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Foreign Law: An Introductory Class Guide

This guide was created for use by attendees at the Summer Success 2011 program held at the Harvard Law School. However, it can be used by anyone embarking on a foreign legal research project.

Strategy to Use When Searching for Foreign Law

Unless you are an expert in the subject area you are trying to research, it is always advisable to begin your research with a secondary source, or something that explains the law in a particular area.  Secondary sources can give you citations to cases, statutes, regulations, directives, etc. Secondary sources can gather together information on a subject that may not be so easy to find. You should never "reinvent the wheel" if you don't need to.

If you are performing research on various countries and they are all in the same area of the world, consider searching a regional studies source.  If the law you are trying to find or research could be written about by scholars in law, political science, economics, or other related fields, try using a multidisciplinary type of resource.

If you cannot find a helpful secondary source such as a journal article or book (they may not all be available online) by either searching through legal periodical indexes such as Legaltrac, Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals, Worldwide Political Science Abstracts (just to name a few), then you may want to consult a research guide, such as the Foreign Law Guide, or any of the country-specific research guides found on websites such as NYU's Globalex. If you cannot find a guide that helps you on Globalex, then try using the Cornell Research Guide Search Engine. Be sure to read any introductory background material included in a research guide that will explain how the legal system works in each individual country.

If you are performing research in a area of the world where the official language spoken is not English, you may not be able to find the law in English. (If this seems confusing, think about the last time the United States published a law in a language other than English. Never.) You may need to consult foreign-language, legal dictionaries.  Or, if you do not have access to these types of resources, try using an online translation tool such as Google Translate.

If you are working in the Boston area during the summer, and can access our library during business hours, you may also want to see our research guide on using the Moody Call Number System to find print foreign law materials within the Harvard Law Library's collection.

Please also note that the reference librarians are available and happy to help you while you are at your summer projects.  Please see the "Getting Help" page of this guide for contact information for Aslihan Bulut, Librarian for Foreign, Comparative and International Law,  and Terri Saint-Amour, Librarian for Foreign, Comparative and International Law.They will be happy to point you in the right direction and assist you with your project, remotely.