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Foreign and Comparative Law Research

This guide provides recommended strategies and sources for conducting research in the law of foreign jurisdictions.

Unique Challenges of Researching Foreign Law

Unique Challenges of Researching Foreign Law

The following are brief caveats for conducting legal research in a foreign nation. Keep these caveats in mind as you begin your research and recognize that foreign law research is different and oftentimes more complicated than researching in US law.

  1. Identify what form of legal system the country has before you begin your research into primary law materials. This will inform what types of primary legal materials you must prioritize.
  2. Understand that language barriers can be a problem in foreign law research. If English is not the primary language of the country of interest, you may struggle to find English language translations of primary legal materials.
  3. Foreign governments vary in their transparency levels, and this has a direct impact on the amount of primary law material you will be able to access online. What you want may not exist online.
  4. UNC Law Library's collection of printed legal material for foreign jurisdictions is limited. Thus, you may need to visit the Duke Law Library for access to primary legal materials from other foreign jurisdictions.

When in doubt, stop by the UNC Law Library Reference Desk! The librarians are happy to work with you in identifying and locating primary law materials for your jurisdiction of interest.

Translating Non-English Materials

One of the biggest roadblocks in conducting foreign legal research is encountering materials in a language other than English. The following are some suggested machine language translation services that can be used to roughly translate legal materials. Be sure to approach machine translations of foreign legal materials with skepticism, as you have no way of assessing the accuracy or reliability of the translations.

  • Linguee - Linguee is available both as a website and an app for your phone, and it provides free English language translations from a variety of European and Asian languages, including German, French, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese.
  • Google Translate - Perhaps the most well-known online machine translator, Google Translate will translate text from over 100 languages into English.
  • Collins Dictionary - Collins Dictionary provides a free, online machine translator service. Translations into English are available for over 30 languages, including the languages of smaller East Asian and African nations.

Secondary Sources: Online Databases & Resources

Subscription Databases & Resources

The following databases are available UNC to students and faculty. In order to access these databases, you need to either be on the campus network or use the proxy links provided via the UNC Law Library's website to access the sites remotely. To access these databases remotely, please visit the UNC Law Library's Legal Databases page.

Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems

The Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems, edited by Richard A. Danner & Marie-Louise H. Bernal, is available via HeinOnline. It provides overviews of the legal systems of selected civil law nations, including France, Mexico, China, Taiwan, and Japan. For each country, the work identifies sources of statutes, codes, and case law. The Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems also contains chapters on acquiring legal materials from more challenging jurisdictions, like countries in Eastern Europe. 

The Foreign Law Guide

The Foreign Law Guide is an excellent tool for researchers seeking to learn more about the specific legal system of a foreign country. The database provides complete bibliographic citations to legislation and clearly identifies when English translations are available. Moreover, each country page provides overviews of the nation's legal and governmental systems.

Free Online Resources

The following resources are freely available online and do not require UNC affiliation to access.

GlobaLex

GlobaLex, maintained by NYU School of Law, provides comparative, foreign, and international law research guides arranged by country and subject. In the Foreign Law Research section, research guides are tailored to specific foreign jurisdictions and provide an overview of the legal and governmental systems of a country, review the major sources of primary law, and provide links (where available) to online sources for primary law materials.

Note: When utilizing GlobaLex research guides, be sure that you are viewing the most updated version of the guide.

Library of Congress - Foreign and International Law

The Library of Congress's Foreign and International Law page provides access to individualized country research guides for a variety of jurisdictions. Each research guide includes an introduction to the legal system, official sources of law, print resources, and web resources. Research guides for the following jursidictions are currently available: Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, Eritrea, France, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Secondary Sources: Recommended Print Resources

Recommended Print Resources

The UNC Law Library's print collection contains a variety of resources covering specific foreign jurisdictions. Use the UNC Law Library catalog to search for the country of interest, and search either by "Keyword" or "Anywhere" to ensure the largest number of search results. Your results in the catalog will include print works, electronic titles, and relevant legal journals. The following image is an example of a search for a work on Mexican law:

 

The following books are examples of titles addressing foreign legal systems, both generally and in specific practice areas, that can be found in UNC Law Library's print collection: