Foreign law is the domestic law of a country other than your own. For example, Mexican and Chinese law are foreign law for a U.S. attorney; Chinese and U.S. law are foreign law for a Mexican attorney; and Mexican and U.S. law are foreign law for a Chinese attorney.
Foreign law is distinguished from international law, which governs relationships between different countries and between individuals from different countries.
The guide provides basic information on how to research foreign law for U.S. attorneys.
Always start with a guide. Because of the variation in legal systems and legal sources between countries, you should always start with a guide to researching the law of your country.
Don't commit unauthorized practice of law. Passing the bar in California does not give you the right to practice law in Arizona, let alone Mexico. Unless you are licensed to practice law in another country, your foreign law research should generally be limited to academic research and learning enough to work intelligently with local counsel.
Don't expect to have access to non-U.S. law on Lexis and Westlaw. Many countries have their own version of Lexis and Westlaw, such as Westlaw China or Lexis Middle East. Other countries have different commercial databases, like Germany's Beck Online or India's Manupatra and SCC Online. However, with a handful of exceptions, the UCLA Law Library does not subscribe to databases for non-U.S. countries and the U.S. versions of Lexis and Westlaw include only limited foreign materials. In most cases, you will need to access these laws on free websites and in print, just as you would access U.S. law if you did not have a Lexis or Westlaw subscription.
Don't expect non-U.S. laws to be in English. Just as the U.S. does not translate all of its laws and legal websites into non-English languages, most other countries do not translate all of their laws and legal websites into English. If you are not fluent in the language of a country, do not expect to be able to do significant research into its laws.
Don't expect cases to be as important or available as they are in the U.S. Most countries outside the U.S. are civil law countries, which means they place greater reliance on statutes passed by the legislature and less reliance on cases. Although cases may still be cited, they are generally less important and often more difficult to find. See the box below for more details on different types of legal systems.
There are five main types of legal systems: common law, civil law, customary law, religious law, and mixed. It is important to know which system you are working within because it affects the importance and availability of the various materials you will be researching.
The CIA's World Factbook and the University of Ottawa's JuriGlobe both identify countries' legal systems: