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Basics of International and Foreign Law: Introduction

A short and sweet introduction to understanding, researching, and keeping up-to-date with international, foreign, and comparative law topics.


The purpose of this guide is to provide some background information for those just beginning to research international and foreign law. It includes a quick overview of the types of law contained within this broad categorization, ways to keep up with new developments, and links to more specific research guides from Loyola and other helpful places.

For General Reference

A great book to start with is Marci B. Hoffman & Robert C. Berring, International Legal Research in a Nutshell (2017).  This book provides a basic introduction to international legal research for the non-specialist. It offers guidance through the unfamiliar pathways of research using international legal materials and demystifies the world of treaties. Since it's aimed at the non-specialist, it provides straight-forward background information on the United Nations and the European Union and includes guidance for using the documents and legal materials of these institutions. There are extensive links to the rich world of Web resources, but it also describes paper research tools that remain important in this field. Finally, it sets out a road map for approaching an international legal research problem.

Another useful resource is Guide to International Legal Research (2020). This book provides an overview of sources of international law, including the traditional sources like conventions and customs, while introducing the influence of municipal courts and soft law. Chapters are arranged by geographic region – like South Asia and the Middle East – and by subject – like intellectual property and maritime law.

Note on Citations

Citations to international and foreign sources can be incredibly confusing. In the Bluebook, be sure to read the entirety of Rules 20 (Foreign Materials) and 21 (International Materials) in conjunction with their relevant tables in T1 and T2. You may also wish to consult N.Y. Univ. Sch. of Law Journal of Int’l Law & Politics, Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations (2nd ed. 2009). K89 .G85 2009 (Reference).

Common Abbreviations and Acronyms

Abbreviations and acronyms are abundant. For help deciphering (when you don’t find it on Google):  

  1. Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations; this web site allows you to search for legal publications by abbreviation or title. 
  2. The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (21st ed. 2020), KF245 .B58 2020 (Reserve); this is the primary guide for citing legal resources for law students and attorneys in the U.S. It includes a detailed section on citing non-U.S. legal sources.
  3. Marci B. Hoffman & Robert C. Berring, International Legal Research in a Nutshell VII-X, 14-18 (2017), KZ1234 .H64 2008 (Reserve).
  4. World Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (2015), K89 .K38 1991 (reference). 
  5. Mary Miles Prince, Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (2009), KF246 .B46 2009 (Reference).
  6. James R. Fox, Dictionary of International and Comparative Law (2003), KZ1161 .F69 2003 (Reference).


Common Examples:

  • U.N.T.S. = United Nations Treaty Series
  • U.S.T. = United States Treaties and Other International Agreements
  • I.L.M. = International Legal Materials
  • ASIL = American Society of International Law
  • COE = Council of Europe
  • ECHR = European Convention on Human Rights
  • ECtHR - European Court of Human Rights, often noted as ECHR
  • ECJ = Court of Justice of the European Union a.k.a. European Court of Justice
  • ICJ = International Court of Justice


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