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Foreign and Comparative Law Research

A basic guide to resources available in the Dufour Law Library and its research databases, along with those publicy available on the Internet.

Introduction

For purposes of this guide, foreign law is the national or domestic law of countries other than the United States. Comparative law is the study of similarities and differences between the laws of two or more countries, or between two different legal systems. Comparative law generally involves synthesis and analysis, rather than a listing of the different laws.

A word of caution: both comparative and foreign legal research involve finding the laws of a foreign country, which be challenging for those accustomed to American legal research. The availability of sources varies widely by jurisdiction, and finding materials in English might not be possible. That being said, there are a number of useful tools available to today's researchers. The method will vary depending on the country you are researching, but this guide provides some useful starting points.

Research Strategy

Familiarize yourself with the structure of the foreign legal system.

  • Is it a common law jurisdiction? A civil law system? A system heavily influenced by religious law? World Legal Systems, from the University of Ottawa, is a good starting point.
  • Begin with a source that explains the legal system, such as the Foreign Law Guide.

Consult secondary sources.

  • Determine if a specific research guide or overview exists for your country.
  • Search for discussion of your topic in journal articles, or treatises. These will summarize the applicable law, and might provide citations to primary sources.

Identify the sources of law you need.

  • Are you looking for a constitution, a specific statute, a case, general information?
  • Do you have a citation to a law, an article, etc.? 
  • What are the pertinent dates?
  • Do you need the complete text of the law, a summary, an English translation, or a detailed explanation?

Locate the primary law for the jurisdiction you are researching.

  • Does the country publish codes, compilations of statutes, or reporters?
  • A good source for gathering this information is the Foreign Law Guide.

Country Research Guides

If you can find a current research guide for your country, you'll save many steps in locating the foreign law. There are many reputable guides available online. Here are a few that we recommend in particular:

Citations and Abbreviations

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, RESERVE KF245 .U5. Table 2 provides the format for citation in thirty-six selected foreign countries.

The Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations, REF K89 .G84 2009, covers 45 foreign jurisdictions with country overviews, citations guides and references to secondary sources.

The Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations is an online source, useful for deciphering thousands of foreign acronyms and citation abbreviations.

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