legal places

november 2020

In a large organisation handling legal work, it's typically important to be clear about places for various purposes.  

Some of these are of a technical legal nature

  • Governing law in a contract
  • Applicability of a given legal regime - which may be national, sub-national or international in origin
  • Dispute resolution forum (e.g. court, place of arbitration)
  • Location of assets
  • Personal links of legal relevance (e.g. domicile, residence, place of incorporation / registration or similar)
  • Location of authorities involved (e.g. in an investigation or regulatory approval)
  • Categorising matter records and knowledge by the above dimensions

Other purposes are less technical e.g.

  • Assessing markets
  • Sales and marketing
  • Territorial responsibility
  • Understanding what kind of legal system you're dealing with in an unfamiliar place

Addressing all these needs by reference to a single framework can, we believe, create all sorts of practical insights, efficiencies and other benefits.

There are also numerous benefits outside organisations of being clear about places of legal significance.

Work done to date

We have taken as our starting point the UN list of countries and areas and related ISO-3166-2 codes. Most of these are nation-states in the international law sense, and UN members, but this list also includes various dependent territories, three special cases relating to China (Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) and two UN observers (the Vatican and Palestine).

We have also adopted the ISO 3166-2 region codes though we are developing some alternative regions which better reflect the practice of many organisations.

We are working our way through the ISO 3166-2 list of subunits of countries, adding elements where appropriate. For instance, in the case of the UK, the subunits are local authorities whereas it is legally useful to model the existence of the three main legal jurisdictions (England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) and the legally sometimes-significant sub-division of the first of these into separate entities for England and Wales. 

We have done quite a lot of work to determine main legal system types for countries and areas, though some of this is subject to further research and debate. There is a limit to the extent to which further detail in this area can add value, but we do think there is value here.

A further effort has been made to determine the active state membership as at 1 January 2021 of 19 major international organisations. This is all public information but not conveniently accessible to everyone in practice. We plan to update this periodically so that changes over time can be seen.

We have normalised this data so that it all plays well together and can readily be extended.

That represents the main focus of our work to date, but we have also starting to link it up to some interesting public, high quality, free-to-use datasets

  • The rule of law dataset published by the World Justice Project
  • The corruptions perception index and related data published by Transparency International
  • Population, GDP and other data published by the World Bank

Note that some of these datasets do not cover certain countries or areas e.g. the rule of law dataset only covers one of the EEA (ex EU) countries. 

We plan to continue doing this - ideas for linking to interesting datasets would be welcome. 

Contributions of proprietary datasets also welcome!