As is true in other subject areas, general law reviews may contain articles that can be used as starting points. Searching the journal databases on Lexis.com can be a helpful first step in the research process. However, many law reviews exist that relate to specific international law topics. Coverage of these on Lexis and Westlaw is not complete and, even if the title is included, contents may not go back very far. Therefore, the legal periodical indexes may be more helpful for this purpose than the full text journal databases. The Legal Resource Index (or LegalTrac) is available on Lexis.com (Source Directory path: Secondary Legal-Annotations and Indexes and through the library’s list of electronic databases on its home page. HeinOnline also has a searchable database for law reviews and journals with full coverage and PDF format. The print indexes, Current Index to Legal Periodicals and the Index to Legal Periodicals, are shelved on Level 1. Once citations are obtained, you will find that our library subscribes to many of the law reviews that relate to international law topics.
Searching the library’s online catalog allows access to the treatise collection in this library, which contains many works relating to international law topics. Coverage ranges from discussion of specific subject areas to general texts on international law. For information on current topics, newspaper articles may provide useful information.
In addition, there are several extremely good international legal research guides available on the Internet. Lyonette Louis-Jacques, of the University of Chicago Law School, D'Angelo Law Library lists many of them on her own international legal research website. http://www2.lib.uchicago.edu/~llou/forintlaw.html
And the LRRX web page has a wide variety of international research guides http://www.llrx.com/international_law.html.
Once an international agreement has been located, it is necessary to consult a listing of treaties currently in force to determine its status. Either Treaties in Force http://www.state.gov/s/l/treaty/tif/index.htm or A Guide to the United States Treaties in Force can be used to answer questions concerning the current status of particular agreements. The indexing in the Guide is more detailed than that in the official Treaties in Force; the Guide is also more up to date. Further updating should be done using the Department of State publication Treaty Actions: http://www.state.gov/s/l/treaty/c56220.htm and possibly the American Society of International Law publication International Legal Materials.
The official sources of agreements for which the United States is a party are United States Treaties (U.S.T.) and Treaties and Other International Acts (T.I.A.S.) Because publication rates for the print versions of these titles have a long lag time, researchers must use the Department of State web page http://www.state.gov/s/l/treaty/tias/, International Legal Materials or Westlaw or one of the Internet sites to find the text of recent treaties.
In addition to formal international agreements, much of international law practice relates to determining "international custom." Customary law is derived from numerous sources and such a search is beyond the scope of a basic introduction. Several publications with names like "Digest of International Law" are the typical starting points for this type of research.
A variety of forums and mechanisms exist for the settlement of differences between states. These range from mediation and arbitration to decisions of the International Court of Justice. Current decisions of the International Court of Justice are available at the official website, accessed through the Thurgood Marshall Law Library International and Foreign Law Page. Again, these sources are beyond the scope of an introduction, but would be important for serious research in international law.
International law is a specialty area that requires considerable expertise and familiarity with the sources. It is not unusual, however, for attorneys who do not consider themselves to be specialists in international law to become involved in such questions. Commercial transactions and domestic relations are examples of areas where international law questions arise on a regular basis.
It is important to recognize that many of the same techniques that are used for researching U.S. law are appropriate for international law research as well. Beginning with secondary sources, for example, is a technique that is often helpful.