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Researching Foreign Legal Systems — Basic Resources

This page is no longer being updated.  For an up-to-date, current version of this page, please visit our new research guide.

Here are some places to start a search for information about foreign legal systems, for the text of foreign laws or cases, or for discussions of how other countries approach link specific legal issues or topics.

The advice here is geared to research in a mid-sized U.S. law library. For in-depth research, and especially tfor the text of foreign laws or cases in the original language, a visit to a large U.S. law library is in order.

[Members of the USF community: for advice specific to your research, speak to a librarian at the Zief Law Library Reference Desk, or call 415-422-6773.]

Finding Introductions to a Country's Legal System

For most projects, some introductory or background information about the country's legal system will be essential. The following sources include or can lead you to overviews of foreign legal systems:

  • Reynolds, Thomas H. & Flores, Arturo A., Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (http://www.foreignlawguide.com/ip/). Short overviews of over 170 legal systems, with references to more detailed discussions. [Remote access not yet available.]

  • Kritzer, Herbert M., ed. Legal Systems of the World: A Political, Social, and Cultural Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, c2002) K 48 .L44 2002 Law Reference. Articles on individual countries, as well as on topics such as "Customary Law" and "Parliamentary Supremacy."

  • International Association of Legal Science, International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (Tubingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck); New York, Oceana, [1973?- ]) K 530.I57 1973 Law Reference. The "National reports" in volume 1 describe in detail the legal systems of numerous countries. They are now dated but many remain useful.

  • Szladits' Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law (New York: Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law, Columbia University in the city of New York: distributed by Oceana Publications, 1955-) K 520 .B5 Law Reference. This massive bibliography covers books containing general overviews and specific topical discussions. Until 1990 articles were also covered.

  • Germain, Claire M., Germain's Transnational Law Research (Ardsley-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Transnational Juris Publications, Inc., c1991-) K 85 G47 1991 Law Reference Desk. This set deals with European nations and includes some chapters on individual nations.

  • Redden, Kenneth R., ed., Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia (Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.A.: W.S. Hein, 1984-) K 583 .M62 1984 Law Reference. Overviews of the structure of legal systems of more than 120 countries. The country studies (each written by a different author) vary in depth and currency. Includes lists of other resources on the country in question. The "Indices and World Law School Directory" volume contains detailed a table of contents for all volumes, a subject index, and a country index. (Somewhat dated, but still useful for countries whose legal systems have remained stable.)

To find sources beyond those listed above, try a "Subject" search on Ignacio following this model:
law -- "country name" — for example, law -- japan

Finding Specific Laws or Discussions of Specific Topics

Begin with the following resources if you need to find the text of foreign laws in the original language or translation, or if you'd like to find a discussion of a specific topic or issue:

Web Sources

The web is increasingly useful for finding the text of foreign legislation and, sometimes, court decisions — though much is still not available in digital form, and very little is available in English. The web is less useful for finding overviews of foreign legal systems or explanations and analyses of comparative law topics.

Below are some good collections of links to foreign legal materials. These sites strive to link to current and accurate materials. These sites link to materials in English (where available) and original languages.

  • Reynolds & Flores, Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (http://www.foreignlawguide.com/ip/). Best place to start to find specific laws. Cites to laws in the original language (and, where possible, in English) in official or other authoritative sources — but only rarely links directly to full text of laws. Sources for court reports are also listed. [Remote access not yet available.]

  • GlobaLex (http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/). GlobaLex, from NYU's Hauser Global Law Studies Program, publishes research guides with links to primary law in original languages and English, if available. Select the "Foreign Law Research" link for guides for specific countries.

  • World Legal Information Institute (http://www.worldlii.org/) collections of laws, legal journals, and other materials. Organized by country, region, and subject. Researchers seeking primary law can focus on courts and case law or on legislation. At the bottom of the WorldLII home page there are links to Legal Information Institutes for specific countries (e.g., Canada) and regions (e.g., Asia).

