Skip to main content
Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Logo

Pritzker Legal Research Center


Foreign Legal Research Guide

A guide to researching foreign law

Overview

Foreign law is the internal or domestic law of another country (e.g., laws of France, Australia, South Africa, etc.). This term should not be confused with international law, which is the body of rules governing the relationships between and among States (public international law) or the body of law regulating whether to apply the law of one country or another when there are conflicts in the domestic laws that relate to private transactions between individual parties (private international law). For guidance on conducting international legal research, please see our International Legal Research guide

This research guide is intended to assist you with finding legal materials from any country outside of the United States. 

Foreign Legal Research Process

Begin all foreign law research projects by consulting secondary sources (e.g., journal articles, books, NGO reports, etc.) to familiarize yourself with the topic and to identify citations to relevant national laws, cases, or other legal materials. Then use the following process to locate the foreign legal materials.
 
Step 1: Identify and understand the legal system of the country you intend to research. 
 
Step 2: Consult a country-specific research guide to understand the sources of law for the country of interest and to identify resources you should use to retrieve legal materials from that country.  
 
Step 3: Find the sources of law using the databases, websites, or print materials recommended by the research guide(s). 
 

Example: To provide an example of how this research process works, say you need to find the laws governing copyright in France and read in a secondary source that the two most important laws are the Law of 11 March 1957 and the Law of 3 July 1985, both of which are codified in the French Intellectual Property Code (arts. L 111-1 to L 343-7). 

  • Step 1: You use JuriGlobe World Legal Systems to identify that France has a civil law system. Knowing that codified statutes are the most important source of law in civil law countries, it makes sense that France has a code that specifically pertains intellectual property. 
  • Step 2: You consult GlobaLex's Researching French Law guide to find out a good resource to locate a copy of the code (and ideally an English translation). The guide notes that some English translations can be found through LegiFrance
  • Step 3: You visit LegiFrance (a country-specific resource) and browse for the Intellectual Property Code. You see that there is a translation of the Code la propriété intellectuelle (partie législative, partie réglementaire), last incorporating the amendment Act No. 2006-236 of 1 March 2006. You refer back to the official French version to check whether there have been any updates since the English translation was produced that may affect the provisions of interest. Had an English translation not been available on LegiFrance (or to help update your research if you don't have a reading knowledge of French), you also could have searched a subject law collection. From this research guide, you note that intellectual property laws from around the world can be found on WIPOLex. On WIPOLex, you find a link to the Intellectual Property Code, which is consolidated through this month. The full-text version is in French, but the HTML version comes equipped with an automatic translation tool that allows you to check for any relevant amendments. You know that you must refer to the official French version of the code when relying on it for legal authority, but the machine-translated version at least helps you understand the basic gist of the document. 

Quick Links to Key Resources

 

This guide was last updated and revised on 9/25/20.