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Introduction to Foreign and International Legal Research

When conducting foreign law research, it is important to learn more about a country's legal system. The two major legal systems in the world today are:

  • Common law: Judicial decisions and precedent play a large role in shaping the law.
  • Civil law: Systematic, comprehensive codes predominate; judicial decisions play a secondary role.

You may also come across the following legal systems:

  • Religious law: Religious texts are main sources of law.
  • Customary law: Law is based on traditional practices or beliefs that have taken on the force of law over time. 
  • Mixed system: Combines features of two or more legal systems.

A country legal research guide or reference book can provide more information about a particular country's legal system. The Juriglobe website is also an excellent starting point, offering a color-coded map of World Legal Systems (see below) and a Legal Systems Classifications guide.