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The Challenges of Change Facing the Legal Profession Today―A Judge, Prosecutor, and Lawyer Discuss Today's Reality

Third Collaborative Course with Otemachi Academia

Kumiko Shimoyama/Judge, Tokyo District Court
Kenichi Nakajima/Attorney, Criminal Affairs Bureau Ministry of Justice
Chihiro Nishida/Attorney and Assistant Manager, Legal Department, Marubeni Corporation


In this collaborative course, three speakers took the stage: Kumiko Shimoyama, a Tokyo District Court judge; Kenichi Nakajima, who works at the Criminal Affairs Bureau Ministry of Justice; and Chihiro Nishida, an in-house lawyer at Marubeni Corporation, a general trading company.

All three of the speakers studied law at Chuo University and passed the bar exam, and now work in different professions. However, one thing that they have in common is that they're spearheading the transformation of the legal profession, which aims to become more IT-oriented and globalized. They talked about what it means to be a legal professional in the modern world as well as, the differences in and the changes they are seeing in each occupation's work styles.

To be of service to everyone--being a judge as the ideal career

Judge Kumiko Shimoyama says that judges preside over proceedings, make decisions, and coordinate dispute resolutions. The work of a judge is multifaceted, and often extends outside the courtroom.

In addition, since judges are required to have a wide range of knowledge, almost all judges appointed after 2004 have experienced temporary transfers to external organizations. Judge Shimoyama has also been on a temporary transfer to the Central Labour Relations Commission. Not only that, but she's also required to participate in training and study sessions in order to constantly expand her knowledge.

The life of a judge is very busy and full of responsibilities, but she says that it's "a much freer world than I imagined." For Judge Shimoyama, who wanted to be of service to everyone rather than working for someone else, being a judge who makes decisions according to her own conscience, was truly her ideal profession. In addition, Judge Shimoyama has taken childcare leave, as well as time off to accompany her husband on overseas assignments, and she says both systems were easy for her to use.


A boy with a strong sense of justice with dreams of becoming a prosecutor

As a prosecutor, Kenichi Nakajima is transferred almost every two years to different posts around the country. He says that he barely has the chance to become familiar with an area before he's transferred again, but that it's also an interesting experience to learn about the various regions of Japan.

As a child, he had a strong sense of justice and dreamed of becoming a police officer, but he eventually decided to become a prosecutor so that he could fight for social justice through the power of law.

As society changes, the nature of a prosecutor's job has also changed significantly. Crime is becoming more sophisticated and internationalized, and prosecutors are required to keep up with these changes. In addition, trials with lay judges, which were implemented in 2009, are criminal trials for serious crimes, in which members of the general public discuss cases with the judge on an equal footing in order to render a verdict. To make this possible, statements and interrogations must be made in ways that are understandable to everyone. To this end, they engage in various efforts to improve the ability of prosecutors to establish proof, such as through mock trials.

He explains that whenever there's a criminal case, many difficult questions arise, such as deciding whether to request a trial, to settle for summary indictment, or to have the case dropped or the prosecution suspended. He also explains that this is why the experience of conducting various investigations to unravel the truth and deliver the appropriate disposition is so rewarding.


Facing the challenges of the world as an in-house lawyer at a general trading company

Chihiro Nishida joined Marubeni Corporation 11 years ago, immediately after qualifying as a lawyer. At that time, there were only a few in-house lawyers at the company, but now there are dozens of law professionals at its domestic and overseas offices.

When she was a student, she participated in an internship at a company where she learnt how joyful it is to collaborate with people on projects, but at the same time, she felt that if she didn't have some kind of a special skillset, she wouldn't be able to compete with people of her generation who have a diverse range of talents. That's when she decided to put an effort to pass the bar exam and be qualified as a lawyer.

As she began her career as an in-house lawyer, she realized that this is a better path for building a career than joining a major law firm, since in-house lawyers have the opportunity to play a larger, more active role from their first year of joining a company. Another advantage of working at a major general trading company is that it offers a comfortable working environment with benefits such as remote working and flextime.

As a company that engages in business all over the world, the work of the Legal Department also extends internationally. She often works with overseas business partners and law firms, and although bridging the gap in thinking with her overseas counterparts with different cultures and customs can be difficult, she finds it more interesting and rewarding.


Legal work is hard but rewarding

In the legal profession, you're required to respond to a series of novel problems that arise with the times. There have been attempts at digitization, but it's still a world where the culture of hard copy documents is deeply rooted.

Nakajima is in charge of promoting the use of IT in criminal procedures. In rural areas, police officers spend several hours going to the court to request a warrant, receiving a warrant issued by a judge, and then returning to the scene to spend another several hours executing the warrant. A system that allows them to request warrants online would make it easier to maintain social order through the rapid execution of warrants.

Judge Shimoyama is also in a position to promote the use of IT in civil trials. Procedures for online dispute resolution have already been implemented, and online submissions of legal briefs and documentary evidence have also begun. From FY2023, oral arguments will also be conducted online, and there are now efforts being made to create a system that's easily accessible to the public, with the goal of completely digitizing civil trials by FY2025.

Nishida, who works for a private company, says that digitization and efforts to go paperless are rapidly progressing with the introduction of systems that allow the online viewing of legal books and electronic signatures. It seems that translation and contract review systems using AI are already becoming a reality.

Although the three speakers are in different occupations, what they all have in common is that they feel the work of the legal profession is difficult but rewarding. Nakajima, who is a prosecutor, feels that what he learned in practical courses during law school is useful in his work. Nishida, the in-house lawyer, says that all of the three legal professions require high levels of writing and Japanese skills (as well as English skills in the case of general trading companies). You can't write something that can be interpreted differently by different people. She explains that she developed these skills during her time in law school.

Judge Shimoyama continues to study by participating in various study groups that are directly related to her work in the courtroom. Recently, there have been an increasing number of cases in which disputes are resolved without reaching trial due to the intervention of related parties or lawyers. However, difficult problems that can't be resolved are still brought to the courts. That is why she believes that the courts must be the last bastion of dispute resolution for the people.

* Click here for a video of "Third Collaborative Course with Otemachi Academia: The Challenges of Change Facing the Legal Profession Today--A Judge, Prosecutor, and Lawyer Discuss Today's Reality," which was held on March 17, 2023.

Kumiko Shimoyama/Judge, Tokyo District Court

Kumiko Shimoyama graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, and then completed a master’s course in civil law at the Graduate School of Law.

After passing the conventional bar exam, she underwent judicial training and was appointed as a judge in 2005 (58th term). After working at regional and family courts in Fukuoka, Maebashi, Kumamoto, Tokyo, and Miyazaki, she was transferred to the Central Labour Relations Commission, and has been in charge of civil trials at the Tokyo District Court since April 2022.

Kenichi Nakajima/Attorney, Criminal Affairs Bureau Ministry of Justice

Nakajima Kenichi was born in Setagaya, Tokyo. He graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, and then graduated from Chuo University Law School.

He passed the bar exam in 2010. After completing one year of judicial apprenticeship (64th term), he was appointed as a prosecutor in 2011. After being appointed as a public prosecutor, he worked at various public prosecutors' offices in Osaka, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Saitama, and Fukuoka, before assuming his current position in July 2021. He's currently in charge of planning for the implementation of IT in criminal procedures and liaising and coordinating with related organizations. He is a member of the Criminal Law Society of Japan.

Chihiro Nishida/Attorney and Assistant Manager, Legal Department, Marubeni Corporation

Chihiro Nishida was born in Niigata, Niigata Prefecture. She graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 2008, and then graduated from Chuo University Law School in 2010.

She registered as a lawyer in 2012 (new 64th term), and then joined Marubeni Corporation. She was in charge of legal affairs surrounding trade, mergers and acquisitions, investment, litigation, and arbitration in areas including electric power, infrastructure, real estate, chemicals, information and logistics. After being transferred to the legal team of Marubeni America Corporation in 2016, and then to the New York office of Hughes Hubbard & Reed in 2018 as a secondee, she has been working mainly in corporate governance matter at the Administration Section of Legal Department (her current position) at Marubeni Corporation since 2019.