Keeping Up on International Legal Developments

Keeping up with changes in the law, and projecting trends and developments that may impact a particular industry or business in the future, is a daunting task when only one country is involved; however, lawyers and managers can quickly become overwhelmed when business activities are taking place in multiple jurisdictions around the world.  Fortunately, there are a number of resources are available for researching international law including traditional law libraries, online collections of international law materials, and information disseminated by governmental agencies and international organizations.  The trick is to come up with a clear and simple system for keeping abreast of legal developments in the topical and jurisdictional areas that are of the greatest relevance to the lawyer and his or her clients.  The following list includes some ideas that I have collected from experienced international lawyers:

1.         Identify and monitor a group of web sites that specialize in information regarding international laws and regulations.  For example, the World Legal Information Institute has links to country-specific LII sites.   Some organizations provide free e-publications.  Examples include “International Law in Brief” from the American Society of International Law (click on "publications" then click on "ILIB") and the “Global Law News” from the Library of Congress.  If you are a Westlaw subscriber, use the “West Clip” service to receive alerts for new developments.  Go to the "Alert Center" menu and you’ll find a list of the various alerts and tracking services. 

2.         Identify one or more of the many large multinational law firms (e.g., Baker & McKenzie, Bird & Bird and Clifford Chance) that send out free newsletters with updates on local laws and sign up to receive those newsletters on their respective web sites.

3.         Subscribe to the free, legal online database “internationallawoffice.com”, which “pushes” e-mails to subscribers with updates written by leading law firms in various jurisdictions on the legal topics and countries chosen by the subscriber.  Mondaq is another good source for this type of service.

4.         Identify one or more local law firms that may have free client newsletters and see whether it is possible to sign up to receive those newsletters.  If a subscription service is not available, establish a regular schedule for visiting the web sites of those firms to see whether there are any updates.  In some countries similar information is available through the local office of the Big-4 accounting firms.

5.         Join appropriate international, national, state and local bar associations.  The International Section of the American Bar Association, for example, has numerous country-specific committees and most of them distribute information of current legal developments on a regular basis. If you can find a listserv or discussion group on the local law, subscribe. The listservs can be very helpful because they usually address practical questions; however, the utility depends on the country and the subscribers.

6.         Join local in-house lawyer organizations like the local affiliates of the American Corporate Counsel organization or the specific national in-house lawyers association.

7.         Establish and maintain personal relationships with several local lawyers so that you have someone to go to obtain “on the ground” insights into new developments and clarifications on issues that cannot readily be understood through the other sources.

8.         Identify and monitor the official web site of the national government in each country of interest to find copies of new laws as they are adopted and published.  It may also be possible to monitor case law in the country through a central web site operated by the highest court in the country.  Note, however, that there may be delays in the publication of information and that commercial services may be the preferred alternative if cost is not a significant issue. 

9.         Identify and monitor other web sites for local governmental entities that oversee activities of particular importance to your company or client including legislative developments.  For example, the central bank web site is usually a good resource for current developments on a wide range of issues include inbound investment, foreign exchange rules and the like.  Local intellectual property offices are also a good source on information on intellectual property laws and licensing issues.

10.       Identify local newspapers that might be available online and monitor them regularly.  Reviewing the local news provides valuable context to understand legal and regulatory developments.

11.       Join appropriate US-based trade industry organizations, such as the US China Business Counsel.

12.       Join local American Chamber of Commerce organizations, especially those that have a legal services sub committee.

13.       Learn the basic principles of civil law when appropriate for the countries that you are monitoring. In East Asia, for example, civil law jurisdictions include China, Japan, Korea, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Macau SAR and East Timor.

14.       Subscribe to journals on the areas of law in which you are interested. Also, identify conferences that address areas of interest and either attend those conferences or arrange to receive the written materials from those conferences.

15.       If you’re really ambitious, learn the local language–law is seldom translated, and even less seldom translated accurately.  Cases are almost never translated.  Also, language skills make it easier to communicate with local counsel since it may be difficult for them to explain legal concepts in English.

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