  • Univ. of Houston, O'Quinn Law Library's Foreign Primary Law on the Web (http://www.law.uh.edu/libraries/fi/foreignlaw.html). Covers only sites offering foreign primary law in the original languages or in translation. Also offers links other gateways for foreign law.

  • Cornell Law Library, Selected Foreign and International Law Reources for the Legal Researcher (http://library2.lawschool.cornell.edu/ForeignLawGuide/). Links to free and fee-based materials organized by topic or by country. For topics, choose "Topical Guide." For countries, choose "Foreign Law Sites."

  • Yale Law Library, Foreign Law Research Guide (http://www.law.yale.edu/library/countries.asp) A country-by-country grid with links to research guides and primary law.

  • Library of Congress's Guide to Law Online (http://www.loc.gov/law/help/guide.php). An "annotated guide to sources of information on government and law available online." Select Nations of the World for jurisdictional research.

  • Library of Congress's Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) (http://www.glin.gov/). Search engine for summaries (and often full text) of "laws, regulations, judicial decisions, and other complementary legal sources contributed by governmental agencies and international organizations."

  • Library of Congress's Portals to the World (http://www.loc.gov/rr/international/portals.html). "Authoritative, in-depth information about the nations and other areas of the world." For legal information, select a country, and then the "Government, Politics, Law" category.

  • NYU Law School's Guide to Foreign & International Databases (http://www.law.nyu.edu/library/research/foreign_intl/index.htm). Topical and jurisdictional links to materials. Includes free and fee-based databases.

  • Washburn University School of Law's WashLaw — Foreign & International Law (http://www.washlaw.edu/forint/). A utilitarian but thorough alphabetical list of links to sites dealing with specific countries and topics.

  • Global Courts — (http://www.globalcourts.com/) Links to or information on finding supreme court decisions from 129 countries.


  • International Association of Legal Science, International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (Tubingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck); New York, Oceana, [1973?- ]) K 530.I57 1973 Law Reference. Volumes 4 - 17 cover topics such as Persons & Family, Property & Trust, Contracts, Torts, Business Organizations, Labor Law, Procedure.

  • Szladits' Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law (New York: Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law, Columbia University in the city of New York: distributed by Oceana Publications, 1955-) K 520 .B5 Law Reference. Best for locating overviews of legal systems or topical discussions, which will in turn, cite to laws, cases, or regulation.

  • Redden, Kenneth R., ed., Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia (Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.A.: W.S. Hein, 1984-) K 583 .M62 1984 Law Reference. Contains some "general studies" that focus on discrete topics. The "Indices and World Law School Directory" volume contains a subject index to these studies.

"Encore" "Keyword" and "Subject" searches on Ignacio can also lead to you collections of laws in translation, or to books devoted to specific topics. For more advice, see a reference librarian.

Law Review Articles

Law review articles are most useful for finding discussions of narrow issues in foreign or comparative law. They will also cite to relevant laws, cases, and regulations. Use the resources described below to find articles on the country or topic you are researching.

Szladits Bibliography

Szladits' Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law (New York: Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law, Columbia University in the city of New York: distributed by Oceana Publications, 1955- ) K 520 .B5 Law Reference. Includes citations to law review articles up to 1990.

Other Tools for Finding Citations to Articles ("Periodical Indexes")

There are three standard tools for finding citations to law review articles: Legal Resource Index, Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals, and Index to Legal Periodicals.

The best for finding articles about foreign legal systems are Legal Resource Index and Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals. The other source, Index to Legal Periodicals, can be useful for finding articles that take a comparative law approach to a legal topic.

For more advice on how to find law review articles, see the Zief library handout Finding Law Review Articles (http://www.usfca.edu/law_library/finjou.html).

Legal Resource Index/LegalTrac

Legal Resource Index and LegalTrac are essentially the same. Legal Resource Index is the version that appears on Lexis and Westlaw. LegalTrac is the version on the web.

