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Foreign Law Research: Home

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This guide was created by Caitlin Hunter and is now maintained by Amber Madole. 

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About This Guide

This guide provides strategies and resources for researching foreign law. Foreign law is the domestic law of other countries. For example, domestic Mexican law is foreign law to a attorney practicing in the U.S., while domestic U.S. law is foreign law to an attorney practicing in Mexico.

In contrast, international law is the law governing relationships between countries, such as treaties and decisions by international courts (e.g. the International Court of Justice.) For information on international law, see:

Tips for Foreign Law Research

Most foreign laws are not in English.

  • Just as the U.S. does not routinely translate all of its laws into Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and other foreign languages, most other countries do not routinely translate all of their laws into English.
  • Sometimes, you can find English versions of selected laws translated by the country's government, international organizations, or previous researchers.
  • Often, however, you will need to translate the laws or find a translator yourself.
  • If you are choosing a topic for a class, it's best to pick countries with languages you speak.
  • If you are performing a project for work, it's best to find someone who speaks the country's language to do the project or hire a professional translator.

Many foreign laws must be obtained in print or from free websites.

  • Lexis and Westlaw have only limited foreign law collections.
  • Some foreign laws are available through local versions of Lexis or Westlaw or through other specialized foreign legal databases. However, the library only subscribes to a handful of foreign legal databases and some countries simply do not have such databases at all.
  • Often, you will need to obtain foreign laws using:
    • Print
    • Free government websites
    • Free websites by non-profits or local attorneys
    • Secondary sources

Cases may not be as important or as easy to find as they are in the U.S.

  • The U.S. and most other former British colonies are "common law" countries, which means that cases routinely establish new legal precedents that are binding on future courts. Cases are important to legal research and easy to find.
  • In contrast, most other European countries and their former colonies are "civil law" countries, which means that the statutes lay out the law in great detail and cases rarely or never establish new legal precedents or bind future courts. In civil law countries, cases are usually not very important or easy to find and your research should be focused on statutes instead.

Current statutes may not be organized.

  • When legislatures pass statutes, they usually first publish them by date in session laws (bound volumes collecting statutes by date) or gazettes (newspapers or magazine publishing major government documents, including statutes.)
  • Later, most countries organize their statutes by topic into codes, allowing you to see at a glance the current statute on a specific issue.
  • The U.S. updates its code for statutes (the United States Code or U.S.C.) each year.
  • In contrast, many other countries update their codes only once every few decades. A few countries do not organize their statutes into codes at all.
  • For many countries, you will need to locate the most recent code, then retrieve a decade or more of statutes amending the code from a gazette. Then, you will need to trace how the code has been amended by each statute to determine the current law on an issue.

Tools such as Shepard's, KeyCite, Case Notes, or Notes of Decision may not exist or may not be available to you.

  • These tools help U.S. lawyers find more sources on their topic and check whether their sources are "good law."
  • For most other countries, these resources are part of specialized databases that the library does not subscribe to or simply don't exist.