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Legal Research (Foreign Sources)


Written By Lee Ji En, BMS Law LLC

First published on 12 July 2018

In this article, we will discuss the following issues of how one might conduct legal research for foreign countries and if there is a need to subscribe to legal research databases such as Westlaw/Lexis Nexis in order to access foreign legal materials. The pros and cons of subscribing to such databases will be discussed as well.

It is worth noting that this article is not about legal research methodology. The focus is on the platforms or tools to use to find the answers that you are looking for. This article also focuses on legal research for other common law jurisdictions because it is the most common type of foreign legal research that most Singaporean lawyers do.


There are many platforms and tools available for legal research in foreign jurisdictions. To assess which tool/approach you should use, you need to consider these three key factors:

a.Ease of use

b.Completeness of the database



What is the easiest and fastest way for you to obtain information? If you have access to a paid database such as Westlaw and Lexis Nexis, then all of you need to do is:

a.Login to the database

b.Key in your search query

c.Select the relevant jurisdictions

d.Click search

However, if you do not have access to such platforms, then you would have to consider the following:

  1. Google: This is probably the easiest and fastest way to find the general answer to your question. If you are a master of Google’s search terms or Custom Search Engine, this could be the main tool to use because you can search through most of the publicly accessible legal databases on Google. For example, this is a sample Custom Search Engine: <https://tinyurl.com/ydx4l7sq>

  2. Go to a publicly accessible legal database for each of the jurisdictions to conduct the same search. Here are some of the websites that you should look into for the major common law jurisdictions:

  1. For common law jurisdictions in general: <http://www.commonlii.org/>. From this site, you will then have the option of being directed to other sites, for example, BAILII.


  3. Australia:

  1. AustLII <http://www.austlii.edu.au/>

  2. BarNet Jade <https://jade.io/>: a good alternative to AustLII, for those who prefer a smarter, more modern and user-friendly interface.


  1. US:

  1. Google Scholar <https://scholar.google.com.sg/>: Select “case law” and search

  2. Casetext <https://casetext.com/>


  1. Canada: CanLII <https://www.canlii.org/>

  2. India: Judgments Information System <http://judis.nic.in/) (Note: According to the Indian Courts website, this site “consists of the Judgments of the Supreme Court of India and several High Courts. In the case of the Supreme Court all reported Judgments which are published in SCR Journal, since its inception in 1950 till date are available.”)

  3. Hong Kong: HKLII <http://www.hklii.hk/eng/>

  4. Malaysia: Judgments Malaysia <http://judgments.my/> (Note: Currently in beta phase. It currently carries the Federal Court and the Court of Appeal judgments released on or after 1 January 2018. Other cases will be uploaded at a later date.)

    CommonLII for Malaysia <http://www.commonlii.org/resources/235.html>

    Note: NUS Law Library maintains a great list of resources for foreign jurisdictions and can be found at: <https://tinyurl.com/yd9kexzp>



This is an important factor if you are trying to research on an obscure point of law. Otherwise, you might end up doing repetitive searches and wasting a lot of time sorting through results that you have already come across. In terms of completeness, it is recommended to access the authoritative platforms according to country. For instance, HKLII for Hong Kong, BAILII for UK, etc.

For some jurisdictions, the authoritative platforms require paid subscriptions (similar to Lawnet in Singapore). As such, if completeness is the key factor, then you have no choice but to pay for them. Most developed nations provide free and open access to case law. However, the more important foreign jurisdictions that require paid subscriptions are:


The paid subscriptions for databases like Westlaw and Lexis Nexis can be very costly. Small law firms should first consider the grant available under SmartLaw Assist <https://tinyurl.com/ycd2xxnh>, which is subsidy scheme for online knowledge databases. Under this scheme, an eligible law firm is entitled to a 60% subsidy for the first year subscription of the following online knowledge databases: Informa Law, Lexis Nexis, Westlaw Asia and/or Proview.

Pro Tip: If you want to subscribe to Indian caselaw database, it is most likely less costly to approach the Indian companies directly, instead of subscribing through Westlaw Asia.

Alternatively, you might also want to consider paying for Intelllex Enterprise <https://intelllex.com/> which allows you to search through multiple foreign jurisdictions at the same time. Intelllex is like a supercharged Custom Search Engine, i.e. they aggregate all the freely available case law, reference materials etc from the key common law jurisdictions. This way, you do not have to spend a huge amount of time to build your own Custom Search Engine, which requires a lot of testing. In addition, it is smarter and easier to use than most of the national case law databases, for example, you can phrase your queries in a conversational format. It is also worth noting that Intelllex, aside from being a legal research tool, is also a legal knowledge management tool.


In the ideal world, access to legal materials should be freely available and easily accessible. How amazing would it be, if we could have a smart search engine like Google, specialised in legal research.

Until then, taking into account the abovementioned factors, small law firms are encouraged to adopt this approach in considering which tools to use for foreign legal research:

If uncertainty persists with regarding to paying for subscription, the next step would be to track the time you (and your firm) spend on conducting foreign legal research. From here, you will be able to assess whether the time spent (with or without paid subscriptions) justify a paid subscription.

If you do not have an existing subscription and you find yourself spending 20 hours per week doing foreign legal research, then you should probably consider paying for a better tool. Most tools allow you to try them out first. If you continue to track your time while using these new tools, you would then be able to tell whether these subscriptions would increase your efficiency and profit margins.

Likewise, if you have an existing subscription and you find yourself spending only two hours monthly, you might not want to continue with the subscription because the same sources are freely available on the internet. 

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