Foreign & Comparative Law

Download PDF version of guide for print

I. Introduction

Foreign law consists of the rules governing the domestic laws of individual foreign countries. Comparative law involves comparing foreign legal principles and institutions with one's own; it is a method of studying legal problems, rather than a body of rules and principles. This guide is intended to provide a general overview of foreign and comparative law sources. The Library has separate research guides for English, Canadian and European Union legal materials.

Back to top

II. Where to Start

When you approach a research topic on foreign or comparative law, your first step should be to use English-language secondary sources to acquaint yourself with the characteristics of a foreign legal system or comparative law sources and methods. If you can, you should then look at secondary sources in the language of the country whose legal system you are researching. As well as giving you substantive information, foreign language secondary sources, such as treatises, encyclopedias and articles, are a good way to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary used for legal concepts.

A. General Works

General works on foreign and comparative law will help you understand the different ways of looking at legal problems and different methods of legal reasoning you may find in foreign legal systems. They will often provide useful bibliographical references as well.

  • W.W. Buckland and Arnold D. McNair, Roman Law and Common Law: A Comparison in Outline, 2nd ed., revised by F.H. Lawson (KJA162 .B836 2008). First published in 1952, this book is "...a comparison of some of the leading rules and institutions of the two systems."
  • Comparative Law: A Handbook (edited by Esin Örücü and David Nelken) (K559 .C645 2007). This book focuses on controversies and methodologies in contemporary comparative law.

  • Comparative Law: An Introduction (edited by Vivian Grosswald Curran) (K559 .C65 2002) describes the methodology of comparative legal analysis.

  • John P. Dawson, The Oracles of the Law (KJ147.D39 1968). This is a study of case law in the legal systems of England, Rome, France and Germany.

  • David, René, "Sources of Law" in 2 International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (K48.I58). David was one of the most influential scholars in comparative law.

  • David, René & John E.C. Brierly, Major Legal Systems in the World Today, 3d ed. (K583.D3812 1985). A classic, this book classifies legal systems into families based on Western conceptions of law.

  • De Cruz, Peter, A Modern Approach to Comparative Law (K559.D42 1993) and Comparative Law in a Changing World, 3d ed. (K561.D42 2007). These useful works provide a good overview that reflects current developments on the world political and legal scene, and include bibliographic references for further research.

  • Elgar Encyclopedia of Comparative Law, 2d ed. (Ref. K48 .E42 2012) provides information on the legal systems of about 20 countries, along with essays on a variety of topics.

  • Glendon, Mary Ann, Michael W. Gordon & Paolo G. Carozza, Comparative Legal Traditions in a Nutshell, 3d ed. (Reserve K560.G43 2008) is a basic introduction to the topic.

  • Glenn, H. Patrick, Legal Traditions of the World: Sustainable Diversity in Law, 4th ed. (K559 .G545 2010). This work surveys religious and culturally-conditioned law (e.g., Islamic law) as well as the civil and common law families of law.

  • Gordley, James & Arthur Taylor von Mehren, An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Private Law: Readings, Cases, Materials (K623 .G673 2006). The authors analyze cases and statutes to compare legal doctrines in civil law and common law countries.

  • Grossfeld, Bernhard, Core Questions of Comparative Law (Vivian Grosswald Curran, trans.) (K559.G75813 2005) is an English translation of an important German work dealing with theoretical aspects of comparative law.

  • International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (K48.I58). This is an excellent introduction to foreign legal systems, but it is in need of updating. The "National Reports" volumes provide introductions to the legal systems of various countries.
  • International Encyclopaedia of Laws. This publication is organized by topic, so volumes are shelved according to subject matter (civil procedure, environmental law, medical law, etc.). To find them, search the online catalog by title or keyword. The website provides the updated full text of all the topics, which are no longer updated in print at the library.

  • JuriGlobe: World Legal Systems is a research project from the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa that includes general information on the variety of legal systems in the world.

  • Law and Judicial Systems of Nations, 4th ed., rev. (Ref. K583 .W67 2002). Brief overviews of the legal system and court structure of 193 countries.

  • Legal Systems of the World: A Political, Social, and Cultural Encyclopedia (Herbert M. Kritzer, ed.) (Ref. K48 .L44 2002 & online). This four-volume set is arranged alphabetically by country and subject; the country entries provide an historical overview, a discussion of the legal system and short bibliographies.

  • Markesinis, B. S., Foreign Law and Comparative Methodology: A Subject and a Thesis (K559 .M374 1997) and Engaging with Foreign Law (with Jörg Fedtke)(K559 .M3694 2009).

  • Mixed Jurisdictions Worldwide: The Third Legal Family, 2d ed. (Vernon Valentine Palmer, ed.) (K585 .M59 2012).

  • Moore, Sally Falk, "Legal Systems of the World: An Introductory Guide to Classifications, Topological Interpretations, and Bibliographic Resources," in Law and the Social Sciences (Leon Lipson & Stanley Wheeler, eds.) (KF379 .L36 1987), is a criticism of Eurocentric attempts at classification.

  • The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (Mathias Reimann & Reinhard Zimmermann, eds.) (K48 .O96 2006) is a collection of essays that examines the development of comparative law in a number of countries and analyzes modern comparative law as an intellectual enterprise.

  • Redden, Kenneth R., Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia (K530 .M62 1984). This multi-volume introduction to the legal systems of foreign countries is arranged by continent and area. It includes both country studies written by selected experts and reprints of articles on a variety of topics, mostly related to international law.

  • John C. Reitz, How to Do Comparative Law, 46 Am. J. Comp. L. 617 (1998).

  • Reynolds, Thomas H., "Introduction to Foreign and Comparative Law" in Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: An Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research (Jeanne Rehberg & Radu D. Popa, eds.) (Ref. K85 .A27 1998) is a very useful introduction to legal research in civil law and commonwealth countries.

  • Wade, Daniel L., "Comparative Law: Academic Perspectives and Practical Legal Realities" in Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems (Richard A. Danner & Marie-Louise H. Bernal, eds.) (K583 .I57 1994). This essay on the history and literature of comparative law includes citations to the important works in the field.

  • Watson, Alan, Comparative Law: Law, Reality and Society, 3d ed. (K559 .W38 2010) is a collection of essays with an historical bent.

  • The World Legal System site at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law categorizes the legal systems of the countries of the world and provides brief definitions.

  • The World Society of Mixed Jurisdiction Jurists focuses on the mixed jurisdictions, which include South Africa, Scotland, Israel, Quebec, The Philippines, Puerto Rico and Louisiana.

  • Zweigert, K. & H. Kotz, An Introduction to Comparative Law, 3d rev. ed. 1998 (K583 .Z813 1998) is useful book that both discusses and illustrates comparative law methodology.

You can find other works on comparative law in the online catalog under the subject heading Comparative Law.

Back to top

B. Journals and Indexes
1. Journals

There are articles on comparative and foreign law topics in many law reviews and journals, especially those focusing on foreign and international law. Listed below are just a few of the most important English-language journals specializing in foreign and comparative legal research. The Library receives many foreign legal periodicals as well. To find other periodicals in the online catalog you can do a subject search using the subtopic "periodicals" (e.g. comparative law--periodicals). Many periodicals are also available online; look for “[electronic resource]” in the title field and use the "GetIt@Duke" link for access and coverage information.

