The use of legal technology has been growing rapidly among both law firms and in-house teams in Japan, and the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have accelerated the process. While lawyers appreciate the efficiencies that legal tech brings, they also acknowledge its limitations.

If you want to have an idea of how swiftly Japan’s lawyers are taking to tech, here are some numbers. According to the Yano Research Institute, the value of the country’s legal tech market is expected to increase 37 percent to 35.3 billion yen between 2019 and 2023. That figure is nearly double the amount from 2016.

While it’s true that legal tech is gradually becoming a critical part of lawyers’ work globally, a subtle change in Japanese policy last year is said to have provided impetus. For more than a century, Japanese businesses had been hand-stamping documents to authenticate them. In June last year, to ensure that various levels of managers did not have to come to office amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic simply to stamp contracts, the government issued guidelines clarifying the legality of cloud-based electronic signatures.

This was a “major driver” of the current boom, says Shun Yamamoto, Representative Attorney of law firm GVA and founder of GVA TECH, a provider of legal tech, including artificial intelligence (AI) contract review technology. It boosted confidence in using electronic signatures, and as law firms and companies have found it very useful in reducing the quantum of administrative work, they have also come to accept the idea of consigning legal document reviews to AI, according to Yamamoto.

While electronic signatures constitute the most widely used form of legal tech in Japan, AI contract review services have also gained traction, with many startups, some led by lawyers, entering the market. Such services typically check contracts using AI that finds risks posed by wordings and conditions and suggests replacements; notifies users of the absence of necessary conditions and gives examples of possible additions; provides templates for various types of contracts; and offers an easy way to share knowledge among those who have been authorized access.

This adds to a wide range of legal tech solutions available even before the pandemic. These include billing and budget management; an e-library where one can look up laws and regulations as well as precedents; contract lifecycle management (CLM); and more. Because these services are typically cloud-based, service providers can ensure their solutions reflect important updates to laws and regulations.

Legal tech has also been a focus of the Japanese government. It has urged law firms and corporate legal teams to adopt new technologies, as it helps to promote efficiency by reducing working hours spent on relatively mundane tasks. Electronic signatures, AI contract review and so on “not only make contract checking and signing processes faster but also help improve quality (of work) by allowing accumulation and sharing of knowledge and risk information, among other things. In addition, these knowledges and risk information are expected to help better manage businesses after sealing a contract,” the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said in a 2019 report.

“Laws and regulations have become complex over time, and the volume of legal work processed only by human capability is close to its limits. What we should do now is to make legal risks be seen by anyone and thereby control them, using technology and legal knowledge. By doing so, lawyers can work more productively and help realize smooth operations of businesses, which then leads to fullness of the society. To achieve it is our mission,” Nozomu Tsunoda, CEO of LegalForce, a major AI contract review technology provider, was quoted as saying in a Forbes Japan article.


Miki Fujita, a former lawyer with Nishimura & Asahi, is presently CEO of Lisse, another rising legal tech company. She notes that the AI-based contract review service is the most popular among her company’s products. The reason for the popularity is “it reduces lawyers’ working hours as well as minimize business risks,” and “it helps boost efficiency as many in-house counsels have only one to a few people and they are struggling to check contracts in a timely manner,” Fujita notes. About a third of its users are law firms, she adds.

The efficiency created by such technologies allow lawyers to spend time more productively, ideally working with clients in creating new business models that comply with laws and regulations, and doing research about foreign regulations for clients planning to expand to overseas, says GVA TECH’s Yamamoto.

“Our law firm has been providing support for startups. This has made me think of ways to offer less expensive services using technology. I have also wanted to boost the efficiency of lawyers’ work. Each lawyer has expertise he or she wants to spend time brushing up on, in my opinion. For our firm, since we support startups, we would like to learn more about new and amended regu-lations in relatively new areas such as fintech and health tech. Some of these regulations are essential to our clients’ business models.”

“The ultimate goal of AI contract review is to complete the process without human involvement. In that sense, we are still on the way. Nevertheless, double-checking by AI has greatly reduces loads on humans, especially for one-person in-house counsels, which is a great step forward.”

— Shun Yamamoto, GVA TECH

However, Yamamoto admits there is a long way to go for AI review technology. “The ultimate goal of AI contract review is to complete the process without human involvement. In that sense, we are still on the way. Nevertheless, double-checking by AI has greatly reduced loads on humans, especially for one-person in-house counsels, which I think is a great step forward.”

The government agrees on this point. Nevertheless, it promotes wider adoption, which in turn is expected to lead to improvements in these very technologies. “At this moment, it is not realistic to do all legal work using legal tech. Therefore, it’s important to figure out its limitations, with what functions and ways one can achieve efficiency and from what point humans take over. Also, even if these technologies are not immaculate now, one should keep an eye on developments as such technologies typically improve through data accumulation and AI’s learning,” the METI report notes.

A BOON FOR IN-HOUSE COUNSEL A report by Mitsubishi UFJ Research & Consulting offers some examples of productive work specifically for in-house counsel; such as cooperation with the sales and business development divisions to create new business strategies that make the most of rapidly changing regulations and market conditions; monitoring ongoing changes in laws and regulations and updating the relevant contracts; checking contract compliance and moving proactively before disputes occur; make sure all outstanding issues are properly dealt with, including payments, before termination of contracts; and so on.

“The preparation of paper contracts can be anything less than cumbersome and inefficient from an objective standpoint, from printing and binding of papers to obtaining approval within the company, stamping using the hanko seal straddling on Inshi, sending it via post, etc. Electronic signatures complete the process in a few seconds.”

— Yuichiro Watanabe, Airbnb

Yuichiro Watanabe, Lead Counsel at Airbnb Japan, says that as the in-house team of a technology company, the use of legal tech has been second nature for some time now. “We have used electronic signatures since before COVID. As you may well know, the preparation of paper contracts can be anything less than cumbersome and inefficient form an in-house counsel’s objective standpoint, from printing and binding of papers to obtaining approval within the company, stamping on the contract paper using the hanko seal straddling on Inshi, preparation to send it via post, etc. Electronic signatures complete the process in a few seconds,” he says.

Airbnb Japan’s in-house team also uses a billing and budget management system through which it receives invoices from outside law firms, manages budgets and shares details of each case that involves external counsel. As for what kind of legal tech it will adopt next is not clear at this moment, but Watanabe says it’s his responsibility as the lead counsel “to help in-house team members spend time on more value-added work by adopting necessary technologies quickly, thereby realising ‘resource redistribution to in-house counsel’s core value.’”

“Not doing so is the same as condone inefficient operations. You need some courage to change your working environment, but in-house teams that can evolve themselves by adopting changes can attract and retain talented people,” Watanabe adds.

Yuichi Kono, general manager of the planning and development section with Marubeni’s legal department says that the lawyers have adopted legal tech solutions such as matter management system, e-billing, e-library, automatic translation, electronic signatures, automatic translation, AI contract review and so on. He singles out e-billing, e-library and electronic signatures as having enhanced efficiency.

“It’s a little difficult to calculate the exact ROI from our investments in these, but we are happy with efficiency realised,” says Kono. “What makes the adoption of legal tech successful is defining what you want to achieve and judging how you can make it happen. Some tasks may be done by merely re-organizing workflow without introducing any new technology, while others can be done with system A, not B. Once you select a technology, work closely with the vendor to customize it to your operations. It would help you more fully use its capability than leaving everything to vendors.”

“Not leaving everything to tech people” is an approach shared by Kazuhiro Takei, a partner at Nishimura & Asahi. “The age of digital transformation (DX) stems from the current sustainability movement. Technology issues are not only for tech people, but also for ourselves,” says Takei. “The underlying issue here is not only about what is doable from a technological perspective, but also whether it should be done and how it can be done from the perspective of the ‘rule of law.’ This is why our firm expanded our DX practice team, to ensure that DX will lead to achievement of social value.”.


Most leading law firms have been using electronic signatures and remote communications well before the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation and the government removed all legal hurdles to electronic signatures. In addition, some of them find electronic knowledge resources such as e-libraries useful. But, at the same time, many of them are taking a wait-and-see approach before going further in adopting legal tech. “We are at a stage where we try various legal tech tools and appraise them, rather than using them to reinforce our capability as a law firm,” says Tomomi Hioki, LPC Partner at Miura & Partners (M&P).

A large part of the operations at M&P were already digitized before the pandemic, including online meetings and cloud-based knowledge sharing, as it adopted these technologies at its inception in 2019. Such technologies, while not necessarily categorized as legal tech, have proved to be successful “by allowing us work flexibly and maintain quality of our services in this unexpected, COVID-induced remote work environment,” says Toshio Nakajima, another partner of M&P. But he adds that the most important thing is security, which is the foundation of any and all technological innovation.

Tasuku Mizuno, an attorney at City Lights Law and one of the eight members of a government committee that discussed and compiled the METI report, says the law firm uses precedents and other electronic books while some of his colleagues adopt services such as electronic signatures, AI contract review, and document sharing and management. Mizuno himself is happy with performance of the precedents database, electronic signatures and the e-library. But he also believes that other legal tech solutions have not reached similarly high enough levels of capability and efficiency.

“Legal tech seems to have become a buzz word in a trend created by some start-ups. But the phenomenon perhaps reflects expectations of operational improvements both inside and outside of the legal industry, as it has lagged behind other industries in adoption of digital transformation.”

— Tasuku Mizuno, City Lights Law

Legal tech seems to have become a buzzword in a trend created by some startups. But the phenomenon perhaps reflects expectations of operational improvements both inside and outside of the legal industry, as it has lagged behind other industries in adoption of digital transformation,” Mizuno notes, adding that a cautiously optimistic attitude is probably the best approach.

“Expectations to legal tech appear to be a little too high now, but there seems to be better understanding of its capabilities as well as limits among some of its users. We will likely see a demand rise for legal tech next year. By that time, more users of such services will become able to take realistic approach to legal tech,” notes GVA TECH’s Yamamoto.






こうした政府の動きが現在の電子署名ブームの「火付け役」になったと、GVA法律事務所の代表弁護士でリーガルテックのベンダーGVA TECHの代表取締役である山本俊氏は話す。同社はAIを使った契約書レビューのサービスも提供している。クラウドベースの電子署名合法化によ って電子署名への信頼性が上がり、企業の法務や法律事務所が使い慣れるに従って、契約書のチェックをAIに任せるという発想も受け入れられてきたという。

日本で最も広く利用されているリーガルテックは電子署名だが、AI契約書レビューサービスも勢いを増し、一部では弁護士が起業するなど、スタートアップ企業が多く参入している。AI契約書レビューは通常、AIが契約書をチェックし、文言や条項に係るリスクを検知して修正文例を提案するほか、必要な条項が欠落している場合に追加する条項の候補例を表示したり、さまざまな契約書のテンプレートを提供したり、アクセス権限を与えられたユ ーザー間で簡単にナレッジを共有できるようにする、といった機能を備えている。





最終的に社会の豊かさへとつながっていく。そのために私たちは貢献していきたい」と、米経済誌Forbesの日本版であるForbes JAPANで、リーガルテック企業LegalForceの代表取締役CEOである角田望氏は熱く語っている。角田氏は、森・濱田松本法律事務所を経て法律事務所ZeLo・外国法共同事業とLegalForceを立ち上げた。


西村あさひ法律事務所に在籍した経験があり、現在はリーガルテックのスタートア ップ企業であるリセの代表取締役社長を務める藤田美樹氏は、同社が手がける製品の中でもAIを活用した契約書審査サービスが最も好評だと話す。人気の理由については、「マンパワーだけで検討するよりも大幅に作業時間が削減できるという業務効率化ができるためと取引リスクを減らすことができるため」とし、「企業様の場合の課題は、一人または少人数で法務に対応されているため、タイムリーに契約書を確認できない場合もあるなど、業務効率化を図りたいということ」だと語る。同社ユーザーの3分の1は法律事務所が占めているという。

GVA TECHの山本氏は、こうしたテクノロジーを活用すれば効率が上がり、弁護士はより生産的に時間を使うことができるようになると話す。理想的には、クライアントと協力して法令を遵守した新しいビジネスモデルを練り上げたり、海外進出を計画しているクライアントのために海外規制について調査したりするとい った時間の使い方だ。

「私はスタートアップを支援する法律事務所をやっていて、テクノロジーを使 ってもっと安くサービスを提供できないかと思ったんです。あとは、弁護士の作業効率の向上もできるんじゃないかと思った。皆それぞれ時間を使いたいところはあるんですよ。私たちの事務所なら、スタートアップ支援なんで、フィンテックやヘルステックなどの比較的新しい分野で、法律ができたり改正されたりするのをもっと調べたい。ビジネスモデルの根幹に関わる法規制ってありますから」


— GVA TECH代表取締役社長 GVA法律事務所代表弁護士、山本俊氏


政府も同様の見解だが、それでもリ ーガルテックの利用を促しており、上記のMETIの報告書では、「現時点ではリーガルテックのみで全てを処理することはできないので、リーガルテックを活用する際には、何がどこまでできるのか、どのように使うと効果的で、どこまで任せることができるのかをよく検討する必要がある。また、データの蓄積・AI の学習により性能が向上していくものであるため、今は不十分であることであったとしても、引き続き動向を注視していくことは重要である」と述べている。




— Airbnb Japan、渡部友一郎リードカウンセル

民泊仲介サイトを運営するAirbnb Japanでリードカウンセルを務める渡部友一郎氏は、テクノロジーを活用している企業の法務部として、以前から当然リーガルテックを活用してきたという。「電子署名はコロナ以前から導入されておりました。ご承知の通り、紙の契約書の締結準備ほど(客観的に見て法務の)付加価値のない作業はありません。印刷、製本、署名のための内部承認プロセス、印紙への割印、郵送準備などです。これらは電子署名を用いることで数秒で完結します」

Airbnb Japanの法務部は加えて、請求書や予算管理のシステムを利用して、外部の法律事務所から請求書を受理し、予算管理を行い、外部の弁護士が関与する案件の詳細を共有している。次にどのようなリーガルテックを導入するのか現時点では明確ではないが、渡部氏はリードカウンセルとして、「『法務の中核的価値への資源の再配分』という観点から、必要なテクノロジーをいち早く取り入れ、法務部員の貴重な時間をより価値が高いものへシフトしていく環境を整える」のはリードカウンセルとしての責任だと語る。




すべてを理系の人材任せにしないというのは、西村あさひ法律事務所のパートナーである武井一浩弁護士の主張でもある。「法規範を含めて不確実性を増すのがDXの時代である。テクノロジーの話だから理系の専門職にすべて任せるという発想ではなく、自らの頭で物事を考えることが求められる」と話し、「DXが社会的価値を実現するためには、何が出来るのかという技術的視点だけでなく、それを行 ってよいのか、またいかに行うべきなのかというリーガルマインド(法の支配)が重要。当法律事務所がDX分野を強化している理由はそこにある」と続ける。


新型コロナウイルスのパンデミックが日本全国を席巻し、政府が電子署名に対する法的な障害を取り払う前から、大半の大手法律事務所は電子署名やリモートのコミュニケーション技術を活用してきた。また、電子図書館など電子的なナレッジリソ ースが有用だと考える向きもある。その一方で、こうした法律事務所の多くは、リーガルテックの導入を進める前にまずはその有効性について確かめようとしている。

三浦法律事務所の法人パートナーを務める日置巴美弁護士は、「契約書のチェ ックなどですが、今のところそれによって業務改善を図るというよりは、このツールは使えるのか、と試している段階です」と話す。




— シティライツ法律事務所、水野祐弁護士

また、リーガルテックは「一部のスタ ートアップなどがバズワード化しているだけのようにも思いますが、法務分野はテクノロジーの導入やDX化が遅かったので、それが改善されることに対する業界内外の期待が込められているのだと思います」と指摘し、過度な期待も忌避もしないのが最良のアプローチだろうと話す。

GVA TECHの山本氏は、「現状では、リーガルテックサービスに対して、ユーザ ーの期待値が高すぎると思いますが、来年にはユーザーもリーガルテックサービスを使うことに慣れて、より適切な期待値で、利用が浸透していくのではないでしょうか」と見通しを話す。


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