Interview with: Hiroo Atsumi, Managing Partner

Atsumi & Sakai | View firm profile

What do you see as the main points that differentiate Atsumi & Sakai from your competitors?

Firstly, our international capabilities.

We created a “foreign law joint venture” in Japan when Japanese law first allowed this kind of law partnership in 2005, and we are recognised as a pioneer in this field. This was successful to the extent that we have attracted several foreign attorneys who served as partners or were otherwise highly recommended lawyers in foreign countries. In addition to lawyers admitted in Japan (including Japanese lawyers also admitted in England and Wales and the Republic of the Marshall Islands), our firm includes foreign lawyers registered in Japan to advise on the laws of the US States of New York and California, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, India, and the State of Queensland, Australia. Foreign lawyers registered in Japan to advise on state laws are also qualified to advise on federal laws of their respective countries. This clearly differentiates us from other Japanese law firms since we are in a very unique position to easily combine the expertise of Japanese lawyers with that of attorneys from the foreign jurisdictions described above.

Also, we are the only independent Japanese law firm which currently has a branch office in London, and we have an affiliate office in Frankfurt. We are a member of multiple leading global networks of law firms, and have formed partnerships with APAC-International in Vietnam, and Janssen Foreign Law Office, a law office that provides German law advice in Tokyo. Our international network sets us apart from our competitors, and enables us to easily meet the needs of foreign clients as well as Japanese clients.

Secondly, our global diversity and multiplicity of talent.

As mentioned above, Atsumi & Sakai has attracted a number of foreign and multilingual attorneys, irrespective of their nationalities, speaking Japanese, English, German, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Marathi, etc.

Atsumi & Sakai also includes attorneys with a wide range of expertise, having experience in diverse practice areas and industries, such as former public prosecutors, attorneys also qualified as Certified Public Accountants, attorneys with expertise in tax/accounting or IT, and a pharmacist. Having different skills and talents enables the firm to flexibly build a multi-talented team which is tailored to each client’s specific needs.

Thirdly, our innovative approaches and new structures.

To remain competitive in the global market, our firm has always tried to adopt innovative approaches and new structures. Especially, we thought it important to meet the needs of not only clients dealing in out-bound transactions but also the needs of foreign clients pursuing in-bound transactions.

Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?

  • Innovation in information systems and technology including IoT, big data and artificial intelligence, FinTech, InsTech, MedTech and RegTech

Deep understanding and extensive experience of laws and regulations related to data protection, finance, insurance, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, etc. are the fundamental requirements of these practice areas, on top of which keen knowledge of the latest trends in the technology industry and experience in providing advice in the relevant area is needed. Our firm fulfills all of these conditions. Meanwhile, both working from home and purchasing online services from home have exploded into the mainstream in Japan as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, triggering a period of upheaval in Japanese business culture. We provide services that meet the needs of foreign technology companies looking to capitalize on the opportunities the situation has created.

  • Risk management and white collar crime
  • Labour and employment

Companies affected by the Coronavirus pandemic will continue to rationalize their workforce allocation for some time. We have experience in advising foreign corporations in this areas, and it is one of our strengths.

  • Investments and funds

As soon as it came into effect this year, our firm immediately began accumulating experience in advising foreign funds regarding the amended Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, which introduced changes designed to ensure national security. Investments into Japanese companies by foreign investors must comply with the complex requirements of the amended Foreign Exchange Act, and we expect the demand for advice in this field to grow in the future.

  • Data protection and privacy, cybersecurity

Although the peak caused by GDPR and the amendment of the Japanese Act on the Protection of Personal Information has passed, data privacy remains a crucial element of compliance in the technology industry and demand for related advice continues to grow.

  • Life sciences

The life sciences field is one where the demand for extensive understanding of pharmaceutical clients’ business and the practical application of regulations is particularly high for lawyers. Our firm includes lawyers with experience as in-house counsel in major Japanese pharmaceuticals companies, and we expect to see growth in this area as well.

  • Sports, media and entertainment

We are one of the only law firms based in Japan with the capacity to provide our international clients with unapparelled expertise in the areas of sport and entertainment. Our sports & entertainment legal practice group started almost 8 years ago and has a primary focus on major international sporting events working with the international rights holders, ensuring the delivery of these events at an international standard. For over 5 years we have worked for World Rugby to assist them on all legal aspects related to the Rugby World Cup 2019 being the third largest sporting event in the World. We continue to be in the forefront, advising our clients surrounding other major international sporting events in Japan.

  • Others

Interest in national security matters, such as export controls and cyber security, is growing in countries around the world. Our firm is one of the few in Japan that took the step of establishing a national security team at an early stage.

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?

Our firm takes a proactive approach to working with our clients to provide value for money, and we are very open to adopting international-style fee structures other than traditional hourly rates.

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

Yes, information technology has been a driving force for our service innovation. It has changed significantly the way we interact with our clients, especially with our foreign clients. We are also encouraged by the technological developments and innovations in reducing administrative work and boosting productivity further.

Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?

For example, we were in close contact with the competent authorities regarding prior reporting under the Foreign Exchange Act which was amended this year, and proposed a practical approach to navigating the requirements to our client, a foreign investor. We also advised the client in revising transactions following the emergence of the Coronavirus, and supported the client in managing risk of loss by providing analysis and interpretation on agreements and proposing practical response measures.

Also, as mentioned in 2) above, our firm has worked for World Rugby for over 5 years to assist them on all legal aspects related to the Rugby World Cup 2019, being the third largest sporting event in the World.

Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms – where do you see the firm in three years’ time?

In 2019, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of the firm. We anticipate that the next three years will bring a significant turning point not only for us but also for Japan in the 21st century.

We will continue to diversify the backgrounds, experience, fields of expertise and future aims of our lawyers. It is the diversity of knowledge and experience of the lawyers at our firm, including the opportunity to interact with our foreign legal team, that allows us to find solutions to new problems our clients face. Our ability to continuously respond to the needs of clients is what enables the firm to be sustainable in the long term. Another factor for long-term sustainability from a firm management perspective is to consider multiple opinions and points of view to continuously make better decisions. We believe that in three years, we will remain a firm capable of providing advice to allow clients to choose the policy they wish to follow.