Studying law is a challenging task. This challenge is compounded when you decide to practice law in a country whose native language is different from your own. By deciding to become a bengoshi (lawyer) you take on the task to not only learn the laws of another country, but also to familiarise yourself with the language and culture of a socially complex society.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Bachelors degree
- Student visa
- Proof of financial stability
Learn as much as you can of the Japanese language. You'll need to know more than the average English speaker who moves to Japan to work, since you need to understand all the legal terms used in court. You also need to understand different dialects and patterns of speech if you'll be working with clients from different regions and backgrounds; for example, people from the Kansai region speak much differently than those in Tokyo and use many words you'll never hear in the Kanto region.
Apply to a law school in Japan that accepts international students. Some schools are used to students from abroad and have close ties to universities in other countries; Aichi University has many such connections throughout the world, including four schools in America. Most law schools require you to take an entrance exam in addition to passing the Examination for Japanese University Admission (Nihon Ryugaku Shiken) to prove your level of Japanese comprehension. A letter of recommendation from your undergraduate institution is sometimes required and usually recommended. Foreign students have the additional requirements of obtaining a student visa and providing proof of your ability to cover the cost of your education and expenses while living in Japan. Most law schools in Japan have three-year programs, although some offer two-year programs for those with previous law-related knowledge.
Pass the Japanese bar exam when you complete your law school education. Many cram schools exist in Japan for the sole purpose of helping law students to pass this exam. Given the declining rate of lawyers in Japan the exam was rewritten in 2004 to allow more examinees to pass, but the test is still a challenge even for native speakers and you only get three chances to pass the exam before you're banned from trying again. Another change recently implemented is the addition of a degree from an accredited post-graduate school as a prerequisite to take the exam, whether it's a Juris Doctorate (JD) or a Masters of Law (LLM).
Complete one year of training at the Legal Training and Research Institute of the Supreme Court in Japan. This step can only be completed once you've passed the bar exam, at which point you become a legal apprentice until you've finished this training. After you complete the year-long training you're qualified to register as a bengoshi.
Tips and warnings
- If you're female, you may have a more challenging time entering the field of law as a bengoshi in Japan than if you were male. Japan is a socially progressive country in many ways, but law firms are usually more traditional than other occupations and women in the position of an attorney are relatively scarce.
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