The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Navigating the complex waters of Japanese law can be daunting. For global corporations operating in Japan, it can seem as though there are rigid rules but few alternatives. Vanguard Lawyers Tokyo offers multinational clients creative solutions together with proactive and practical Japanese legal advice.

“We wanted to set up a boutique firm that focuses on providing high-quality Japanese legal advice to global companies with opera­tions in Japan,” said Akiko Yamakawa, a partner at Vanguard, which was founded in September 2017 through an amicable spinoff from the Tokyo office of global law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

Yamakawa and partners Naoki Kinami and Kazuki Okada worked together at Freshfields. When the global financial crisis hit, their focus shifted.

“The employment practice, the domestic disputes and investi­gations practice, and the financial regulatory practice continued to focus on inbound work, whereas Freshfields globally—and the Tokyo office—started to focus more on outbound, which I think was the right strategy,” said Yamakawa. “But for those of us doing inbound, we lost the synergy with the rest of the office.”


The firm’s expertise lies in three niche and highly specialized areas: domestic disputes and investigations; employment practice; and financial regulatory practice. It is in these areas that Vanguard believes global companies will be looking for highly specialized lawyers.

One issue many non-Japanese firms face is trying to adapt global practices to Japan, and often such clients are turned down by Japanese lawyers. Vanguard focuses on finding creative ways to maintain the global practices of multinational corporations while matching their needs to Japan’s regulatory environment.

“They want us to be creative, proactive, and solution oriented, which is different from normal lawyers in Japan,” Yamakawa said.

With the employment practice well established, the firm now hopes to further expand its domestic disputes and investigations practice.

“While our team may be more widely known for its employment practice, actually, half of my work is general commercial disputes,” said Okada. The team has been representing clients in a variety of disputes in Japan. These include a global financial institution facing litigation related to complex financial instruments; a global media company in various litigations involving complex legal issues such as defamation, right to privacy, and the right to be forgotten; and a global company in litigation related to the 2001 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident.

Yamakawa added: “We have also been working on a lot of investigations during the past six months. Two cases involved large-scale fraud and, given the current climate, we see a rapid increase in investigations that involve sexual harassment and power harassment.”

Vanguard is looking to start a new team on the financial regu­latory side with the expected addition of a bengoshi lateral hire.

“We will first put priority on regulatory advice on the establishment, combination, or realignment of financial institutions operating in Japan, in which I have been heavily involved in the second-half of my entire career of over 40 years,” said Kinami. “We will also focus on contentious regulatory practice and offer clients seamless, streamlined synergy with our domestic disputes and investigations practice, as well as on non-contentious regulatory practice.”


When it comes to Japanese litigation and investigations, it is very different from common-law jurisdictions. In fact, there is no privilege or discovery, and there is no jury system in civil litigation. Language is another factor that needs to be taken into account, along with Japanese cultural norms.

When it comes to financial regulations, the approach is totally different again. “Japanese lawyers tend to look at the regulation and text very closely, often shortsightedly—what you can and cannot do—and that is the end of the advice. But what I am trying to do is look at the regulatory environment and the requirements,” Kinami explained. “Then I take a multi-angle approach based on the client’s needs and help them decide what direction to take.”

Tel: +81 3 6868 0410

Tel: +81 3 6868 0410