  • American Journal of Comparative Law (Periodicals). Published by the American Society of Comparative Law, this journal includes articles on a wide range of foreign and comparative law issues. The Society's website includes links to comparative, international and foreign law sites.
  • The British Institute of International and Comparative Law puts out the International and Comparative Law Quarterly (Periodicals).
  • The International Journal of Legal Information (formerly International Journal of Law Libraries) (Periodicals) is a publication of the International Association of Law Libraries. It includes many bibliographies and reviews books of topical interest.
  • The Electronic Journal of Comparative Law is a free online journal that publishes articles about comparative private law and the methodology of comparative law. The European Journal of Legal Studies, also freely accessible on the Internet, includes articles on international and comparative law.
2. Indexes

The Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (Reference Indexes and online) indexes articles in English language and foreign language journals in the fields of public and private international law, comparative law and the municipal law of all countries except the U.S., U.K. and Commonwealth countries with common law systems.

Szladits' A Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law (1955-1983), continued by Szladits' Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law (1984-1998) (Ref. K38 .S95 & in HeinOnline Parker School of Foreign & Comparative Law Library), are useful for finding older English-language articles (after 1990, articles are no longer indexed).

You can also find articles on foreign and comparative law topics in American and other English language journals using the standard periodical indexes:

  • Index to Legal Periodicals indexes scholarly law books and journals from 1981-present, with full text from 1995 onward. The print version, Index to Legal Periodicals & Books (Reference Indexes), covers approximately 1,025 English-language legal periodicals with a single author/subject index. Books are indexed under subject and author or title.
  • LegalTrac covers a larger number of periodicals than the Index to Legal Periodi­cals and has more practice-oriented periodicals. The print version is called Current Law Index (Reference Indexes). You can also search it on LexisNexis and Westlaw, where it is known as the Legal Resource Index.

Back to top

C. Bibliographies, Research Guides and Digests

Bibliographies and research guides will help you identify the most important sources of foreign and comparative law, give you advice about developing research strategies and explain the techniques of using foreign legal materials. Digests summarize the substantive law as well as giving citations to published sources both in the vernacular and in translation.

  • Cornell Legal Research Encyclopedia: Countries and Cornell's Foreign and International Law Guide contain information and research guides for many jurisdictions.
  • Germain, Claire M., Germain's Transnational Law Research: A Guide for Attorneys (K85 .G47 1991). This is a very useful guide with an emphasis on practical approaches to finding materials. The focus is on Western Europe, with advice on research methodology as well as lists of resources. Information on Internet sources is included.
  • Globalex provides comparative, foreign and international law research guides organized by country and by subject.
  • Information Sources in Law (Jules Winterton & Elizabeth M. Moys, eds.), 2d ed. (Ref. KJC76 .I54 1997). This work provides an overview of the legal system for European countries and the U.K., and gives sources for legislation, treaties, and court reports. Also included are bibliographies and information on electronic resources.
  • Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems (Richard A. Danner & Marie-Louise H. Bernal, eds.) (K583 .I57 1994). This book provides both an introduction to legal systems not based on the common law (including chapters on Chinese, Japanese and African legal systems) and practical advice on researching foreign law.

  • Lansky, Ralph. Bibliographisches Handbuch der Rechts - und Verwaltungswissenschaften: Erläuternde Bibliographie nationaler und international Bibliographien und anderer Nachschlagewerke und Informationsmittel = Bibliographical Handbook on Law and Public Administration: Annotated Bibliography of National and International Bibliographies and Other Reference Guides and Information Sources (K38 .L37 1987). This is a global bibliography of legal bibliographies; annotations are in German.

  • Lexadin World Law Guide provides links to legislation, courts, law schools, firms and other organizations for more than 180 countries.

  • Lomio, J. Paul & Henrik Spang-Hanssen, Legal Research Methods in the U.S. & Europe (K85 .L66 2008) outlines basic research methods in common and civil law.

  • Martindale-Hubbell International Law Digest provides summaries of the law on specific subjects for more than 60 countries. Citations to sources are included. The digest is currently available only online via LexisNexis (MARHUB;INTDIG); see the help page for tips on navigating this resource. Prior print copies of the Digest are available from 1993-2006 (Superseded Ref. KF190 .M3722).

