services in the interests of their clients, but also endeavor to protect human rights and achieve social justice through their practices.
In addition, there are neighboring qualifications for specialized practice areas such as tax attorneys, patent attorneys, and judicial scriveners. Nevertheless, the practice areas for such neighboring qualifications are limited to certain fields such as tax matters, patents, and registry services by law and do not have practice areas as broad as those of attorneys.
In order to qualify as an attorney, one must complete a law school curriculum, pass the bar examination, and complete an apprenticeship at the Legal Training and Research Institute.
One may sit for the bar examination after graduating from a law school. The law school system started in 2004, and the law course takes three years in general, or two years for those with basic knowledge of legal studies. Those who cannot go to law schools due to financial difficulties or other reasons may sit for the bar examination by passing a preliminary test (yobi-shiken) introduced in 2011 which anyone can take. Anyone who passes the bar examination can be qualified to legal profession after completing a one-year apprenticeship, in which they need to pass the final examination at the Legal Training and Research Institute of the Supreme Court. The main parts of the apprenticeship are conducted by the District Courts, District Public Prosecutors' Offices, and local bar associations throughout Japan. A practicing attorney cannot concurrently hold office as a judge or a prosecutor at the same time. However, since they all complete the same training of a legal apprentice, it is possible for a judge or a prosecutor to become an attorney and for an attorney to become a judge or a prosecutor.