The field study trip to Tokyo was useful in helping me better understand how the Japanese patent system operates and the various career paths available to law students. I learned that the legal profession in Japan is split into three distinct courses: judges, public prosecutors, and attorneys. All prospective attorneys, prosecutors and judges in Japan are required to undergo a one-year apprenticeship at the Legal Research and Training Institute after passing the bar examination. Unlike in the United States, fresh law school graduates in Japan can elect to pursue the judge career path and begin their training as an assistant judge. It is relatively rare for practicing lawyers to be appointed as full-fledged judges, though this also appears to be influence by the fact that many attorneys do not desire to be judges. At Nagashima Ohno, one associate stated that he had previously trained as a judge and was now just starting as a junior associate at the firm. I got the impression that his was a somewhat unique career path. Another difference is that in Japan it appears to be more common for law school graduates to go directly in-house at a company as opposed to first working at a big law firm, as I learned from one of the attorneys on Sony’s patent team.
I also thought that Japan’s system of judicial research officials and technical advisors was an interesting—and seemingly effective—innovation. Judicial research officials are full-time court officials whose role is to assist judges by conducting research on technical matters necessary for hearing and resolving IP cases. Technical advisors provide judges and parties with explanations on the technical matters involved in the lawsuit. That the IP High Court has this apparatus in place appears to be one factor that contributes to the relative speed, low cost, and effectiveness of Japanese IP litigation.
The field study was a great opportunity for students, and I would definitely recommend that SLS continue to offer similar programs in upcoming years!
Liu Ming Shu JD '18