Posted January 15, 2003; MW.
When you begin a project, ask yourself what you already know
about the topic.
Get an overview of the legal issues by reading a secondary
source, such as a law review article or textbook.
- Is there a convention that applies?
- Are there important cases?
- What is the factual background?
Write a list of questions you want to answer. These can
include factual questions as well as questions about the law. You should
revisit this list as you go along.
Write a list of search terms you think will be useful in
indexes and databases.
Florida Center for Instructional
Sources of International Law
Article 38 of the
Statute of the International Court of Justice
lists the following as the sources it will apply:
- international conventions (treaties),
- international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law,
- the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations,
- judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations.
Your product (brief, memorial, paper, or article) will apply these sources � but
your research path might not follow the list in order. In fact, it is
often most efficient
to begin your research with secondary sources
Gather and Read Secondary Sources
Search for legal books and law journal articles on your topic.
Read (selectively) and take notes.
- Is there a convention that applies? If so, get the text.
- Do the sources discuss activities that could constitute �international custom� or �general principles of law�?
- Do the sources cite case?
- international tribunals
- courts from various countries
- Do the authors offer interpretations that you agree or disagree with?
Should you address those positions in your paper?
- Can you use any of the sources as �teachings of the most highly qualified
publicists�? (A treatise by a famous professor would count; a law
review note by a second-year student would not.)
Gather and Read Conventions, Cases, and Other Sources
Your notes from secondary sources should provide you with many leads. Use the
citations you find. Then you can branch out -- for instance, by searching for
cases or statements by government officials.
Use Nonlegal Sources
- News sources can provide leads to very recent legal developments (e.g., a pending case, a treaty under negotiation).
- Nonlegal sources � news, scientific, technical, economic � help you develop the factual context for the legal issue.
- News sources and historical works can provide evidence of custom.
Update Your Research
- Has there been action on the treaty (adoption, reservations, abrogation)?
- Is there a new treaty on the topic?
- Are there new cases?