Finding Foreign Law in English

The NYU Law Library has primary law in paper for only selected non-U.S. jurisdictions and relies upon databases and other regional libraries for certain other jurisdictions. For details, see the description of the collection here. In addition, most of the law from non-English speaking jurisdictions is not translated into English.

Narrow Your Research

At the very beginning, narrow your research question. What country’s law do you need? Are you looking for a case, code, statute, administrative rule or decision, treaty, etc.? What is the specific subject area at issue? Do you want the law in full-text or abstract? How recent is the document? Must you have the latest amendments? What languages can you read?

Understand the Legal System

It is also essential to understand the legal system (common law, civil law, Islamic law, etc) of the jurisdiction. Do not try to find a case reporter in a civil law country. Civil law countries do not recognize stare decisis. They do not have case reporters. Only selected cases are published in civil law countries' legal journals, courts' newsletters, and international journals.

Think Topical

Think topical when trying to find foreign laws in English. Remember that primary sources of a foreign jurisdiction will never be officially translated into English. Instead, major academic law libraries in the U.S. buy topical services that contain unofficial translations of selected laws from selected non-US jurisdictions. These subject-oriented services are invaluable sources of foreign laws in English.

If you want to find a constitution, or perhaps codes of civil and criminal procedure, laws of environment, health, family, banking, taxation, social security, intellectual property, bankruptcy, commerce, labor, etc of a specific foreign jurisdiction, these might be translated into English. Some of these print services also have an electronic counterpart. Specialized topical databases of foreign laws in English are rapidly growing in number.

If you do not know where to start, and you do not already have a citation to the foreign law, then start your research with secondary sources: commentaries, treatises, legal encyclopedias, articles. These sources may provide a specific citation to a law (name, date, etc.) so that you can search the library catalog. Also, a citation is essential if you have to request a copy from another library through interlibrary loan. Secondary sources may also provide a summary of the law (which is sometimes better than nothing).

You can also start by doing a simple search in JULIUS, the library’s online catalog. In the example, below, we are trying to find out if the library has the labor law of France in English. Using the keyword search labor and law and France, you get 40 records. One of the first titles is Commercial Laws of the World. France. In the record for that title you discover that there is one volume containing the commercial code and another volume containing the labor code:


If you can read the language of the jurisdiction, you still must identify the title of the legal publication in the vernacular, or at least the type of legal publication, that might contain the law before you can search for it in a library catalog. You may have to use a legal foreign language dictionary in order to find the legal equivalents from one language to another.

Here are the most important tools for understanding the legal systems of non-U.S. jurisdictions, for finding out the titles of the legal publications of other jurisdictions, and for trying to find translations of foreign law:

I. Guide to Legal Systems and Citations to Foreign Law

Reynolds & Flores, Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Littleton, CO : F.B. Rothman, 1989- Reserve K38 .R49 1989. Also available online.

Germain, Germain's Transnational Law Guide (Ardsley-on-Hudson, NY: Transnational Juris Publications, Inc., 1991- ). Reserve NYUL K20 G37 T7.

International Law Digest Martindale -Hubbell Law Directory. (Summit, NJ: Martindale -Hubbell. Annual) KF190 .M37x.

International encyclopedia of comparative law / [issued] under the auspices of the International Association of Legal Science ; editorial committee; R. David ... [et al.] Reference K530. I57. 1973.

Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia (Ed. Kenneth Robert Redden. Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein & Co., 1984-) Reference K583.R313 M63 1984.

Szladits, Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law: Books and Articles in English (New York: Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law, Columbia University, 1955- ) K38 .B53.

II. Foreign Language Dictionaries (legal and non-legal)

Ask at the Reference Desk.

III. Indexes

Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals

Index to Legal Periodicals

Current Legal Information


International Law In Brief at ASIL

IV. Dictionaries for Cite-Checking Foreign Abbreviations

World dictionary of legal abbreviations (Buffalo, N.Y. : W. S. Hein, 1991-)

European Commission Translation Service English Style Guide

English Style Guide

Translation and Drafting Resources

V. Sources for Full Texts of Foreign Law in English

Identify these by searching JULIUS.

Country topical reporters , treatises and guides may contain or cite legislation. The Doing Business in ... series provides summaries or translations of business and business-related laws of a foreign jurisdiction such as civil codes, copyright laws, labor laws, etc.

Yearbooks of different countries contain not only laws but also important cases.

International law journals, such as International Legal Materials, are also a great source. They publish landmark foreign laws and cases or comment on them.

VI. Foreign Law in Vernacular and in English Translation on the Internet

Online databases

Westlaw and Lexis contain a great deal of foreign law (check by jurisdiction) in vernacular.

Foreign databases published by governments or private vendors are also a growing source.

VII. Guides Comparative and Foreign Law

Finding Foreign Law Online when Going Global by Lyonette Louis-Jacques