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Internet Research for Paralegals

This guide represents a summary of the points accompanying the teleconference lecture conducted in January, 2012

Government Databases

There is a lot of information in government databases.  Government units conduct studies, issue reports, and create any number of miscellaneous documents.  These are made publically available for the most part on the sites of the agencies that created those documents.  It is important to note that not every document an agency produces will be available in print or via the web.  The content of these databases usually does not show up in search engine results.

Web sites for foreign law, international law, and treaties

Foreign and international law is available on the Internet with exceptions.  Developed nations have placed a fair amount of law from all branches of government on official web sites.  The free legal collections vary in types of documents online, the depth of the collection, and the time coverage.  Language is an issue when researching foreign law.  Not every foreign database contains English versions of documents.  The European Union translates most of its documents into the several languages of the member states.  Countries such as France, Brazil, China, and others serve documents mostly in their native languages.

Developing countries are represented on the web but may not have useful or substantial legal content pages.  Print versions of codes may be available at selected libraries.  Keep in mind that many libraries, even academic libraries, do not collect foreign law from all countries.  Consequently, the options for locating text, even official text, of some law are limited. 

Hieros Gamos has a comprehensive directory to available online foreign law organized by country.  It links to government sites where available and to sites with commentary on the country. 

The Gobal Legal Information Network is provided by the Library of Congress.  The Library describes the service as follows:

The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) is a public database of official texts of laws, regulations, judicial decisions, and other complementary legal sources contributed by governmental agencies and international organizations. These GLIN members contribute the full texts of their published documents to the database in their original languages. Each document is accompanied by a summary in English and, in many cases in additional languages, plus subject terms selected from the multilingual index to GLIN. All summaries are available to the public, and public access to full texts is also available for most jurisdictions.

 The World Legal Information Institute is a joint project between national law institutes in several countries.  It provides keyword search and directories organized by country. 

 Treaties are available via Thomas with links to the full text at GPO Access.  This includes treaties that are still pending.  Some academic sites such as Yale’s Avalon Project contain the full text of major historical treaties.  Treaty research is a bit specialized, and a researcher should become familiar with how a treaty is negotiated and enters into force. 

The process, at least in regard to the United States, produces very specific documents and very specific points in the process.  In summary, the executive branch forwards a Treaty Document to the Senate, which refers it to the Committee on Foreign Relations.  That committee may hold a hearing on the treaty.  At the very least it produces an Executive Report which recommends passage or not.  The executive report may include conditions or understandings of interpretation should the treaty pass the Senate.  As noted, these documents are available through GPO Access.

Zimmerman’s Research Guides

Zimmerman’s Guide is well-known among law librarians as an authoritative set of links organized by topic to commentary and primary materials.  Lexis liked it enough to bring the guide under its aegis, and even better, to keep the content free.  Access does not require registration or any type of Lexis password.