Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lawyers on the rise

My friend Michael Fahey pointed to this post at the Winkler Partners blog on the rising number of lawyers in Taiwan.
The number of lawyers in Taiwan increased significantly in 2011 as a record 964 candidates passed the bar exam.

Despite a population of 23 million people and the world’s 19th largest economy, Taiwan has just 7,000 practicing lawyers according to the Ministry of Justice. The California State Bar, for example, has nearly 200,000 members. The Netherlands, with a population of 6 million, had 15,000 lawyers in 2007.

According to Ministry of Examination figures, the pass rate for the 2011 exam was 10.6%.

While this may seem very low by the standards of other jurisdictions, it is unprecedented in Taiwan. During the martial law era (1949-1987), pass rates were below 1%. Between 1950 and 1989, just 782 lawyers became members of the bar. In 1981, two years after the Kaohsiung Incident, just six passed. This was widely understood to signal the government’s displeasure with the profession after a team of lawyers defended the leaders of the rally that triggered the incident.
It's a fascinating look at a completely different legal climate. The whole post is full of excellent observations. Jane Kaufman Winn, who did work in Taiwan in the 1990s on various aspects of the legal system, formal and informal, has an extensive paper on the legal profession as it emerged from martial law in the early 1990s. She notes:
Before the recent reforms to the bar admission system in Taiwan, there were several avenues to admission to the bar that were at least as important as, if not more important than, the official bar exam. These included service as an attorney for one of the armed forces, and passage of a minimal bar examination for those holding positions above a certain rank for a certain period of time within a law faculty in Taiwan. These “backdoors” to admission to the bar were very important when the passage rate for the official bar examination averaged around 1-2% a year, as it did before 1989. For many years, obtaining a J.D. or other advanced law degree in the US before returning to Taiwan to take up a position teaching part-time in a law faculty was a more certain path to admission to the ROC bar than sitting the official bar examination, at least for those with the resources to study abroad.
The Winkler piece observes that one reason for the small number of lawyers is that there are many routes to dispute resolution in local society -- the government bureaus resolve many disputes that might go to lawyers in other countries. The police also play a similar role, resolving disputes before they ever arrive in court. Certain kinds of transactions are handled by specialized paralegals in Taiwan and also never see the hand of a lawyer. Finally, they note that legal work in Taiwan is expensive and many simply can't afford it.

Further review: The MOJ's English database of laws in Taiwan
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Lorenzo said...

KMT created many backdoors for their ranked officials to enter into legal, medical, teaching, and, not to mention, governmental professions.

Care to check out your doctor and dentist's academic creditials. You really don't want to be treated by the millitary doctors who turn normal doctors without passing a proper exam or remedial education.

Lorenzo said...

Just to correct you, the Netherlands have nearly 17 million people.

Anonymous said...

Lorenzo, thank you for the correction on the population of the Netherlands. We have corrected the original article. WP