Designing Innovative Clinical Legal Programs to Respond to Changing Social Needs


My argument is that Japanese law schools are urged to flexibly design innovative clinical programs to respond to changing social needs so as to maximize the educational effect for law students. As globalization progresses and technological innovations advance, our world is becoming more complex, unstable, and unpredictable. In this era, people in economic needs are more susceptible to uncertainty. They are more likely to confront unexpected hardship and less likely to afford to retain their attorney even if required.

Some countries have their national legal aid programs in operation under their national statutes. This type of system is relatively rigid and less flexible, and sometimes not good at addressing new types of legal problems. For example, in Japan, we have a national legal aid program, Hoterasu, funded by the government. The targeted fields of the program are fixed by the law and other national regulations. On March 11, 2011, an unprecedented huge earthquake and tsunami hit the northern part of Japan, and many of the victims fell into utmost difficulties for the needs, including legal aids right after the disaster. However, Ho-terasu was not able to expand its services for a free legal consultation to those people affected by this disaster until after April 2012 because it took time to amend the relevant laws. In addition to this, although arbitration is now acknowledged as an effective alternative dispute resolution in Japan, people who hope to use arbitration cannot rely on the program of Ho-terasu. As these examples show, the Japanese national legal aid system is not yet perfect. On the other hand, clinical legal education is free from restrictions of national regulations. This trait should be recognized as one of the hallmarks of legal clinics. Clinical legal programs have inherently the potential to be designed for a more flexible platform to dramatically improve access to justice for socially vulnerable people. Throughout this article, I will explore what type of clinical legal programs are truly needed in our changing society, focusing on the flexibility of clinical legal education. Creating client interest-oriented programs also maximizes student learning outcomes in clinical legal education. Students’ motivation for their participation is maximized, and they can obtain basic legal skills required as a legal professional in the most effective manner, especially when a law student can feel the importance of herself and necessity as a legal professional.

In Part II of this article, I will examine examples of how clinical legal education has actually functioned as a social infrastructure in society in the U.S. where this pedagogy developed. Every program that I will introduce here was designed to respond to actual clients’ needs at the U.S. law schools. These opportunities enabled law students to effectively acquire legal skills, sense of responsibility, and ethics required as a legal practitioner.

In Part III, I will share two successful achievements of the clinical legal programs at Waseda Law School: Sports Law Program and International Human Rights Program. Both programs were uniquely created as a client-centered program outside of the scope of the existing national legal aid. In the last Part, I will discuss the future of the clinical legal education required in the Japanese educational settings in the light of successful examples explained in this article, and make concluding remarks.

Shiraki, Atsushi, Designing Innovative Clinical Legal Programs to Respond to Changing Social Needs (June 30, 2021). Waseda Bulletin of Comparative Law,

Japan Ministry of Justice approves update to registered foreign lawyer system

The Ministry of Justice in Japan has approved changes to the registered foreign lawyer system, which will expand the scope of practice for lawyers working in Japan. The changes, which are intended to improve practice conditions and expand Japan’s international legal market, are focused around three main issues –

  1. The scope of ‘international arbitration case’ has been expanded, allowing for registered foreign lawyers to participate in a greater variety of international arbitration, including cases where all parties are Japanese, under certain conditions such as the governing law being non-Japanese law. Furthermore, a definition of ‘international mediation’ has been established, which registered foreign lawyers will be allowed to undertake.
  2. The work experience requirement to become a foreign law attorney under the current law is three years, with a maximum of one year of this being work experience that can be taken in Japan. Under the amendment this has been expanded to two years, meaning that attorneys can gain more of their qualifying experience in the market they hope to qualify into.
  3. Finally, the amendment will introduce a joint corporation system, which will allow Japanese lawyers and registered foreign lawyers to form joint corporations and employ each other within these corporations, creating a wider scope of practice for these firms.  This was previously forbidden.

See the text of the amendment (PDF), or the MOJ’s press release for the changes.



Japan Fair Trade Commission seeks comments on introduction of professional privilege

The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) has opened a public consultation into the draft of the amendment of the ‘Rules on Reporting and Submission of Supporting Materials Regarding Immunity from or Reduction of Surcharges’, and the draft of the ‘Guidelines to the Reduction System for Cooperation in Investigation’, following the passage of new anti-monopoly laws last year.

The rule changes being consulted on include rules stating that investigators cannot access documents containing confidential communication between an enterprise and an attorney regarding legal advice about unreasonable restraint of trade, assuming certain conditions are met. Leading to the introduction of professional privilege in Japan for the first time (only in relation to competition law). With Japan being one of only 3 OECD countries which do not recognise attorney-client privilege.