Among the world's legal systems, the mainland's must be one of the most confusing. Its legal books have been virtually re-written since the Cultural Revolution, as lawmakers are constantly writing and revising new laws to fill the vacuum left by those years of lawlessness. All this has meant that researching Chinese law has often been very difficult for anyone not actively involved in the legal profession. Inevitably, the Internet has filled the gap, and should be the first stop for anyone who needs to understand rights and obligations when dealing with the mainland. I recently received an e-mail advertising one service, found at Sinolaw Online [ www.sinolaw.com .cn]. The site calls itself 'China's First On-line Legal Database in English' and offers basic introductions to the country's key commercial laws and regulations, including copyright, labour laws, joint ventures, inheritance and import/export regulations. Unfortunately, for full access to the laws, Sinolaw asks for an annual subscription fee of US$1,499, or $499 for 20 downloads. The reason for the high price, says Sinolaw, is that legal translations are provided by 'native legal experts who fully understand the terms. Meanings are clearer and more correct than in translations prepared by foreigners.' It should not come a big surprise, but one of the best mainland law resources on the Net is based, not in Hong Kong or the mainland, but in the United States. The Chinalaw Web is hosted by the faculty of law at the University of Maryland [ www.qis.net /chinalaw] and carries a huge amount of information on civil and criminal law in the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. In Hong Kong, the legal system has had more time to mature. At the Department of Justice's home page, anyone interested in present or past Hong Kong laws can find them in their entirety on Web-based Bilingual Laws Information System, or Blis for short [ www.justice.gov .hk/Index.htm]. The 95,000 pages in the Blis database cover all of the statutory laws of Hong Kong and a selection of important constitutional documents such as the Joint Declaration and Basic Law, and international agreements. A few years ago, Blis was an expensive and slow dial-up service, but today it is free of charge and anyone with an interest gets full access at whatever speed they choose. Though the laws have been formatted for Web browsing, the department recommends you access the database with Lotus Notes for full effect. But even Blis is still not perfect, as it admits in its on-line disclaimer. For one thing, the database only is updated only every three weeks, and lacks the judgment reports and bills that usually cause laws to be written in the first place. If you really need serious legal advice, no on-line database can help you yet. For that, you would be better off speaking with a lawyer directly. The Law Society of Hong Kong at www.hklawsoc.org.hk is probably the best place to start. Most of the site is best read by lawyers, but it offers a fairly useful on-line directory of law firms, indexed according to speciality. If you ever have a legal problem that goes further than chatting with a lawyer, the Hong Kong Bar Association at www.hk-barristers.org has a service that, as far as I know, is unique among Hong Kong's generally tight-lipped officialdom. Besides offering plenty of information on the association's day-to-day business, the site invites visitors to e-mail their favourite Hong Kong barristers with questions or comments though its marvellous E-mail A Barrister Page.