  • Norman, Paul, Comparative Law provides advice for comparative law research along with citations to print and electronic resources.

  • Reynolds, Thomas H. & Arturo A. Flores, Foreign Law Guide, is an indispensable resource that is designed to locate primary sources of legislation for foreign jurisdictions. For each country there is a brief introduction to the legal system, a list of codifications, gazettes and other sources of law and then a section listing sources of law by subject. There are citations to materials both in the vernacular and in translation. This is the best place to start when you are looking for statutes of another country. The print version, Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Ref. K38 .R49 1989), is updated through 2007.

  • Rumsey, Mary, Basic Guide to Researching Foreign Law, outlines strategies for finding the laws of countries other than the U.S. (with a focus on finding codes, rather than cases, in English); also included are links to websites, guides and other secondary materials.

  • Sahl, Silke, A Selective List of Guides to Foreign Legal Research provides links to research guides for many countries and regions around the world.

  • Szladits, Charles, A Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law (1955-1983), continued by Szladits' Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law (1984-1998) (Ref. K38 .S95 & in HeinOnline Parker School of Foreign & Comparative Law Library). These are the most comprehensive bibliographies of books and articles in English dealing with foreign, comparative and international law. The bibliographies are arranged by subject, with an author index and geographic index by country. Articles are not indexed after 1990.

You can find bibliographies on specific legal systems with a subject search in the online catalog: for example, law--switzerland--bibliography will find Swiss Law Bibliography: English Language Materials on Swiss Law (KKW3 .S85 2005).

You can find research guides under the subject heading Legal Research--[Name of Country]. For example, you would find Chinese Law and Legal Research (KNQ47 .L86 2005) with the subject search legal research--china.

Back to top

III. Finding Foreign Legal Materials

A. Finding Foreign Law

Foreign Law Guide is an excellent source for citations to primary foreign legal materials such as codes. The print version, Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Ref. K38 .R49 1989), is updated through 2007. The Martindale-Hubbell International Law Digest (Ref. KF190 .M3722 and LexisNexis MARHUB;INTDIG) also includes citations to primary sources.

Websites of international organizations sometimes include domestic laws of their member states. For example, see the Legislationline from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and the World Bank's Doing Business, a compilation of business laws and regulations from almost every member jurisdiction.

You can also search the online catalog for foreign legal materials using subject headings. You can find general works on the laws of specific countries in the online catalog. For example, you would find Introduction to Turkish Law (KKX70 .I58 2011) using the subject search law--turkey. Older works may be cata­loged under the earlier name of a country; for example, law--germany, west will yield different results from law--germany. If you wish to find works on more specific areas of law, search under the particular subject, e.g.: commercial law--belgium.

B. Finding Foreign Law in Translation

Translations must be used with caution. They are not authoritative, they may not be up-to-date, and the quality of translation varies. When using the online catalog, you can limit your search to a specific language (e.g., English) under the "Advanced Search" feature.

1. Constitutions

Constitutions for most countries have been translated. Constitutions of the Countries & Territories of the World is a subscription database with the constitutions of 188 countries, translated by constitutional scholars; it has the ability to search by topics across all nations (e.g., keyword, country groupings, date). HeinOnline's World Constitutions Illustrated library also offers translated constitutions from about 190 countries.

Some of the best free websites that provide links to the texts of constitutions (and related documents) in English and the vernacular are:

Centre for Constitutional Studies (University of Alberta) focuses on the interdisciplinary study of constitutional matters (nationally and internationally).

Constitutional Systems of the World is a series of books that provides an overview and analysis of the constitutions of selected countries. To find individual titles, do a keyword search for constitutional systems and world and [name of country].

International Association of Constitutional Law (IACL) is a forum for constitutional law scholars.

Print Sources of Historical Constitutions, 34 Int'l J.Legal Info. 539 (2007) lists sources of English-language texts of historical constitutional documents.

