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They Were Barred for 30 Years : Pact Allows U.S. Lawyers to Practice in Japan Courts

February 28, 1987|OSWALD JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — After years of tough negotiations, the United States and Japan formalized an agreement Friday that will let American and other non-Japanese attorneys practice law in Japan for the first time in more than 30 years, the Reagan Administration announced.

The limited agreement, effective April 1, will permit American lawyers to advise Japanese clients on American law or international law but will continue to keep Japan's courts closed to all but about 15,000 specially trained practitioners, virtually all of whom are Japanese.

At the start, U.S. lawyers eligible to apply for registration with Japan's Justice Ministry and the Japanese Federation of Bar Assns. will be limited to those five states, including Califor1852399916practice as foreign legal consultants--the same status to be legalized in Japan on April 1.

Yeutter Lauds Agreement

But even this limited easing of one of the most restrictive legal environments in the world was hailed Friday by Clayton K. Yeutter, the special U.S. trade representative, as an important step toward opening Japan's market to other services that Americans have had difficulty in exporting.

Yeutter and Nobuo Matsunaga, the Japanese ambassador, exchanged letters Friday, detailing the qualifications and procedures that would be necessary for non-Japanese lawyers to take advantage of the new agreement.

At the request of the Japanese government, the text of those details was not made public, U.S. trade officials said. Because some members of Japan's legal Establishment fiercely resisted even the limited concessions in the agreement, U.S. officials believe the Justice Ministry is insisting on keeping the language of the agreement under wraps.

A Three-Month Procedure

Under the agreement, trade officials said, a U.S. lawyer would have to demonstrate that he had practiced law for at least five years, and he would apply for qualification to practice the law of his home state and other states in which his clients do business. The Justice Ministry and the Federation of Bar Assns., jointly responsible for processing the application, are said to have promised that the procedure would take no more than three months.

The closed shop in Japan's legal system dates back to the end of the post-World War II occupation, but American attempts to gain access to it date back only to 1974, when the American Bar Assn. opened negotiations with its Japanese counterpart, the Federation of Bar Assns. The talks were stalemated for eight years, and in 1982 the U.S. trade representative's office put the issue on the agenda of wide-ranging market-opening negotiations with Japan.

In 1985, after Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone initiated a program to open Japan to foreign trade, Yeutter began a series of negotiations on the legal issue that led last spring to legislation for the first time opening Japan to limited legal services by foreigners. Since then, negotiations have been aimed at refining that law.

Tough Bar Exam

Until Friday's agreement, no foreign lawyer has been allowed to practice any kind of law in Japan without passing a bar exam so tough that only 1.7% of Japanese candidates pass at any one time. And, even after passing the exam, an aspirant to Japan's tiny legal fraternity must then compete for one of 500 annual places at the country's only post-graduate professional law school, the quasi-official Legal Training Institute.

The rigorous requirements help explain why Japan has only 15,000 official lawyers, compared with about 650,000 in the United States.

But Glen Fukushima, the U.S. trade official who headed the working level negotiating team, said that up to 130,000 Japanese legal specialists offer services, analysis and advice of the sort that would count in the United States as the practice of law. Under the new agreement, Americans for the first time would be able to join those ranks.

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