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Finding National-Level Material
Researching the domestic laws of a foreign country, or implementation at the national level of international obligations, will be different pretty much every time. Unfortunately, there is no one comprehensive database for searching all the laws of every country, although some resources exist that cover multiple countries for certain jurisdictions, or for certain topics (e.g. tax).
As laid out in the general strategy here, your first steps should be:
- Understanding the legal system of that country and your specific subject area
- Getting guidance on the research process for that country and/or subject
- Making good use of secondary sources to identify the statutes, regulations, cases, or other law you need to find, and
- Figuring out where to find that law
If you are having difficulty finding the law, or at any point in the process above, please contact Gabriela Femenia, Biddle's Foreign and International Law Librarian, for help getting what you need!
Understanding the Jurisdiction
Before trying to find and read a country's law in a given area, you must understand that country's legal system and, if appropriate, the specific area of law as well. A good introduction to that country and/or area of law will help you understand what the essential sources of law are in that jurisdiction, how they get made, and how they are enforced.
Biddle has legal system overviews and introductions for most countries and subjects, so begin by checking LOLA using terms like "legal system (country)". A few examples of useful books and e-resources are listed here. A good research guide will most likely also point you to useful introductory material on your target country.
JuriGlobe World Legal Systems
A product of the JuriGlobe project at the University of Ottowa, the World Legal Systems tool enables users to have an initial overview of the applicable legal systems and the official languages which apply to the countries in which they are interested. This is a good starting point if you don't know the type of legal system (common law, civil law, mixed, or other) operating in the country of interest.
Doing Business in... Publications
Biddle has many looseleaf treatises with titles like "Doing Business in..." whatever region or country, and more are available on Lexis, Westlaw, and some of the tax platforms. In addition to helping with corporations, intellectual property and securities questions, these can be surprisingly useful on areas you wouldn't think would be included, such as immigration and family law.
International Encyclopaedia of Laws Series
This series of multi-volume treatises is fantastic as an introduction to a country's law on a subject, and is also outstanding for comparative law research because you can look at multiple countries in one place. We have many titles in the series, findable in LOLA by searching for "International Encyclopaedia of Laws" (note the British spelling). Which countries are included is dependent on whether they could get authors, but if a country appears in a set, the patron will get a fast, reliable grounding in the law.
Practitioner Handbooks and Manuals
We have practitioner handbooks and materials for foreign countries and international law subjects where we might not pick them up for the US, due to the lower availability of titles for some countries or specific needs by our clinics, moot court students, etc.
Getting Help with the Research Process
Whether you're new to a jurisdiction or just not sure you know the most efficient way to research, a good research guide can save you enormous amounts of time and frustration. A good one will also provide at least some introduction to the jurisdiction as well as pointing you to the right websites, databases, and publications for that country, and some will even give you annotated bibliographies of the best secondary sources to look at.
The links below will point you to some of the best research guides for national law research. If you don't find the information you need here, a judicious Google search for "legal research guide [your country or topic] will often turn up the right guidance.
International, comparative, and foreign legal research guides covering specific topical areas and providing overviews of a country's legal system.
Law Library of Congress Foreign Law Research Guides
In order to help provide a starting point for researching foreign, international, and comparative law, the Law Library of Congress has prepared a guide to reference sources, compilations, citations guides, periodicals (indexes and databases), dictionaries, web resources, free public web sites, subscription-based services, subject-specific web sites, and country overviews.
Articles on legal research, technology, and marketing. Also includes resources on court rules, forms, and dockets.
Additional Sources for Guides
Libraries with big foreign law collections also tend to be good at producing research guides, e.g. Georgetown, Harvard, Columbia and Yale in general, and University of Washington for Japan, Korea and China. Biddle currently has guides on human rights, treaties, and rule of law.
Country-Specific Research Manuals
For some jurisdictions, you may be able to find a detailed legal research manual prepared for researchers or practicing attorneys. This is most likely to be the case for common-law jurisdictions like the United Kingdom or Canada, but some are also available for other countries, e.g. China. Check LOLA to see if one is available for your specific country or topic.