Law's Dominion and the Market for Legal Elites in Japan

56 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2002

See all articles by Curtis J. Milhaupt

Curtis J. Milhaupt

Stanford Law School

Mark D. West

University of Michigan Law School

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

Milhaupt, Curtis J. and West, Mark D., Law's Dominion and the Market for Legal Elites in Japan (June 14, 2002). Michigan Law and Economics Research Paper No. 02-006; Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 206. Available at SSRN: or

Curtis J. Milhaupt

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Mark D. West (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Professor of Law
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
734-647-4041 (Phone)
734-764-8309 (Fax)

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