Setsuko Yufu is a senior partner of Atsumi & Sakai. She heads the firm’s competition law group, advising on all fields of competition law internationally and domestically. She serves as a member of the Antitrust Policy Council of the JFTC and as a board member of the Competition Law Forum. She is well known for her extensive knowledge of EU competition law and practice, and serves as a board member of the EU Studies Association.
What attracted you to a career in competition law?
I studied EU law at the University of Amsterdam, Europa Instituut and afterwards took a traineeship at a law firm in Brussels under the instruction of Jacques Steenbergen, former president of the Belgian Competition Authority. It was the first time for me to see the dynamism of competition law which inspired me considerably. Since then, I have followed the development of competition law practice in Japan and the EU. Through this process, I have been able to see economic movement and real life in various industries. The relationship between competition law and trade law attracted my interest, as well.
What qualities make for an effective competition lawyer?
First, I think each competition law case has its unique story. In order to grasp the essence of a case, a competition lawyer must patiently listen to others, including clients, government authorities, economists and academics, with a fair and open mind. Second, competition lawyers should modestly and continuously study competition laws, regulations and cases because competition law is drastically changing in accordance with changes in business activities and the development of technology in our society. Third, competition lawyers should have wide eyesight and curiosity over movements in business worldwide. Today, competition law practice in each jurisdiction relates to others beyond borders. Frank and serious discussion among distinguished experts in different jurisdictions enables us to predict future directions in competition law. Finally, competition lawyers must understand teamwork, having a sense of case management. Because of an increase in big competition cases, expert lawyers must work together as a team.
What has been the biggest change in competition law since you started practising?
First, I would like to mention the introduction of the leniency system, as a result of which a lawyer cannot represent several clients in the same cartel investigation, due to conflicts. Because of the introduction of the leniency system, more opportunities were given to active younger lawyers and this called for productive discussions, new ideas and new practices. Second, the introduction of prior notification in merger control is important. Business people have become aware of competition law aspects of their M&A activities and business collaborations. Third, the extraterritorial application of competition law increased simultaneous cases in many jurisdictions. When handling domestic cases, we must pay attention to the possibility that cases will require more international practice.
How do you see the Japanese Fair Trade Commission changing its focus in the next five years?
Recently the Japanese Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) has shifted its focus from traditional cases to cutting-edge areas such as digital platforms, human resources, privacy protection, etc. Although it is difficult to predict the next five years because of change of the JFTC president this autumn, I think the current trend will more or less continue in the next five years. This movement coincides with the government policy towards transparent and fair digital platform business and prevention of social disparity. The JFTC conducted a fact-finding survey on transparency and fairness in digital platforms and published the analytical report thereof last year. Recently, the JFTC investigated Amazon Japan and filed a petition against Rakuten. In addition, the JFTC started a study on an algorithm cartel.
How has Atsumi & Sakai adapted to address the challenges caused by covid-19?
Atsumi & Sakai has adapted to a remote work system and recommends video conferences. This policy coincides with the trend of most of our clients. Under the leadership of a special management team against covid-19, we are taking a “thinking while walking” attitude to adapt to new legal practice in the “new normal” society, sharing each solution in the firm. Our flat and transparent firm culture helps this. With this new work style, sufficient communication is key. In addition, fostering new leadership is required. I see each lawyer and staff member of Atsumi & Sakai enjoying the new working environment.
To what extent is antitrust becoming more politicised?
Law and politics are different. Antitrust is influenced by government economic and industrial policy from time to time. I noticed recent discussions around cross-border merger control and the restriction of foreign investment. But such influence has limitations in democratic countries. Antitrust practice and interpretation should be based on laws and regulations in these countries.
How is technology currently revolutionising the nature of competition law?
Competition law practice sometimes requires lawyers to work on time-consuming clerical matters such as document review or due diligence. I think that use of AI for such matters may lift the burden of especially young associates and they can come back to the lawyers’ job, legal analysis and advice.
How would you like to develop your practice in the next few years?
I will continuously follow developments in competition law in Japan and other jurisdictions. This may help provide quick and appropriate legal judgement and advice in new types of cases. Also, I will carefully watch the strength and ability of each lawyer in our competition law team and consider how to maximise these good points for each case.
Setsuko Yufu is very client-oriented and "able to meet client expectations with ease”. One client effuses that she “gave us practical advice to maximise our benefits and minimise our risks”, adding that she offers “rich experience in competition law cases and a broad network”.
Peers and clients say:
"She was very responsive, showed impressive work ethic and was a great coordinator."
"Ms Yufu is an extremely experienced and skilled lawyer whose advice and counsel is sought by many top-ranked clients."
Setsuko Yufu is a senior partner at Atsumi & Sakai and is admitted to the bar in Japan.
Setsuko heads the firm’s antitrust/competition team, advising on international and domestic cartel/bid-rigging investigations and related civil enforcements and criminal prosecutions, including extradition issues. She also advises on international and domestic merger control, vertical restraints and abuse of dominance.
Since 2016, she has served as a member of the Antitrust Policy Council of the Japan Fair Trade Commission. She has also served as a board member of the Japan Competition Law Forum.
Setsuko was named Woman Lawyer of the Year at the 2017 ALB Japan Law Awards, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in antitrust/competition law as a leading individual by The Legal 500 (2020). For her work in antitrust/competition law, she has been ranked in as a leading individual in Asialaw Profiles (2019) and Best Lawyers (2020), and as a notable practitioner by Chambers Asia-Pacific (2020). She was also highly recommended in GCR 100 (2019).
She obtained an LLB from Waseda University, Tokyo, and graduated from the University of Amsterdam, Europa Instituut as the first Japanese student to study EU law there.
Setsuko also is well known for her extensive knowledge of EU competition law and has acted as a board member of the EU Studies Association in Japan. She taught EU law at Keio University Law School and the Business Law Department of Hitotsubashi University Graduate School, and publishes articles and books on the subject.
Setsuko Yufu is a “very senior” figure in the Japanese market, lauded for her adept handling of dawn raid response matters and “technical antitrust knowledge”.
Setsuko Yufu is a senior partner at Atsumi & Sakai and is admitted to the bar in Japan.
Setsuko heads the firm’s antitrust/competition team, advising on international and domestic cartel/bid-rigging investigations, as well as related civil enforcements and criminal prosecutions, including extradition issues. She also advises on international and domestic merger control, vertical restraints and abuse of dominance.
Since 2016, she has served as a member of the antitrust policy council of the Japan Fair Trade Commission. She has also served as a board member of the Japan Competition Law Forum.
Setsuko was named Woman Lawyer of the Year at the 2017 ALB Japan Law Awards, and was inducted into the 2020 Legal 500 Hall of Fame as a leading individual in antitrust/ competition law. She is ranked as a leading antitrust/competition lawyer by Asialaw (2019) and Best Lawyers (2020), and as a notable practitioner by Chambers Asia-Pacific (2020). She is also highly recommended in the GCR 100 (2019).
Setsuko obtained an LLB from Waseda University, Tokyo. She was the first Japanese student to study EU law at the University of Amsterdam’s Europa Instituut.
Setsuko also is well known for her extensive knowledge of EU competition law, and has acted as a board member of the EU Studies Association in Japan. She taught EU law at Keio University Law School and the business law department of Hitotsubashi University Graduate School. She regularly publishes articles and books on the subject.