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A Basic Guide to International Environmental Legal Research

An overview of resources for researching international environmental law.

World Legal Systems

Legal systems differ from country to country and many operate very differently from the United States' legal system. Categories of legal systems include: 

  1. Common Law (Example: United States)
  2. Civil Law (Example: Germany)
  3. Religious Law (Example: Saudi Arabia)
  4. Customary Law (Example: Andorra)

A country may operate hybrid systems as well (Example: China).

English Translations of Foreign Law

If you want an English translation of foreign laws, codes, statutes, decrees or similar material look in the following places:


  • Also check to see if the law has been separately published by searching your library catalog, WorldCat, or other union or mega-library catalogs for the title in English or by searching in the original language and limiting to language = English;
  • Search a full-text law journal database (because articles therein have to include sources of the text/citations) – so HeinOnline, Lexis, Westlaw, Google Scholar, Digital Law Commons; And if appropriate, JSTOR and other non-law databases
  • Check Google Books to see if it’s been cited in a footnote or reprinted as an appendix;
  • If these attempts fail, consider legal research guides for that country in book or article format, contacting people resources (folks who write the research guides like the GlobaLex ones, Ask-A-Law-Librarian services at your nearest library, area studies bibliographers – especially if you don’t know the language, etc.; look at your local resources.

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