LegalTrac/Legal Resource Index began in 1980 and contains comprehensive citations to law review articles from almost every U.S. law school. Legal Resource Index is particularly useful for finding articles dealing with specific countries. It also can lead to topical articles comparing jurisdictions.

USF law students may use — and may be most comforatable using — Legal Resource Index on Lexis or Westlaw. The Lexis source is Legal Resource Index (short name: LEXREF;LGLIND). The Westlaw database is
Legal Resource Index

To search for articles about a specific country, add the following after your other search terms:

Lexis —  [search terms] and jurisdiction("country name")
Westlaw —  [search terms] and summary("country name")

For example,

Lexis —  banking and jurisdiction("hungary")
Westlaw —  banking and summary("hungary")

To search for articles taking a comparative approach to a topic, add the following after your other search terms:

Lexis —  [search terms] and term(comparative)
Westlaw —  [search terms] and index(comparative)

For example,

Lexis —  labor or employ! and term(comparative)
Westlaw —  labor or employ! and index(comparative)

To search for articles applying the principles of comparative law to a country or region, model your search on the following examples:

Lexis —  hungary or "eastern europe" and term(comparative)
Westlaw —  hungary or "eastern europe" and index(comparative)

Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (IFLP)

This index contains citations to scholarly articles, book reviews, and other publications. Many of the articles are not in English. Many of the publications covered by this set are not in the Zief Law Library collection, but we can get copies of articles we don't own from other libraries. (Please allow plenty of time to process such requests.)

Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals from 1960 to the present is available in print at K 33 .I52 Law Reference. (IFLP is not included in USF's Westlaw subscription.)

A web version of Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals covering 1985 to the present is available to USF law school researchers. Follow the link to Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals on the Zief Library's Finding Articles (Legal & Other) page (http://www.usfca.edu/law_library/lawarticles.htm). The link to IFLP is near the end of the page.

A "Cheat Sheet" for IFLP's web version (http://www.usfca.edu/law_library/iflpcheat.html) shows how to retrieve relevant article citations by subject/topic, key word, jurisdiction, author, case name, and statute or treaty name.

Index to Foreign Periodicals in print organizes article citations by broad topics (e.g., Labor Law, Property, Trade Unions, Taxation, etc.). These topics are then usually broken down by individual county names. Each print volume also contains a Geographical Index where, under the name of each country, you will find a comprehensive list of all subjects/topics in that volume that have citations to articles dealing with the country you are researching.

Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP)

Index to Legal Periodicals is not as useful as Legal Resource Index for finding articles about the law of specific countries. Still, it is useful for finding topical articles comparing the laws of different jurisdictions.

Index to Legal Periodicals is available on the web, on Lexis and Westlaw, and in print at K 33 .I54 Law Reference. ILP in print covers 1770 to the present. On the web it covers 1918 to the present, and on Lexis and Westlaw, it covers August 1981 to the present.

USF law students may use — and may be most comfortable using — Index to Legal Periodicals on Lexis or Westlaw. The Lexis source is Index to Legal Periodicals. (short name: LEXREF;ILP). The Westlaw database is Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP).

Index to Legal Periodicals is also available on the web, where it is also known as "Legal Periodicals Full Text." Coverage begins in 1918.

To find comparative law articles that take a topical approach, add the following to search terms related to your topic:

Lexis —  [search terms] and descriptors("comparative law")
Westlaw —  [search terms] and index("comparative law")

For example,

Lexis —   "environmental law" and descriptors("comparative law")
Westlaw —   divorce and index("comparative law")

Non-US, English-Language Legal Periodical Indexes

Legal Journals Index (Covers journals published in Great Britain. On Westlaw as the Legal Journals Index (LJI) database.)

European Legal Journals Index [not on Lexis or Westlaw.] (Available locally from 1993 to 1999 at the Hastings Law Library: KJC 3.7 .E97 6th Stacks.)

