Conducting International Research

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of conducting international business is getting legal questions answered.  Every nation has its own set of laws, loop-holes and governmental agencies which closely scrutinize and capitalize on the business activities within the respective countries.  Furthermore, the cultural and governmental differences make it extremely difficult to obtain a correct answer from research alone.  However, with the right tools, one could save a substantial amount of time and money by conducting preliminary research before contacting outside counsel.

Before the type of law is narrowed in scope and breadth, to assist in researching, you will need to understand the structure of the government you are dealing with.  Is it a Civil law country?  A Common law country?  Perhaps mixed?  This information will help you decide, (1) where to find the information and, (2) what law is binding in the specific international jurisdiction.  It is important to note however, that certain jurisdictions’ courts are very inequitable, and often times unconscionable with their rulings and or decisions.  Therefore, specific research on the jurisdictions’ courts should also be addressed with a particular eye on the country’s economic, social and political landscape.  This can be completed by researching specific case law and court rules on the jurisdictions webpage or jurisdiction specific database software.  Despite the fact that the website may be in another language, there are tools today which can translate the source code of the website.  This effectively allows the internet user to see the webpage in its original form fully translated.  This can be conducted automatically with an internet browser such as Google Chrome.  Case law and Code research are extremely beneficial in a common law based, or case law based judicial system.

After conducting the initial governmental research, a logical next step is to determine what type of law you are dealing with.  There are different types of international law.  The first type is Public international law which governs interactions between states, between states and international bodies and between international bodies themselves. This law derives from international agreements, customary law, judicial decisions and academic writings.  Private international law deals with relations between individuals over state boundaries and it is regulated by treaties or domestic lawMost contracts and recognition of judgments are governed by this type of law.  Corporate attorneys engaging in international transactions should be very familiar with this type of law as it pertains to the validity of contracts and principals of comity, or international reciprocity.  Supranational law encompasses regional agreements (like the EU) where the laws of nation states may be invalidated if they conflict with the laws put forth in the agreements.  Foreign law is also very important as it contains laws such as constitutions, statutes, regulations, and court decisions.  It does not have effect outside the nation, however; some foreign law may regulate foreign entities.  Foreign law is also very important when dealing with international trade because, when doing business in a foreign county, one is governed by the law of the land.  This will give you a fundamental and comprehensive starting point in finding the answer to your legal question.

After this information is obtained, you must consult the sources that are most applicable to your specific legal issue and specific type of law.  Similar to legal research in American jurisdictions, the best place to start is a secondary source.  A secondary source is a compilation of various legal issues and laws, which help guide you to the correct sources and law. Generally a secondary source enables you to locate primary sources posted elsewhere.  Primary sources are the original source of law, the law you want to use when analyzing a specific legal question. A great source, often found via the internet at a relatively low cost is the Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the world, T Reynolds & Flores.  “This site is [designed] for the practitioner, scholar, and researcher and provides essential information on primary and secondary sources of foreign law—what it is, where to find it, and how to use it. It contains information on more than 170 jurisdictions from major nations to crown colonies, semi-independent states and [supranational] regional organizations. The work is comprehensive in content and global in scope and contains exhaustive links within the work to many URLs on the world level.”[1]  Furthermore, this source provides various language translations of most entries on the site.  The cost is $2,075 dollars per year.  Other sources readily available are Globalex, http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/index.html.  This website has various countries guides which are available, in addition to guides on international and comparative legal research topics which encompass public, private, foreign and supranational law.  Most information on this site is available for free. Another research website is FLARE: Foreign Law Research Guide, http://ials.sas.ac.uk/library/guides/research_guides.htm#flare. This website is a collaboration between the major libraries collecting law in the United Kingdom and various other jurisdictions.  Lastly, perhaps the most beneficial source is LLRX Comparative and Foreign Law Resources Center, http://www.llrx.com/category/1050.  This site includes research guides and directly or indirectly links you to various other legal resources such as the following large databases, (1) World Legal Information Institute, http://www.worldlii.org, (2) The Law Library of Congress,http://www.loc.gov/law/help/guide.php and (3) The Law Library of Congress, Global Legal Information Network, http://www.glin.gov/search.action. It is substantially likely that secondary sources will lead you to the right set of laws, most often found via the World Wide Web.  In developing countries it may be more difficult; however, there are alternatives to finding out the applicable information.

Today current technology is increasing at astronomical rates.  This technology allows a user to contact any location across the world with an internet access at relatively low costs.  Generally contacting another country requires diverse linguistics but often times individuals working within the governments speak English.  In addition, the information can be translated instantaneously if sent electronically though Skype or translation programs.  Contacting local municipalities or local companies who specialize in the legal issues which you are seeking may be extremely beneficial especially in developing countries where the information is not readily available on the internet.  If you cannot get in touch with appropriate persons or you feel the information lacks legal credibility, the next best step is to contact local counsel to assist in the matter.

There is no substitute for being on the ground in the region you are conducting business.  Speaking with locals and establishing connections in the specific jurisdiction enables you to communicate face-to-face with local municipalities to learn the law from the source.  However, with evolving technology there are other alternatives which can save you time and money which can be the life blood of a new or existing international business. Of prime importance, however, is keeping a keen eye on the countries’ political, social and economic differences in relation to your legal question.

Brett Schater
CDII Trading, Inc.
Third Year Law Student
Member of Law Review
Legal Clerk with CDII Trading Inc.
431 Fairway Drive, Suite 200
Deerfield Beach, FL 33441
Website: www.cdiitrading.com

[1]  http://www.foreignlawguide.com/visitors.htmAlphabetical List of Countries and Jurisdictions available:

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  1. Extremely informative without coming off as too dry. Well done Mr. Schlacter! I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

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