Legal Systems Of The World

The legal system used in the United States (the "common law" system) is one of many legal systems used throughout the world. Differences in these various legal systems can greatly impact the key provisions of an international business contract such as the governing law (or "choice of law") provision and can significantly affect the property rights of a party to an international business contract. At Cantwell & Goldman, P.A., our international business attorneys help businesses and individuals navigate these different legal systems, serve as U.S. counsel to overseas companies, and collaborate with local counsel in foreign countries (which is critical where the transaction involves the purchase, sale, lease, or development of foreign real estate).

The following is a list of the five major legal systems used throughout the world:

  1. Civil Law. The civil law system is the most widespread legal system in the world. The distinguishing feature of the civil law system is that its legal authority is organized into written codes. The civil law system is derived from Roman law and is found in much of continental Europe, Central America, South America, and several other regions.

  2. Common Law. In contrast to the codified laws of the civil law system, doctrines and rules developed over time by judges serve as "legal precedent" in the common law system. The common law system is derived from the English common law and is found in many parts of the English speaking world such as Australia, Canada, England, the United States, Wales, and other countries.

  3. Customary Law. Customary law is rooted in the customs of a community. Common attributes of customary legal systems are that customs may be unwritten, customs govern social relations, and customs are widely accepted by the community's members. Customary law systems are found in Africa, the Pacific Islands, and elsewhere.

  4. Religious Law. The religious law system is a legal system that is based on religious beliefs or texts. Islamic law (or Sharia law) is the most widespread religious law system, and it governs all aspects of public and private life. Islamic law systems are found throughout Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia, and their laws widely vary among Muslim countries.

  5. Mixed Law. Mixed law refers to a combination of elements of the legal systems described above. In the United States, the most noteworthy mixed law system is found in the State of Louisiana, which has elements of both civil law and common law.

Additional information about the legal systems of the world, including a list of countries and their respective legal systems, may be found at the following links: The World Factbook and JuriGlobe.

Contact the international business attorneys of Cantwell & Goldman, P.A. for assistance navigating these legal systems, serving as U.S. counsel for overseas companies, or collaborating with local counsel in foreign countries.