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Introduction to Legal Research

This guide is an introduction to legal research at the University of Melbourne. This guide is intended for law students in the JD, MLM , Breadth programs who are new to legal research. Students in other disciplines who may need to conduct legal research

Introduction to Foreign Law

This page should help you to:

  • Understand the difference between International and Foreign (or comparative) legal research
  • Identify which legal system is in place in the country you are studying
  • Find resources that explain the fundamental differences between legal systems in place around the world
  • Point you to some in depth guides for researching in your country of choice
  • Provide links to legal encyclopaedias and other tools to assist you in comparative or foreign legal research.

Legal Systems Worldwide

Foreign legal research refers to the domestic or national law of a country.  This is distinct from International legal research which involves more than one country or international treaties. 

Foreign legal systems are generally categorised as either:

  • Common law
  • Civil law
  • Islamic law
  • Customary law
  • Mixed system - incorporating two or more of the above. 

To find out which systems are in place around the world, browse atlases by region or alphabetical lists by country. These resources are created by the JuriGlobe World Legal Systems Research Group at the University of Ottawa. 

Guides for Foreign Legal Research

The University of Melbourne Law Library Research Guides page contains guides for several regions (Africa, South East Asia, European Union) as well as some individual countries. Scroll down to the Foreign, Global or Comparative Law heading. 

Globalex Legal Research Guides are created by New York University's Hauser Global Law School. They have created a Basic Guide to Researching Foreign Law that makes recommendations by subject area as well as type of material. Individual country guides can be selected from the comprehensive index of nations. They are extremely detailed and frequently updated by specialists in the jurisdiction, but do not follow a standard format. 

 NOTE: the 'update' link is separate to the main entry and points to the most recent version of the guide (highlighted).

For guidance on comparative legal research, consult their Comparative Law Research list, which offers guidance by subject area and some regions.

Library of Congress Index of National Guides provide links to legal information and guides, governmental and judicial institutions and other sources of national information (e.g. NGO reports, US State Department factsheets), These are not instructional guides, rather they offer links to information.  

The LOC's Foreign Legal Research guides focus on a small collection of nations, but also some bibliographies for some foreign law topics, including some customary legal systems. For legal updates from around the world, search their Global Legal Monitor.

Suggested Resources 

Brill Online Foreign Law Guide (UniMelb staff & students)

The Foreign Law Guide is an essential collection of sources of foreign law including legislation, information on English translations where available as well as selected references to secondary sources. Approximately 190 jurisdictions are systematically covered and updated by a global team of experts. Browse by subject area or country.

World Legal Information Institute (free resource)

WorldLII combines over 270 databases from 48 jurisdictions providing free access to case law, legislation, treaties, law reform documents, journal articles and more. It is a free, independent and non-profit facility developed to promote access to legal information from around the world.

Getting the Deal Through (UniMelb staff & students)

A practitioner focused resource covering 150 jurisdictions. It offers concise and accessible overviews for quick queries as well as in depth analysis. Use the Comparison Tool to analyse a subject area across two or more jurisdictions.

Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations (free resource)

Unsure which journal or case reporter an abbreviation refers to? Search the Cardiff Index using the abbreviation, partial abbreviation or the full title to discover the accepted abbreviation for a title. The Index draws from 295 jurisdictions, with more comprehensive entries for English language publications. 

Useful introductory e-books: