One of the biggest problems for a lawyer specialising in international work is keeping up to date with the avalanche of legislation, regulation and court cases.
In fact, most lawyers would say that is not even possible for one lawyer to stay up to date with all the laws in one country. That is why in most British law firms, you find lawyers specialising in fairly narrow areas.
In many continental law firms, there is the continuing tradition of the general or family lawyer who will be in court in the morning, drafting a commercial contract in the afternoon and seeing a client about a divorce in the evening.
How do you, as an individual, keep up to date with the aspects of the law that are likely to affect you? There are a number of ways.
Much depends upon whether you speak the language. If you do, then read the general press. It is now often available over the internet and can alert you to any major stories that are brewing. But the general local press is not likely to cover items that are really only of importance to foreigners (such as changes to a double tax treaty), or which relate to fairly unexciting subjects such as changes to local municipal taxes or to rules regarding rights of way. For this information you need a specialist source.
Government bodies now also maintain comprehensive websites about changes in the law or in certain specific aspects of the law. Tax departments often have the tax legislation available online. In most countries this will only be in their own language but in some (for example France and Spain) some of the information is available in English.
In some countries there are active and thriving websites and forums dealing with all various specific aspects of the law. Some of those are in the local language and designed mainly for local people. Others are in English and designed, in the main, for the ex-patriot community. Once again, some are excellent and some are very poor.
Whether you speak the language or not, there are some excellent organisations that can supply good quality updates and analysis prepared specifically with foreigners in mind. There are others who produce total rubbish and it is sometimes not easy to distinguish between them.
Alternatively, your lawyers may themselves provide a service whereby they will provide you at a modest cost with selected information about aspects of the law of interest to you. These will be no more than general guides but they can at least alert you to the fact that something is happening.
Finally, your lawyers may offer a retainer service where, for a small fee each year, they will be available to deal with any general enquires that you may have. This will not cover dealing with a specific court case or project (for which you will pay their normal fees) but covers general advice about things that might be of concern to you.
Unfortunately, if you want reliable information someone has to extract it and translate it and that person has to be paid for.
The author, John Howell, is a senior partner at the International Law Partnership.
Some information contained within this article may have changed since it was first published. HomesOverseas strongly advises you to seek current legal and financial advice from a qualified professional.