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Law Library Provides Global Legal Research

The following article originally appeared in the April 26, 2013, edition of Library of Congress staff newsletter, The Gazette.

Through timely, authoritative legal analysis, the Global Legal Research Directorate contributes to the Law Library of Congress’s services.

The directorate covers a global legal perspective while simultaneously fulfilling the Law Library’s primary mission to provide members of Congress, the Supreme Court, other branches of the U.S. Government and the public with legal analysis and information.

Two recent examples of the directorate’s collective expertise are its recently released multinational studies, “Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy” and “Wildlife Trafficking and Poaching.”

The firearms report examines and compares international legal approaches to gun control in 18 countries and the European Union. This large report is being published on the Law Library’s website in stages. The wildlife report describes the regulatory framework related to the illicit trade in wildlife products, including transnational trafficking and poaching in seven African jurisdictions.

Legal research reports are timely and based on primary legal sources. They are written in response to requests from policymakers working on complicated and pressing issues with global implications.

Kelly Buchanan and Peter Roudik discuss recent reports produced by the Law Library. Photo by Abby Brack Lewis.

The heart of the directorate is its staff of legal experts, which includes foreign-trained attorneys, research analysts and editorial and administrative support.

The foreign law specialists are a diverse group that provides global jurisdictional coverage (over 240 jurisdictions) based on their training, education and language knowledge. They work with, and help to develop, a collection that includes materials in nearly 140 languages.

Peter Roudik, director of the Global Legal Research Directorate with jurisdictional coverage of Russia and the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe republics, cites the unique blend of legal expertise within the Law Library as the focal point of its capabilities.

“We can think of the legal-reporting process that occurs here as an hourglass,” Roudik said. “At the top we have high-level experts with really global backgrounds, and they produce reports here in Washington that are applicable to jurisdictions around the world.”

The foreign law specialists come from about 20 different countries, so on any given day, all sorts of accents and languages are spoken around their offices.

Many of the directorate’s staff come to the Law Library with diverse and experienced backgrounds, said Edith Palmer, who serves as chief of one of the two Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Divisions and who also has jurisdictional responsibility for German-speaking countries.

“We have a highly experienced staff, many with experience working for the legislatures, courts or executive agencies in their jurisdictional areas, including Eritrea, Israel, Mexico and New Zealand,” she said. “Others have extensive private practice or law school teaching experience in countries such as Argentina, China, Lebanon and Russia.”

Kelly Buchanan, the second division chief, with jurisdictional coverage of the Asia-Pacific region, emphasizes the intellectual diversity of the legal specialists.

“We understand how different legal systems work, rather than limiting our specialization to a particular area of the law,” Buchanan said. “One day you might handle taxation issues for one country and the next you are delving into family law for a different jurisdiction.”

In 2012, the directorate produced 415 reports for members of Congress, while providing periodical news reporting on international legal developments through the online publication Global Legal Monitor (GLM). GLM featured 506 articles in 2012.

In addition to its work for Congress, the directorate also produced 36 reports for the U.S. judiciary and responded to 277 U.S.executive branch requests for legal opinions and memoranda. It also responded to 563 inquiries from the general public with 2,335 references via in-person briefings, telephone and e-mail.

The Firearms Control and Wildlife reports are available via the Current Legal Topics page of the Law Library’s website, Law.gov. Additionally, readers can sign up to receive regular updates to the Global Legal Monitor and set up RSS feeds for any topics or jurisdictions of interest.

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