Foreign Law Resources
Legal Research Guides
Foreign Law Resources
Selected Guide to Materials at or Available Through the LSU Law Library
Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Librarian
NOTICE: The purpose of this pathfinder is to assist in the identification and use of potentially relevant sources of legal information. Nothing in this document should be interpreted as legal advice. Items cited in this pathfinder can be located using the library’s catalog or can be obtained through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Also, many of the items cited can be used electronically through LEXIS, WESTLAW, and the Internet.
Research in foreign laws usually encompasses the use of many different types of materials and information sources. The foreign law researcher must be prepared to look at laws, cases, or regulations from national entities, practice guides, treatises, news stories, national and international policies, and scholarly journals. Foreign law research requires flexibility and creativity on the part of the researcher to track down and obtain the materials necessary for the topic being researched. In addition to the collection of appropriate materials, the researcher must be prepared to meet the challenges of language issues in this area of law; not all materials will always be found in a language that the researcher can work with or even understand. Because of these issues, the researcher must be prepared to make full use of all resources available.
- Check the Index of Foreign Legal Periodicals (in print at the Third Floor, Index table) for articles on your research issue. Also available online from the library’s catalog.
- Electronic Journal of Comparative Law. A free online journal that publishes articles about comparative private law and the methodology of comparative law.
- Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law
- Susan Van Syckel, “Strategies for Identifying Sources of Foreign Law: An Integrated Approach,” 13 Transnational Law 289 (2000)
- Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World. Generally referred to as “Reynolds & Flores,” this is an excellent six volume looseleaf set listing sources that reprint specific laws.
- Germain’s Transnational Law Research: A Guide for Attorneys. See chapter V, “Countries.”
Bibliographies and Directories
- Digest of United States Practice in International Law
- Law Library of Congress's Multinational Collections Database - Helps identify publications that cover foreign law on particular subjects or for particular countries.
- Martindale-Hubbell International Law Digest. The Law Digest is available free online but the user must register.
- Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia
- Szladits’ Bibliography on Foreign Comparative Law
- Inter-American Legal Materials
- Constitutions of the Countries of the World
- Constitutions of Dependencies and Territories
- Commercial Laws of the World
- RIA Worldwide Tax Law
- Investment Laws of the World
- Digest of Commercial Laws of the World
- Digest of Commercial Laws of the World. Forms of Commercial Agreements
- Digest of Commercial Laws of the World. Patents and Trademarks
- Copyright and Related Rights Laws and Treaties
- Industrial Property Laws and Treaties (CLEA)
Language can present many challenges in foreign and international law research since it is possible that the only materials available to the researcher might be in a language that the researcher does not understand. The researcher needs to consider the purposes of the research. In some instances an old, unofficial translation of a document might be sufficient when the current official text is in a language the researcher does not read or does not have the resources to have translated.
The researcher must also be aware that legal language exists as a specialized subset within the larger context of a language. Simple, straight forward translation of a legal text might not convey the specialized meaning of that text. For this reason, the researcher must be especially wary of electronic translations that are bound to result in inaccurate translations of legal texts.
Finally, the researcher must also be mindful of the difference of the meanings of legal terms within the context of different legal systems. For example, the word “trial” has a different connotation in the common law context than it does in a civil law context.
For further examples and better understanding of the language issues in foreign and comparative law research see:
- "The Unambiguous Rightness of Meaning: The Search for Precision in Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Research," in Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: An Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research
- New Approach to Legal Translation; Ask at Reference Desk
- Bilingual Dictionaries. Search for bilingual dictionaries in the library’s Online Catalog using the language and “dictionaries” as keywords; for example: “Spanish dictionaries”
- Polyglot Dictionaries. Search for multiple language dictionaries in the library’s Online Catalog using “polyglot dictionaries” as keywords.
- Elsevier's Legal Dictionary: in English, German, French, Dutch, and Spanish.
Ask at Reference Desk K54 .E45 2001
- Legal dictionary in four languages: English, German, French, and Spanish.
Third Floor K54 .L4 1987
- West's Law and Commercial Dictionary in Five Languages: Definitions of the Legal and Commercial Terms and Phrases of American, English, and Civil Law Jurisdictions.
Ask at Reference Desk K54 .W47 1985
- Specialized Dictionaries. Search for specialized dictionaries in the library’s Online Catalog using the language or polyglot, “dictionaries” and the specialized area as keywords. For example, search for “German Criminal Law Dictionaries” or “Polyglot Commercial Law Dictionaries.”
- EURODICAUTOM. A multilingual terminological database of the European Commission’s Translation Service containing terms in the twelve official languages of the European Union.
- Web of On-Line Dictionaries
Domestic Customary Law
Customary law consists of established patterns of behavior that can be objectively verified within a particular social setting. The codification of civil law developed from the customs, or coutumes, of the Middle Ages, which were expressions of law developing in particular communities and slowly collected and codified. Customary laws emerged
spontaneously as a consequence of the cooperation required to live in communities. Those customs acquired the force of law when they became the rules by which rights and obligations were regulated between members of a community.
Very few countries or political entities in the world today operate under a legal system which could be said to be typically and completely based on customary law. However, customary law still plays a major role, namely in matters of personal conduct, in a relatively high number of countries or political entities with mixed legal systems.
Customary Law Systems:
Guernsey Island (UK)
Jersey Island (UK)
Mixed Systems Of Customary Law and Civil Law:
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
Congo, Republic of the
Sao -Tome and Principe
Mixed Systems of Customary Law and Common Law:
Micronesia, Federated States of
Papua New Guinea
Mixed Systems of Customary Law, Civil Law, and Muslim Law:
Mixed Systems of Customary Law, Civil Law, and Common Law:
(See the University of Ottawa’s Legal Systems site for an excellent breakdown of World Legal Systems.) http://www.droitcivil.uottawa.ca/world-legal-systems/eng-presentation.html
International Customary Law
In international law, customary law refers to the Law of Nations, the legal norms that have developed through the customary exchanges between states over time. Customary international law then develops from the practice of States. “The practice of States” is a term of art meaning official governmental conduct reflected in a wide variety of acts, including official statements at international conferences and in diplomatic exchanges, formal instructions to diplomatic agents, national court decisions, legislative measures or other actions taken by governments to deal with matters of international concern. Therefore, legal obligations arise between states to carry out their affairs consistently with past accepted conduct or customs. Customary international law can be distinguished from treaty law, which consists of explicit agreements between nations to assume obligations. Many treaties, however, are attempts to codify pre-existing customary law.
For more information on researching International Law, see the Library’s International Law Resources Guide.
LSU Legal Research Guides
Prepared by Vicenç Feliú
Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Librarian