The Rise of Modern Constitutionalism, 1776 - 1849 (choose the "Public Access" option) contains texts of historical constitutional materials.

2. Codes

Translations tend to be of particular codes or statutes, or collections of laws of a number of countries on a particular subject. The two basic approaches are to search by subject or by jurisdiction. In general, the laws that have been translated are those that will sell based on subject matter or geography. Laws related to commercial and investment matters are most often translated.

Here are a few examples of collections of laws in translation:

  • The French Commercial Code in English (KJV2194 2004).
  • Commercial Laws of the World (via Checkpoint; from the Checkpoint homepage, follow Table of Contents > International Tax Library > RIA Worldwide Tax and Commercial Law > then select your region/country to view available laws).
  • The Federal Civil Code of Mexico (bilingual ed.) (KGF7611.A31 A265).

One of the best places to find citations to codes in translation is Reynolds, Thomas H. & Arturo A. Flores, Foreign Law Guide; the print version is called Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Ref. K38 .R49 1989; updated to 2007).

The Szladits and Pěchota bibliographies (Ref. K38 .S95) are also useful. Multinational Statutes Compared: A Research Guide to Statutes by Subject (Ref. K85 .S38 2003) provides citations to collections of statutes of multiple jurisdictions arranged by subject.

The Library of Congress's Global Legal Information Catalog lists titles that reprint laws and regulations of many countries; it can be searched by keyword, jurisdiction, subject and author.

Another good bibliography listing sources for translations of foreign law into English is Amber Lee Smith's "Foreign Law in Translation: Problems and Sources," in Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems (Richard A. Danner & Marie-Louise H. Bernal, eds) (K583 .I57 1994).

International Legal Materials (Periodicals, LexisNexis/Westlaw & online) will sometimes print translations of important laws from foreign countries. Al­though it is highly selective in what it pub­lishes, as a rule the translations are among the first available.

Specialized periodicals can also be good sources for translations of law on specific subjects. European Current Law (formerly European Law Digest) (KJC30 .E97) is an abstracting service for legislation and case law from western Europe. Laws may also be republished in treatises.

Marci B. Hoffman & Robert C. Berring, International Legal Research in a Nutshell (Reserve KZ1234 .H64 2008) includes a list of websites containing national laws in translation.

You can also look for translations of codes in the online catalog using a keyword search. The search should include the name of the code in the vernacular and the words "english" or "translation". For example, if you were searching for a translation of the Mexican civil code your search would be: codigo civil and mexico and english.

3. Court Decisions

Court decisions are rarely translated. Some appear in International Law Reports (KZ199 .A56), International Law in Domestic Courts, and International Legal Materials (Periodicals, LexisNexis/Westlaw & online). European Current Law (KJC30 .E97) includes abstract of case law from western Europe. Cases may also be republished in periodicals and treatises. In addition to cases from UK courts, the UK-RPTS-ALL and ALL-RPTS databases in Westlaw contain selected cases from other courts worldwide (e.g., Hong Kong, Nigeria, India).

Foreign Law Translations, a database with translations of about 1,000 decisions in the fields of constitutional, administrative, contract and tort law is available at the UT-Austin School of Law website. The majority of cases are from France and Germany; there are some cases from Austria, Israel, and Italy as well.

Back to top

IV. Dictionaries

Some useful multi-lingual legal dictionaries are:

  • Elsevier's Legal Dictionary: In English, German, French, Dutch and Spanish (Ref. K54 .E45 2001).
  • Le Docte : viertalig juridisch woordenboek = Dictionnaire de termes juridiques en quatre langues = Rechtswörterbuch in vier Sprachen = Legal dictionary in four languages (Dutch, French, English, and German), (Ref. K54 .L4 2011).
  • Lindberg, E., Modern Dictionary of International Legal Terms (English, French, German) (Ref. K54 .L5 1993).
  • West's Law & Commercial Dictionary in Five Languages (English to German, Spanish, French, Italian) (Ref. K54 .W47 1985).

