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What is "foreign law" and how do you research it?
"Foreign law" is the domestic law of a country (other than your own).
When researching the laws of another country, you will use many of the same skills you use for U.S. legal research; however, there are some additional processes you might need to implement as well as additional resources you might need to consult. You will frequently need to use at least some of the following procedures:
- Obtain background information about the country.
- Evaluate the structure of the country's legal system (i.e. determine the type of legal system and sources of law for the country in question).
- Consult secondary sources of law from/about that country.
- Consult primary sources of law for that country.
Background information about a country
When beginning to research the laws of a given country, it is often useful to start by doing some general research regarding the country. Obtaining Information regarding issues such as demographics, major economic issues and industries, foreign relations issues, and sources for statistical information often help augment legal research. Listed here are a variety of resources that can be consulted for such information.
BBC News Country Profiles
Full profiles provide an instant guide to history, politics and economic background of countries and territories, and background on key institutions.
CIA World Factbook
The World Factbook provides information on the history, people, government, economy, energy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities. Information is provided by numerous U.S. government sources.
EBSCO Business Source Complete
Business Source Complete offers indexing and abstracts for the most important scholarly business journals back to 1886. Additional full text, non-journal content includes financial data, books, case studies, industry reports, market research reports, country reports, company profiles, SWOT analyses, and more. To quickly find country reports, limit your search to "country reports" located under "publication type."
"globalEDGE™ is a knowledge web-portal that connects international business professionals worldwide to a wealth of information, insights, and learning resources on global business activities... globalEDGE™ is your source for global business knowledge."
Library of Congress Country Studies
Contains the electronic versions of 80 books previously published in hard copy as part of the Country Studies Series by the Federal Research Division. Intended for a general audience, books in the series present a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of select countries throughout the world. Most books in the series deal with a single foreign country, but a few cover several countries or a geographic region. The series includes several books on countries that no longer exist in their original configuration—such as Czechoslovakia, East Germany, the Soviet Union, Sudan, and Yugoslavia. These books remain in the series because they continue to offer valuable historical information and perspective. In some cases, studies on successor states are also part of the series. Each book was written by a multidisciplinary team of social scientists, who sought to adhere to accepted standards of scholarly objectivity. The books represent the analysis of the authors and should not be construed as an expression of an official U.S. government position, policy, or decision.
"Compare Countries on Just about Anything!" NationMaster is a vast compilation of data from hundreds of sources. Using the search interface, you can get maps and graphs on all kinds of statistics. Statistics are also searchable by a number of broad categories such as "crime," "economy," "government," "health," and many more.
Type of Legal System
There are a number of useful resources for determining the type of legal system for a given country. Furthermore, many works provide in-depth analysis of the features of legal systems.
There are many in-depth treatises that examine different types of legal systems in general as well as the given type of legal system in place in specific countries. Several of the major treatises in this area are listed below. Consult the "World Legal Systems Web Site: General Bibliography" for an extensive listing of articles and books addressing this topic.
The Civil Law Tradition by
Publication Date: 2018-12-11
This book does not describe any specific national legal system. Instead, it offers a general overview of the legal systems of Western Europe and Latin America
An Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems by
Publication Date: 1994
Includes chapters on a variety of legal systems including French, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, and African. Also includes a number of helpful bibliographies and research guides.
Legal Systems of the World: a Political, Social, and Cultural Encyclopedia by
Publication Date: 2002
This four-volume set “covers more than 400 legal systems and key concepts. Each country profile includes general information about the country, its history, information on the court structure, the evolution of its legal framework, the impact that the legal system has had on the country, and more. Includes references and a bibliography.”
Major Legal Systems in the World Today by
Publication Date: 1985-01-01
This classic work on comparative law divides legal systems into “families of laws.” Some of those families include: Romano-Germanic, Socialist laws, Common law, and Religious and Traditional laws.
Finding the sources of law for a given country
To locate the specific sources of law (i.e. primary legal material) for a given country and analytical secondary material, there are many different tools and resources that you might need to consult. Listed here are four "Best Bets" that will often lead you to primary legal material and many useful secondary resources.
Foreign Law Guide This link opens in a new window
The Foreign Law Guide is a database offering relevant information on sources of foreign law, including complete bibliographic citations to legislation, the existence of English translations and selected references to secondary sources in one virtual destination. Approximately 190 jurisdictions are systemically covered and updated by a global team of experts.
Guide to International Legal Research
This extensive research guide covers the full range of international legal research as well as foreign law research. The guide includes research direction for most countries.