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.
Follow the links below for tips on locating:
Key Resources for Foreign & Comparative Law Research
Background Information, Research Guidance & Laws by Subject
- The Foreign Law Guide
This subscription database provides information about the government, legal system, and sources of law for almost every jurisdiction. It also provides guidance on conducting legal research and enables you to identify both primary and secondary law sources 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 legal research guides for almost every country in the world. In addition to information about the jurisdiction's legal system and sources of law, each guides provide tips for locating primary and secondary legal materials. Click on "Foreign Law Research" to browse by country. Then click on "UPDATE" to the right of the country name to access the most current information.
- Guide to Law Online - Nations of the World
The Law Library of Congress maintains this directory, which provides both narrative background information as well as quick links to free online resources (primarily legislative, executive branch, and judicial websites). Coverage includes jurisdictions beginning with the letters A-M, as well as Russia and Ukraine. Additional jurisdictions are gradually being added.
- 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 be a good starting point for research. Content varies by jurisdiction and is selective, not comprehensive.
- Browse by Country -- Click on the name of a 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.
- Browse by Database -- WorldLII provides free access to searchable databases of legislation and case law for selected jurisdictions. They are grouped by region and arranged alphabetically by jurisdiction. The search capabilities of these free databases are less robust than those of their commercial counterparts.
English Summaries & Practical Guidance
- Getting the Deal Through (GTDT)
This multi-jurisdictional resource offers in-depth, practitioner-written summaries of national laws that govern dozens of work areas using a question and answer format. To build a multi-jurisdiction report, select a work area. Then select the desired jurisdictions to compare laws in those jurisdictions. To build a multi-topic report for a single jurisdiction, select the desired jurisdiction first. Then select the work areas. Note that jurisdictional coverage varies by work area.
- 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.
- Thomson Reuters Practical Law
U.S. academic subscribers to Westlaw may access this online resource, which provides practitioner-written guidance on the law of selected non-U.S. jurisdictions for selected practice areas. Content, which varies by jurisdiction and by practice area, may include summaries of governing laws, practice notes, checklists, and tool kits, as well as standardized forms and document templates.
Keyword Searching in English + Machine Translations
This user-friendly database allows you to search by keyword in English for national laws and regulations from 110 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. Coverage: Statutes and regulations only. No case law. Cautionary Note: Although machine translations of legal texts continue to improve, they still have significant limitations and often fail to detect critical nuances in meaning associated with legal terminology and practices.
Tool for Locating Secondary Sources on Comparative Law
- 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.