Law's Dominion and the Market for Legal Elites in Japan
56 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2002
Date Written: June 14, 2002
In this Article, we present data on legal elites in Japan - legally trained university graduates poised to pursue successful careers either as fast-track bureaucrats or lawyers handling sophisticated business transactions. The data show a marked shift in employment patterns over the past decade: increasingly, Japan's most elite university graduates are forsaking the bureaucracy for law.
We find that changes in Japan's underlying economic, political, and legal institutions are a primary cause of this shift. We argue that this trend is not a temporary phenomenon, but reflects a more fundamental transfer of authority in Japan from the bureaucracy to the legal system. The evidence sheds new light on two longstanding debates: the impact of law and lawyers on economic success, and the bureaucracy's role in the governance of the Japanese economy.
The data we examine are hard to square with the widespread view of Japan as "Exhibit A" for the proposition that societies encourage economic growth by steering their most talented youth away from "redistributive legal careers." Rather, the data indicate that in Japan (as elsewhere), talented college graduates pursue positions of power, prestige, and profit. While those positions were once located in the elite economic bureaucracy, they are now migrating to the legal system. Contrary to the evidence of stagnation in the economic and policy environments flowing out of Japan in recent years, close examination of the career choices of Japan's most highly regarded youth reveals a society in transition.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation