Mitsui Life Insurance Company Ltd.
Director, Legal Division, Mr. Junichi Maki
Legal Division, Legal group leader, Mr. Hiroaki Yamazaki
―What are the functions of legal department in the insurance company?
Mr. Maki: One of the biggest differences between the insurance company and other businesses is that we use the “standard provisions” that includes elements common to most of the company’s insurance policies. The standard provision is drafted by product development team. The roles of legal department are to handle complaints and lawsuits against us regarding the insurance payments as well as to provide guidelines when the interpretation varies.
The legal department is handling following four categories of works including the above: (1) provide legal consultation for various departments on insurance law, company law, copyright law, labor law, civil execution law, and etc., (2) review various documents regarding the company’s decision making other than the standard provisions, (3) support attorneys in ligitations. In ADR, which is increasing recently, we support our company’s representatives, (4) provide law revision information. We are handling these tasks with only five members including the director after the compliance section has separated as a result of corporate restructuring.
―Among various riks that insurance company is handling, how do you deal with the legal risks?
Mr. Yamazaki: As an insurance company, we are taking care of operational risk, actuarial risk, as well as reputational risk, and we have teams dedicated to manage each risk. Risk management department is in charge of controlling risks throughout the organization, and legal department is handling the related risks under the structure.
Mr. Maki: The insurance company invests deposits received from customers and approves or settles large amount of loan agreements. Reviewing these schemes and agreements, and verifying legitimacy of internal regulations when setting up and revising them are our tasks to prevent legal disputes.
― You adopted very unique system to handle legal risks immediately with small number of staff on site. Could you tell me about the system?
Mr. Maki: I believe the system is very unique to our company. We set up a role called “Homu yaku (legal liaison)” over ten years ago in each department. This person is a bridge of communication between each department and the legal deparment. As each department has a specific function, types and sizes of legal risks they are facing vary accordingly. In order to manage the risk appropriately, you have to have a good knowledge on the operations of the department. Therefore, legal liaison of each department is the first to review the legal issues in the department. It makes more sense to detect and handle the risks on site. This is a “decentralization of legal affairs”. Although it is common that legal department controls all the legal issues, each department is often frustrated because they feel that “the legal department does not understand the reality.” This is our solution to the problem.
― Do all departments have a legal liaison?
Mr. Yamazaki: 20 liaisons are assigned in total. These liaisons are not dedicated staff and they execute regular works of the department along with reviewing contracts and regulations. The legal department proves them with support when necessary. For instance, departments such as system planning and real estate are handling a lot of general contracts other than insurance agreements. These will be reivewed by the legal liaison of the corresponding department.
Mr. Maki: The legal liaison is selected from the experienced employees who have 15 or more career with a title of manager or above. They must receive endorsement from the department and pass the exam to become a legal liaison.
They start out by working along with legal department to gain skills before handling the works alone. Issues that are new or involve complicated schemes will be double checked by the legal department according to the gravity of the risk. All matters decided are reviewed by the legal department quarterly in order to cover everything.
― I hear that the legal departments often have a problem to collaborate with the people in the field. The legal liaison connects legal department and other department with specialty skills and knowledge. Even though legal department has only 5 staffs, with legal liaison, the legal liaison could enhance the ability to handle the matters by 30 staff.
Mr. Maki: Yes, that’s the idea.
― You have been using <Westlaw Japan>’s case database. Could you tell me what is the benefit of using <Westlaw Japan>.
Mr. Maki: As I have been receiving questions internally, I realized the importance of case research and started using a database service from other vendor. However, the search function was not good enough for us.
So, I switched to your serivce. I was a member of a research group for life insurance related cases and I had to write a commentary on a case. The case was argued that if there were suicide, which I thought it was a suicide case at first and I didn’t think there was no reason to make the insurance payment. However, when I use <Westlaw Japan> to do further research, I reached a conclusion that it wasn’t that easy to determine the case was suicide. I also had a chance to write a commentary on the interpretation of a Supreme Court case decided on the certain kind of insurance which requires very little premium but pays relatively large amount of insurance money for death by accident. It was a controvertial case and the academic society splited over the interpretation. As I was reading the number of cases provided by <Westlaw Japan>, I have come to find my own theory. I was able to gain better understanding of the case and I could write a convincing commentary. By improving the skills, corporate legal personnels including myself will be able to act strategically instead of fully depending on the interpretation provided by the attorneys.
One of the advantages of <Westlaw Japan> is a function to conduct “keyword search for fulltext” which enable us effecitive case search without getting much noises. I have heared lots of complaints by legal peronnel of other companies that they got so many unrelated cases when they conducted search with the database. I suspect that they use the service other than <Westlaw Japan>. If you used <Westlaw Japan>, you would never have such problem. Another benefit is that I can access wider coverage of cases. I had a meeting with an attorney from a major law firm and he said that he could not find a case on a specific topic related to our businesses. Since I knew there was a case through my research with <Westlaw Japan>, I told him that there was a case and asked which database he had used. Obviously, he had used other service to conduct search.
― What do you expect from <Legislation Alert>, an email service that monitors and notifies the latest development of the law including promulgation, revision and enforcement?
Mr. Yamazaki: As a part of the legal risk management, we were preparing and providing “law revision information” internally which was similar to your serivce. A legal department staff picked up information including law revision and public comments from the raw data such as electronic government service and official gazettes, and delivered the data via intranet.
Mr. Maki: It is a system to provide all the revision information within the decentralized working environment. The staff could learn a lot from this, the law-making and reivision processes. But it took so much time and efforts. When an article is revised, the revised version of the article wouldn’t be appeared in the official gazette. You have to integrate the revision into the current law article to create the revised version of the law, and handing these processes internally raised the question of cost effectiveness.
Mr. Yamazaki: We were even writing “summary of revision (aramashi)” which is made available by <Legislation Alert>. It surely was a good lesson for staff, but we were worried that it might be too much of a load.
― You already knew the significance of the <Legislation Alert> before impletementing it.
―Have you realized any benefits from using <Legislation Alert>
Mr. Maki: We experienced significant benefits. <Westlaw Japan> provides us with an environment to use <Legislation Alert> and conduct case search. We are informed with the latest law revisions and trends by <Legislation Alert> on a daily basis. It also helps us to gain the ability to read and understand the case deeper by handling these “raw” cases. By applying this knowledge to the work would lead the change, which enable us to exercise the real compliance.