For purposes of this research guide, foreign law is defined as the domestic law of any country other than the United States. Comparative law is the study of the similarities and differences between the laws of two or more countries, or between two or more types of legal systems.
Access to foreign law varies greatly by jurisdiction. Some foreign governments make many types of legal materials freely available online, while others struggle to keep print sources up to date. Countries experiencing political upheavals or economic distress may suspend the publication of legal materials indefinitely.
For non-English-speaking jurisdictions, it is often difficult to find English translations of legal materials. This is especially true for non-commercial legislation and for court decisions in civil law jurisdictions. Americans researching foreign law should be prepared to adjust their expectations with respect to the availability and currentness of English translations.
Key Resources for Foreign & Comparative Law Research
- The Foreign Law Guide
Use this subscription database to identify primary and secondary law sources for jurisdictions outside the U.S. Content is organized by jurisdiction and by subject. Depending on the jurisdiction and the subject matter, you may find direct links to laws online or citations to relevant print sources.
Hosted by the Hauser Global Law School Program at NYU, this free resource offers jurisdiction-specific legal research guides for almost every country in the world. In addition to narrative background information, each guide provide links for accessing laws online (where available), as well as links to legislative, judicial, and government websites.
This user-friendly database allows you to search by keyword in English for national laws and regulations from 95 jurisdictions worldwide. For non-English-speaking jurisdictions, machine-generated English translations are provided, along with a link to the law or regulation in its original language.
- Getting the Deal Through (GTDT)
This multi-jurisdictional resource offers in-depth, practitioner-written summaries of national laws that govern dozens of practice areas using a question and answer format. Begin by selecting a practice area from the menu. Then select a jurisdiction or use the comparison tool to compare laws across multiple jurisdictions. Jurisdictional coverage varies by practice area.
- World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII)
This free resource aggregates content from national and regional organizations which provide open access to legal information from their respective jurisdictions. Although the interface is text-heavy and some links may be broken, it can still be a reliable source of information. Bear in mind that content varies considerably by jurisdiction and is almost always selective, not comprehensive.
- Browse by Country -- Click on the name of the desired jurisdiction to access a menu of links to government websites that provide free access to legal information, as well as a menu of links to laws by subject. In some cases, you may find a direct link to a law in its original language or in English translation.
- Browse by Database -- WorldLII provides free access to searchable databases of legislation and case law for selected jurisdictions. Databases are grouped by region and arranged alphabetically by jurisdiction. Bear in mind that the search capabilities of these free databases are less robust than those of their commercial counterparts.
- International Encyclopaedia of Laws (IEL) Online
Covering 25 practice areas, each component of this online resource includes multiple jurisdiction-specific treatises (national monographs), which provide detailed summaries of the laws governing a particular subject in that jurisdiction, along with citations to primary sources. Each practitioner-written treatise follows a standard outline, making it easy to compare laws across multiple jurisdictions. Jurisdictional coverage varies by practice area.
- Multinational Sources Compared
Use this HeinOnline database to identify secondary sources that compare the laws governing a particular subject in multiple jurisdictions. Browse alphabetically by subject or search by keyword. For each resource, a description of the content is provided, along with a list of jurisdictions covered. To determine if the Georgetown Law Library owns a particular source, search for it by title in the library's online catalog.
If you need assistance with foreign and comparative law research, visit the Research Help page of the Georgetown University Law Library's website. Or contact the Law Library's International and Foreign Law Department by phone (202-662-4195) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Georgetown Law Center students may schedule a one-on-one research consultation with a librarian.