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Foreign, Comparative, and International Law: Getting Started


Locating, and also interpreting, foreign and international legal sources can be extremely challenging, even for seasoned legal researchers. Sources for foreign and comparative law research include national constitutions, statutes, regulations, and cases, but these sources may function differently in foreign legal systems.  The traditional sources of public international law may also be unfamiliar. These sources, enumerated in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice (the ICJ Statute), are: 1) international conventions (also known as treaties); 2) customary law (general practices of countries and IGOs that are legally binding); 3) general principles of law; and 4) judicial decisions and the “teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations.” (Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 38, June 26, 1945, 59 Stat. 1055, 33 U.N.T.S. 993).

The Law Library itself has a wide array of resources in both print and electronic formats that can help with foreign, comparative, and international legal research. There are also many useful websites listed in this guide that are specific to foreign, comparative, and international law. In addition, the guide lists resources that novices can use to learn the skills and resources specific to these topics, as well as “current awareness” sources that researchers may utilize to keep abreast of developments in foreign and international law.

Keep in mind that, when approaching any legal research problem, it is often advantageous to start with a secondary source.  There are many excellent print reference sources, online guides, and treatises that can be extremely helpful when approaching a foreign, comparative, or international law question. 

Map of Legal Systems

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. CURRENTLY OFFLINE. 


For assistance citing to foreign and international materials in U.S. legal publications and documents, see the most recent edition of The Bluebook.    For assistance interpreting foreign and international legal citations, see the following:

Introductory Materials (Electronic Format)

There are a number of resources on the WWW that provide introductions to various aspects of foreign and international legal research. 


Under the auspices of the Hauser Global Law School Program at New York University, GlobaLex provides links to a growing collection of articles on foreign, comparative, and international legal research. Examples of countries covered include: Cambodia, Chile, Hungary, Lesotho, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Turkey, and Zimbabwe. 


The following books serve as introductions to various aspects of foreign and international legal research. 

Online Translators

English translations of foreign and international 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 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:


Empirical Legal Research

For an excellent guide to empirical legal research, see the LibGuide authored by Tim Gatton of the Oklahoma City University School of Law (Chickasaw Nation Law Library).

LibGuide on Empirical Legal Research