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Foreign Law Research

What Is Foreign Law?

Foreign law, sometimes referred to as global law, is the domestic or internal law of a country other than the United States, including the country's constitutions, legislation, regulations, case law and other sources of law.  Comparative law is the study of the differences and similarities between the laws of two or more different countries or legal systems. 

Approaches to researching foreign law are as varied as the countries of the world.  Some countries' laws are widely available and easy to find, while others are quite difficult to locate.  In addition, U.S. researchers need to understand that even if the laws of a foreign country are locatable, English translations are often not.  Despite these limitations, the Internet has made researching foreign law much easier than it used to be.  Plus, researchers in Los Angeles have access to one of the largest collections of foreign law in the country at the LA Law Library, which is located at 1st and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.  This valuable local resource should not be overlooked when researching foreign law.   

Foreign Law Research Methodology

We recommend following these steps to research foreign law:

1) Identify the country's legal system (e.g., common, civil, Islamic, customary, or a mixed/hybrid system).

Having a basic understanding of a country's legal system is fundamental when researching foreign law.  This helps you identify the background and sources of laws needed for research.  Juriglobe: World Legal Systems can help you identify a country's legal system and some basic information about it.

 

2) Identify what you need (e.g., constitution, statute, case, introductory material, or a translation).

Knowing what you need, including the type of material, any relevant dates, and whether a summary or translation is needed, will help you focus your research.  

 

3) Identify the sources of law (i.e. codes, compilations of statutes, or case reporters).

Knowing where law is published will help you locate what you need.  The Foreign Law Guide (USC only) is a particularly useful tool for this step in the research process.  

 

4) Use secondary sources.

As with U.S. legal research, secondary sources are an important early step when researching foreign law.  This is especially true when researching an unfamiliar legal system written in language you do not know.  Use research guides, catalogs, full-text sources, and periodical indexes to locate relevant secondary sources.