Photo of the East Horizon view from the 29th floor, Cook County Law Library

See the World from the 29th Floor: The FCIL Collection at Cook County Law Library

“I need the law of … Turkey and Argentina and Japan and Qatar.” To meet the legal research needs of the legal profession, county residents, and businesses engaged in the global community, the Foreign and International Law Division at the Cook County Law Library (CCLL) contains legal information resources from jurisdictions around the world. In this brief article, I would like to introduce CALL members and others to the range of global resources located in CCLL at the Daley Center.


Jean M. Wenger new
Jean M. Wenger

Foreign and international law (sometimes called global law) is not a single area of law but several distinct types of law. Foreign law is the national law of other (foreign) countries. Public international law is the law governing relationships between sovereign nation-states. Most attorneys and self-represented litigants are seeking the national law of foreign countries. Frequently-requested topics include family law/succession, litigation, and commercial/business concerns. These topics are priorities for our collection development. Given the language needs of our patrons, the core of the collection is English-language foreign law resources.

Our reference work often involves describing the types of resources produced by different legal systems. Confusion results when, for example, the researcher does not appreciate that the workings of a civil law system are different from those of a common law system. This is best illustrated by the request of a new associate looking for an annotated French civil code in English. Simply put, the French legal system is not the U.S. system in French. Resources providing an overview of the major legal concepts are a good starting point, and help the researcher identify what specific laws might be applicable to his/her issue. For example, the Kluwer Law International series, “Introduction to the Law of” covers over a dozen unique jurisdictions.

We select those resources – ranging from statutory texts to analysis – that will best address the questions at hand. We collect resources from a variety of publishers, many of which are not available in electronic format. We acquire translated codes from civil law countries when available. Countries include the Netherlands, Russia, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, and Japan, just to name a few. Analytical resources might include a one-volume discussion of Indian family law, Mexican real estate law, or Polish tort law.

Photo of Picasso in Daley Plaza
Picasso in Daley Plaza

On occasion, the researcher needs law on a singular topic from several countries. The acquisition of comparative law materials helps CCLL target a specialized topic for multiple jurisdictions and allows researchers to explore the similarities and differences between the laws of two or more countries. Comparative law resources (in single volume or multi-volume texts) provide analytical treatment of a topic across multiple countries often including selected translations of relevant laws. The range of comparative law resources held by CCLL includes such topics as torts, litigation, product liability, bankruptcy and many others.

Another type of law that governs private relationships across national borders is private international law (often referred to as “conflict of laws” in the U.S.). Private international law comprises the body of conventions and legal instruments that govern the choice of law to apply when there are conflicts in the domestic law of different nations related to private transactions such as contracts, marriage and divorce, jurisdiction, and recognition of judgments. Of particular note, the Hague service and evidence conventions and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Convention on the International Sale of Goods (CISG) are frequently requested items. We hold secondary sources that address private international law for specific jurisdictions like Sweden, Israel, and Hungary. In addition, we also have services that advance the understanding of private international law in multiple jurisdictions. For example, Transnational Litigation: A Practitioner’s Guide is a popular service for litigation matters. While we receive requests for foreign law, we also receive requests for treaty research and questions on U.S. practice in international law.

Along with its contemporary collections, Cook County holds historical resources from the former Chicago Law Institute, a subscription law library for attorneys that transferred its collection to CCLL in 1965. Highlights of this collection include an extensive collection of nominate reports (English law reports published before the founding of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) in 1865), historical primary law from common law countries, treaty services, and notable historic legal treatises.

Daley Center Plaza, Chicago

In addition to print, CCLL has several subscription electronic services dedicated to foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL).  An excellent resource to help researchers locate foreign law sources and texts is Brill’s database, the Foreign Law Guide, which introduces 190 jurisdictions with national laws arranged by subject. Additionally, Cook County subscribes to HeinOnline’s Foreign & International Law Resources Database (FILRD) and LLMC Digital containing digitized versions of historical foreign and international law sources. These databases, like all of our other public access databases at Cook County Law Library, are free to use onsite. Beyond tapping the treasures in our physical collection, we direct researchers to websites of foreign governments and international organizations along with selected free, commercial websites that offer a trove of useful foreign legal information.

When giving tours and introductions to our law library, I impress upon attorneys, law students, and paralegals that, given the global reach of law, they will encounter a question with foreign or international implications at some point in their career. My recommendation is that, in addition to the extensive collection, they tap the valuable “human resources” available to them at the Cook County Law Library. If we do not have the resources in-house, we have the ability to tap the collective knowledge and expertise of our foreign and international law colleagues.