Index to Canadian Legal Literature (Covers books and journal articles. In print at KE 173 .C355 and KE 173 .C356 Law Reference. On Westlaw as the Index to Canadian Legal Literature (ICLL) database.)

Other Tools for Finding Articles via the USF Libraries

USF's Gleeson Library subscribes to a broad range of online tools to help you find non-legal articles and other relevant information that might be relevant to comparative law projects. For lists organized by topic and alphabetically, go to Gleeson Library's Start Your Research page (/Library/research/Start_Your_Research/). The reference librarians at the USF's Gleeson Library can help USF law students and faculty with USF's non-legal information sources.

A few useful resources include the following:

  • Worldwide Political Science Abstracts (/Library/databases/Worldwide_Political_Science_Abstracts/) has citations to and abstracts (short summaries) of journal articles and other scholarly literature in political science and related fields, including international relations, law, and public administration/policy.

  • Sociological Abstracts (/Library/databases/Sociological_Abstracts/) includes abstracts of journal articles, abstracts of conference papers, dissertation listings from Dissertations Abstracts International, citations to book reviews, and abstracts of selected sociology books.

  • InfoNation (/Library/databases/Infonation/) provides data from various United Nations agencies on the geography, population, economy, and social indicators of United Nations member countries.

  • Academic OneFile (/Library/databases/Academic_OneFile/) contains a mix of citations, abstracts, and full-text articles from scholarly journals, popular magazines, and newspapers.

  • ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (/Library/databases/ProQuest_Dissertations___Theses/) has dissertations and masters theses on all subjects from over 1,000 institutions.

    (Formerly known as "Dissertation Abstracts.")

Foreign Legal Materials on Lexis & Westlaw

Apart from the European Union, Mexico, , and the major common law jurisdictions (e.g., United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Australia), coverage of foreign law on Lexis and Westlaw is disappointing. Changes are possible, though, so check before ruling out these tools. To see if Lexis or Westlaw might have materials relevant to your project, check the following.

  • Cornell's Foreign and International Law Resources for the Legal Researcher (http://library2.lawschool.cornell.edu/ForeignLawGuide/). For a given jurisdiction, this site will often say whether there are any relevant Lexis or Westlaw databases.

  • Lexis's directory of sources: Sign on to Lexis and select the "Legal" tab under "Look for a Source." (Lexis usually starts with this tab.) Then, select the and browse the category "Find Laws by Country or Region." Currently fewer than 15 non-common-law jurisdictions are represented — and for most of those, the resources are limited.

  • Westlaw's directory: Sign on to Westlaw and click on the word "Directory" in the blue stripe at the top of the page. Then, click on "International/Worldwide Materials" and browse the folder "Databases Listed Alphabetically By Country or Region" (or browse the folder called "Multi-National Materials"). Lots of jurisdictions are listed, but for most there is no primary law — only news and business information.

Learning More About Researching Foreign Law

For more information on researching foreign legal systems or finding foreign law, try the following:

Web Sources

Print Sources

  • Hoffman, Marci & Rumsey, Mary, International and Foreign Legal Research: A Coursebook (Leiden; Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, c2008) K 85 .H64 2008 Law Reference Desk. See especially Ch. 1-5 & 7.

  • Rehberg, Jeanne & Popa, Radu D., Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: an Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research (Littleton, Colo.: F.B. Rothman, 1998) K 85 .A27 1997 Law Reference Desk. See especially chapter 3 ("Introduction to Foreign and Comparative Law") and chapter 4 ("Finding Foreign Law").

  • Chapter 17 of Cohen, Morris L, Berring, Robert C. & Olson, Kent C., How to Find the Law, 9th ed. (St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1989) KF 240 .C538 1989 Law Reference. (Somewhat dated but still useful.)

To see if USF has any books describing how to research the law of a given country, run an "Encore" search on Ignacio (the USF libraries' catalog, http://ignacio.usfca.edu/) following this pattern:
"legal research" "country name" — for example, "legal research" "south africa"