Getting Started on a Foreign or Comparative Law Topic at the Pritzker Legal Research Center
What is Foreign Law? What is Comparative Law?
"Foreign law" refers to the law and/or legal system of another jurisdiction. For purposes of this web page, foreign law refers to the law of jurisdictions other than the United States and its states and dependencies.
"Comparative law" is a field of study that deals with the methodology for researching and comparing the laws or legal systems of different jurisdictions or legal traditions (e.g., common law, civil law, religious, customary, mixed). Comparative law is not, in itself, a body of law. Also, works that discuss more than one legal system are often designated "comparative." An excellent guide to comparative law and closely related subjects is Comparative Law, by Paul Norman (GlobaLex). A web site that presents jurisdictions classified by legal system is JuriGlobe (University of Ottawa).
As a practical matter, materials relevant to a particular country may be found in resources designated "comparative" and comparative law research makes use of "foreign law" resources.
Some factors to consider when beginning research:
(This "getting started" guide assumes little or no knowledge of non-U.S. laws or legal systems or languages other than English.)
Some occasional misconceptions about foreign law research:
That everything has been translated into English; that everything is online; that case law has the same authority and prominence everywhere as in U.S.; that there always exists the equivalent of USCA, Shepards, Keycite; that LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Google are the best (or only) electronic resources for foreign law research.
Limitations of legal texts in translation:
Serious, in-depth research requires original language sources. All translation is an approximation of the original. Legal translation presents special difficulties, as concepts and terminology may differ among jurisdictions, and will often there will not be an analogous term.
Secondary Sources:Secondary sources, e.g., books, articles, encyclopedias, are usually easier starting points than primary sources (e.g., codes). Secondary sources can provide context, as well as citations to primary sources and/or translations. An especially helpful type of secondary source is the research guide devoted to a particular jurisdiction or topic.
Research Guides by Jurisdiction:
Research Guides by Subject:
Encyclopedias and other Multi-Country Resources:
Finding Books and articles:
There are many periodical indexes and full text databases available to help identify articles. See the following page: Finding Articles on Foreign and Comparative Law (Prtizker Legal Research Center).
Browse the shelves . At the Pritzker Legal Research Center, materials on a given country may be shelved in more than one location, with some older materials located in closed shelving. This location chart is a simplified guide to floor locations for foreign, comparative, and international law, arranged by broad geographic areas. However, because a geographic approach is only one way to find relevant materials, one must also use NUsearch to locate materials shelved by subject, as well as the periodical indexing sources mentioned above.
The availability of foreign law source material in the library system varies by jurisdiction and language. For many jurisdictions Internet resources are available to supplement local resources
Primary Law: Hard Copy Sources
Even within broad legal families or traditions, publication patterns vary widely by jurisdiction. Features sometimes encountered that may be unfamiliar to a U.S. legal researcher are: official gazettes; codes (in the civil law sense); case law published in more abbreviated format and possibly in legal periodicals.
In the Pritzker Legal Research Center the major collections of foreign primary law are for the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Materials of other jurisdictions are collected to a lesser extent, particularly France, Italy, and Germany. With a few exceptions, the library collects at present only in the following languages: English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. English language translations and secondary resource materials, especially books, are collected for all jurisdictions. The library holds historical materials from many jurisdictions, particularly Japan, and in many languages.
Primary Law: Internet Sources:
Both fee-based and free sources of foreign law exist; these may be identified through a research guide (above) or a research portal, such as
LexisNexis and Westlaw for Foreign Law Research:
These can be very useful, for some jurisdictions and for some topics, but they are not comprehensive and files are not always up to date. Always check scope notes (information icon). Quite useful for UK and other commonwealth jurisdictions. Databases available are subject to change. Some useful treatises are available in full text. (Note: the above comments on the limitations of these services are not directed toward the special databases of foreign law that LexisNexis and Westlaw have acquired and make available by separate subscription.)
It may ultimately be necessary to associate foreign counsel. It is prudent to acquire in advance as much knowledge of the laws and legal system as possible.
In legal practice, issues may include: service of process abroad; taking of evidence (discovery); recognition and enforcement of a U.S. judgment by a court in another country. Some of these issues may involve a treaty or have other international law considerations.
U. S. Department of State as a resource:
Practice-oriented treatises--some examples:
Considerations that may influence a transnational legal issue: