by Dai-Kwon Choi and Kahei Rokumoto (eds). Seoul: Seoul National University Press, 2007. 425pp. Cloth. $56.00. ISBN: 9788952107893.

Reviewed by Tom Ginsburg, University of Chicago Law School. Email: tginsburg [at] uchicago.edu.


In the late 1960s two young scholars from neighboring countries in East Asia had the common experience of studying at the University of California at Berkeley, then as now a major incubator of socio-legal studies. Both men went back to their countries and enjoyed long and productive careers at the leading national universities, introducing the methods of social and political analysis of law into scholarly milieu that were then dominated by civil-law formalism. Both men trained generations of students and can be said to have had a major impact on their legal academies.

In this volume, Professors Dai-Kwon Choi and Kahei Rokumoto, now emeriti from Seoul National University and Tokyo University respectively, have come together to collaborate on a parallel examination of the profound reforms that their legal systems have experienced in the last two decades. Each scholar contributes an introductory chapter laying out the institutional and historical setting of legal reform, as well as a long chapter on legal reform and a conclusion. In addition, the book includes contributions by some of their students, in parallel chapters on civil litigation, the legal profession, and corporate legal practice. The volume is thus mid-way between an edited volume and co-authored one.

The volume is the first book-length treatment of legal reform in Northeast Asia, an important topic deserving of careful analysis. The Japanese and Korean legal systems have linked histories. Both societies, of course, have had historical influence from China. The modern legal system in both countries was formed in the Meiji era, when Korea became a Japanese colony and remained so for 35 years. In the postwar period, Japanese influence on Korea continued to be profound, both at the level of substantive law and with regard to legal institutions. In both countries, the legal system was of reasonably high quality, but not very important in the sense that it governed a relatively small segment of social interaction. Legal services were limited by government policy, and the judiciary, though generally clean, was also kept small. In the absence of legal institutions, informal institutions came to dominate the realm of dispute resolution, and law played only a secondary role in the high growth economy and the resolution of important social and political disputes. Academics made calls for changes, but these did not come to fruition.

It took large shocks to trigger reform. With the beginning of democratization in South Korea in 1987 and the bursting of the Japanese financial bubble in 1990, the legal system gradually began to assume more importance. In Korea, [*163] activist lawyers sought to use the legal system to transform their society. In Japan, an elite consensus gradually emerged that the society ought to become more law-governed. In both countries, the quota of new legal professionals was raised gradually. Around the turn of the 21st century, multi-partite deliberative councils were established to make recommendations for more structural legal reforms. These processes led to the adoption of quasi-jury systems in each country and new systems of legal education, as well as expanded access to courts.

This book offers rich insight into these processes, as well as a good deal of data. Both Professors Choi and Rokumoto were central players in legal reform proposals over the decades and offer detailed blow by blow accounts of the process of legal reform. In addition, the chapters by their collaborators are quite valuable. Dohyun Kim and Sanghie Ahn (Korea) and Ichiro Ozaki (Japan) offer rich statistical portraits of litigation trends over time. The chapters on the legal profession (by Dohyun Kim and Seung Heum Hwang for Korea, and Hiroshi Takahashi for Japan) are similarly full of detailed data. The chapters on corporate lawyers by Kuk-woon Lee (Korea) and Ryo Hamano (Japan) provide a more focused examination of a particular part of the legal profession that is of central importance in globalization. The elucidation of the parallel reforms and their impact leads to the two concluding chapters, in which each of the principal authors makes comparative observations about the two countries.

The volume is invaluable as a description of major structural reforms, and scholars interested in these issues will find much useful information for further work. One of the contributions is to call attention to the process of legal reform itself as a distinct focus of research. Both Japan and Korea have used the approach of deliberative councils to coordinate and recommend reforms. This process of negotiated and coordinated reforms might, in theory, produce a more coherent set of initiatives than the more ad-hoc organic process that characterizes legal reform in other contexts. Connecting process to outcome is an important line of inquiry for future studies of legal reform.

Another set of questions that arises from the examination of legal reform in Northeast Asia is causal. Why have the particular reforms been chosen from among many possibilities? This volume does not directly address the role of globalization in producing these changes, but that is surely an important frame to understand the process.

In short, Choi and Rokumoto along with their collaborators have produced a useful book on two very important cases of legal reform. The volume and its rich data analyses should be of interest not only to scholars of East Asia, but to those interested in using this part of the world to test broader theories.

© Copyright 2010 by the author, Tom Ginsburg.