The Library also collects bilingual legal dictionaries. To find them in the online catalog look under the subject heading Law--Dictionaries--[Language] (e.g. law--dictio­naries--spanish). Some of the more extensive ones contain explanations of legal concepts rather than mere translations of words.

The Library collects general dictionaries in a variety of languages as well. To find bilingual dictionaries in the online catalog, look under the subject heading [Language]--Dictionaries--English (e.g.: chinese language--dictionaries--english).

Two useful sources to help decipher legal abbreviations in other languages are Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations, 3d ed. (Superseded Ref. KF246 .B5 1988; foreign abbreviations have been deleted from the current edition), and Kavass and Prince's World Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (Ref. K85 .W67 1991). The Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations is a free site which includes abbreviations from international citation guides.

The Civil Law Dictionary Wiki project includes both common law and civil law glossaries. It is based on a previously published article: N. Stephan Kinsella, A Civil Law to Common Law Dictionary, 54 La. L. Rev. 1265 (1994).

Back to top

V. Online Sources

A. LexisNexis and Westlaw

Both LexisNexis and Westlaw contain legal databases for a variety of countries. Coverage varies widely from country to country. Some of the databases dedicated to foreign law are listed below. You should consult the LexisNexis and Westlaw database directories lists for a complete list with detailed descriptions.

LexisNexis: Most foreign and international legal materials are still only available on lexis.com, which can be accessed from Lexis Advance by way of the "Research" menu in the upper left. Legal materials for other countries are listed under "Find Laws by Country or Region." They include databases for more than 90 countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, and the U.K. Contents of the individual databases vary widely. The Martindale-Hubbell International Law Digest is available through lexis.com (MARHUB;INTDIG). It contains summaries of statutory laws for over 80 countries through 2010. At this time, there is no estimated date of migration for this lexis.com content to the newer Lexis Advance platform.

Westlaw: To find legal materials for other countries in the Westlaw Classic interface, click on "Directory" at the top of the screen and then choose "International/Worldwide Materials." This folder includes databases for Canada and the U.K.; Commercial Laws of Eastern and Central Europe (INT-EEUROPE); International Environmental, health and safety laws and regulations from Brazil, Canada, the European Union, France, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom (ENFLEX-INT). In WestlawNext, the link to “International Materials” is right at the end of the “All Content” tab in “Browse,” which you should automatically see upon opening the database. Contents of the individual databases vary widely.

International Legal Materials is online on LexisNexis lexis.com interface (INTLAW;ILM) and Westlaw (ILM). LexisNexis and Westlaw contain many databases that have information in the areas of news, economics, politics and business as well as law. For example, on LexisNexis you can find business analysis and country information (WORLD;BUSANL), and there is Japanese news on Westlaw (JAPANNEWS). LexisNexis also provides country reports for most nations (NEWS & BUSINESS tab, listed under COUNTRY & REGION (Excluding U.S.)). News, political and business sources in the Westlaw Directory are listed by country under "International/Worldwide Materials."

B. Other Sites

The Internet is a growing source of information about foreign and international law. It is impossible to list all of the sites where you can find foreign legal materials. One good strategy to find information is to use a site which has compiled links to other sources. The Law Library’s "Comparative & International" page provides links to some good places to begin your foreign and comparative legal research online.

Back to top

VI. Citation Form

Rule 20 of the Bluebook covers foreign materials. Table 2 lists foreign jurisdictions in alphabetical order.

Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations, 2d ed. (Ref. K89 .G85 2009), produced by the NYU School of Law Journal of International Law and Politics, illustrates the internal citation system of each jurisdiction that it covers. The 2006 edition is available online.

International Legal Citation Manual (from the staff of Global Studies Law Review, Washington University in Saint Louis School of Law) covers about 100 countries and includes information on the legal systems and legal research resources.

Back to top

rev. mpm
08/2013