Researching Foreign Law

Every year a number of our students head out to do externships in foreign countries.  This is a great opportunity to learn about a different legal system and to get the chance to live and work overseas.  One question I often get asked by those of you doing these types of externships is “How do I research the laws of Country X?”  There’s not a quick answer to that question, but the Law Library does have a few different resources that can be helpful in getting ready to research foreign law.

Foreign Law Guide – The Foreign Law Guide is a great place to start.  This online resource that the Library subscribes to (accessible from our A-Z list of resources) provides you with important background about a country’s legal system as well as the major publications that contain the country’s laws.  Being familiar with these publications can give you a leg up when you are given a research project, since knowing where to look is a critical part of finding the law.  Additionally, the Foreign Law Guide provides you with links to internet sources that contain a country’s laws as well as a summary of where to find laws on a particular topic.

Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia – While it’s a bit out of date (last updated in 2005), this work found in HeinOnline has a good overview of the legal systems in the countries of the world.  It goes into a bit more depth on the legal system than the Foreign Law Guide, but it does not provide access to online sources.

Martindale-Hubbell International Law Digest – This useful resource is available on LexisNexis, but is not the easiest to find.  Lexis stopped updating it in 2010-11, but it is still a great place to go to get specific explanations on specific areas of the law in a foreign country.  For example, you can get summaries of Argentine law on partnerships, information technology, labor relations, and much more.  To find the International Law Digest, log on to Lexis.com (Lexis Advance does not have international materials yet), go to “Find a Source,” and search for “International Law Digest” (in quotes).

Once you’ve selected the database, running a natural language search for your country and the topic you’re interested in will give you the best results.

Sears Foreign and International Law Directory – One of our law librarians, Dennis Sears, has created an online directory of free legal resources available for foreign countries.  This is a good place to go when you need the laws of a specific country for free on the internet.

World Legal Information Institute – Another resource on the web that can be helpful in finding free legal materials for foreign countries is WorldLII.

Additional resources and information on foreign law research is available on our Foreign and International Law subject page.

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