Latin American nations generally follow the civil law tradition. Civil law, which has its roots in Roman law, features reliance on codified law, rather than precedential case law. An excellent introduction to the civil law tradition is noted below.
Locating, and also interpreting, sources of Latin American law can be extremely challenging, even for seasoned legal researchers. Keep in mind that, when approaching a question related to Latin American law (or foreign law generally), it is often advantageous to start with a secondary source. There are many useful print sources and online guides in English that can serve as introductions to understanding and researching Latin American law. Some of these resources are listed at right, and others are listed under the "Books," "Databases," and "Web Resources" tabs.
An excellent introduction to civil law systems is available via the WWW link listed below. Other books on civil law may be located using Pegasus (see the "Books" tab for more info).
Sponsored by the University of Ottawa, JuriGlobe is a multilingual databank that provides general information on world legal systems. Countries are categorized by type of legal system, and a color-coded map is included that displays the geographic distribution of legal systems.
The Loyola University Chicago School of Law currently sponsors a formal exchange program with the Law School of the Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Santiago, Chile. Each year, several UAH law faculty and students visit Chicago, and a seminar class from Loyola travels to Santiago during Spring Break.
Since the program's inception, UAH has periodically donated items related to Chilean law to the Law Library. Grouped together as the "Universidad Alberto Hurtado Collection," these materials are housed in the Rare Books Room, and currently total over 20 items. The items, which are primarily in Spanish, range from copies of UAH Law School periodicals, to an investigative dossier of former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet.
Use of the materials in the "Universidad Alberto Hurtado Collection" is limited to Loyola Law School faculty, staff, current students, and alumni. Individuals wishing to review any of the UAH items are asked to call the Reference Desk at 312.915.7205 to schedule an appointment.
The following is a handout prepared in conjunction with a talk on the topic of "Researching Latin American Law" for the Latino Caucus (American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, July 19, 2015).
There are several websites that offer guidance on researching Latin American law. GlobaLex and LLRX provide overviews on researching a variety of individual Latin American countries. Note that many law libraries offer webliographies for individual Latin American countries. Try Googling "legal research" and the name of the individual country to locate these pages.
English translations of Latin American legal materials are often difficult to locate and can be unreliable. Only in rare instances are authoritative English translations available. If authoritative versions are not available, look for "official" translations that are created by, or for, a government organization. Further, look for synoptic translations, which allow for side-by-side comparisons of the vernacular with the English translation. Some types of Latin American legal materials are translated into English more often than others, such as those pertaining to commercial law.
Many online translators are available on the WWW, but these should be used with caution since web translators do not generally include specialized legal or commercial vocabulary. Online translators, however, may be of some help in getting the general sense of a document or passage. Examples of WWW translators are:
Prepared in the summer of 2009, updated in February 2012, this 23-page guide offers instructions and tips on how to research foreign, comparative, and international law at the LUC Law Library. The annotated guide lists print reference sources, subscription databases, free websites, and current awareness sources that may be useful when approaching foreign, comparative, and international law questions.
The following are edited versions of PowerPoint presentations that were prepared for the LUC Law School course, "Comparative Law Seminar: Legal Systems in the Americas."