Features – Looking For International Law? EISIL It!

Electronic Information System for International Law (EISIL)

Marci Hoffman, International & Foreign Law Librarian, UC Berkeley Law Library and EISIL Project Manager and Jill McC. Watson, EISIL Project Manager, Washington, DC.

For researchers, librarians, students and lawyers, there is a new web resource that strives to make researching international law on the web more fruitful and efficient. This new site is called EISIL, the Electronic Information System for International Law. EISIL has been developed, with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, by the American Society of International Law (ASIL), a scholarly association and publisher that has been a leader in the analysis, dissemination and development of international law since 1906.

Several years ago, ASIL realized that a one-stop, quality-assured international law information gateway could be of immense value to researchers and practitioners.

To meet this need, it has created EISIL as a freely available database of authenticated primary and other materials across the breadth of international law, which until now have been scattered in libraries, archives and specialized web sites. EISIL is envisioned to be the first place to visit on the web when looking for international legal materials.

EISIL is designed to allow you to access information either by browsing through the database by topic (such as international economic, criminal, or environmental law) or by searching the resources using titles, popular names, keywords, dates, or other information. The records in EISIL link to primary documents, the best web sites on the topic, and research guides. Researchers can link directly to the most authoritative and reliable web version of the resource, as selected by the information professionals who have developed the database. Equally important is the “More Information” button leading to a record that provides considerable added information, such as a legal citation, alternate titles or popular names, a description of the document or web site, and relevant dates (signature or entry into force dates).

EISIL is easy to use and will be of tremendous assistance to both the novice and experienced international legal researcher.

It received the 2004 Website Award from the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL) in August 2004.

How to Use EISIL

From the home page of EISIL, you can view the general outline of the international law subjects covered by the database. Each topical category contains links to primary documents, recommended web sites, and research guides.


You can browse through EISIL and review the records in each subject area listed according to category. For example, the Private International Law section of EISIL contains “basic sources” on the topic, as well as subcategories for “trade and commerce”, “finance and banking”, “family and children”, and “international judicial assistance”. There is a brief description of each EISIL category that informs you of its content and scope. You may view the list of records in the subject area by title only, or check off a “show description” box to display a brief summary of each resource. There is also an option to list only one type of resource, for example primary documents, or research guides.


Simple (see the Find box in the upper left hand corner of the page) and advanced searches can be performed on the EISIL database, customizing the search by dates, keywords, resource type, and many other options. The advanced search page has been made as clean and easy-to-use as possible, and is recommended for the most accurate results. In either case, you can search the entire database, or restrict the search to the category you are in, such as International Human Rights.


The title link, for example the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods will take you directly to a reputable and stable web version of the document (from UNCITRAL).

Value-Added Information

Of special note is the “More Information” option following each link, which contains a wealth of value-added information. This carefully compiled material, useful to the beginner and expert, is a unique feature of the EISIL database. Each record in EISIL contains data created by an information professional or international law expert. In the case of a primary document, this information includes the following fields:

• The formal title of the primary document.
• Any acronym, popular name, translated title, or an abbreviation for the document.
• One or more authoritative web sites (if available) for accessing the document.
• The document’s conclusion and, if available, the entry-into-force date.
• A brief description, including a summary of the resource, covering the content and nature of the document, or the scope and utility of recommended web sites and research guides.
• At least one reliable legal citation for the document.
• A link to the EISIL record of the instrument(s) that amend(s) the primary document.
• A link to the EISIL record of the earlier instrument(s) that the primary document amends.
• The language(s) in which the document is available on the site.

The record for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides you with a good example of EISIL’s added information.

Customizing and Saving Search Results

EISIL allows you to customize the results of your research, by displaying only certain resources or limiting the number of results you view or print, for example. You can also mark records to save for a research project or reference request. This list of saved records can be printed, downloaded, or emailed with live links and all value-added information.

Other Features

EISIL also provides you with the option to suggest a site, report a broken link, or contact the EISIL team. Although the database is designed to be easy and intuitive, a Help button is available with basic instructions.

Using EISIL at Work

Experience has shown that EISIL is a valuable resource for use in a variety of work environments. Scholars and practitioners can locate the primary documents needed for their work; librarians use it to locate authoritative citations for students and faculty; and professors can use it in the classroom as a teaching aid. A collection of information on basic sources, as well as on the scholarly, educational and professional organizations in the field of international law may be found in the General International Law category.

Writing Articles and Papers

EISIL can be used for professional and scholarly writing too. This includes student seminar papers, law reviews and journals, faculty publications, court documents, and position papers. For many of these purposes, consider using EISIL as an aid for topic selection or orientation to the primary sources and issues on an international law topic.

Let’s say you want to write a paper on international law concerning Polar Regions, but you really don’t know what issues you might focus on in this area. By browsing Antarctica & the Arctic in the Air, Space and Water section of EISIL, you can identify some of the major treaties, and some web sites and research guides for more information.

As a further aid to legal writing, research guides such as one on Cultural Property in the Individuals & Groups category have been selected for inclusion in EISIL. Many of these guides will help you identify other sources for further research on a topic.

Cite Checking

Cite checking international legal materials is often a daunting task. EISIL can help curb the anxiety that often accompanies this work because it can be used effectively by law students, lawyers and librarians by providing authoritative legal citations. Since the record links to a reliable web site for the full text of the document, the cite checker can also check the language being cited in the article. Let’s say you are looking for the “Vienna Convention on the Succession of States in Respect of Treaties.” The EISIL record will provide you with multiple authoritative citations (the United Nations Treaty Series, International Legal Materials and the American Journal of International Law); a link to the treaty located on the United Nations International Law Commission web site (the most respected and dependable version of this document); the entry into force and conclusion dates; and a solid summary to make sure that this is treaty you need.

Teaching International Law or Legal Research

EISIL can be a very useful aid in the classroom when teaching about international law generally, or focusing on a particular hot topic within international law, such as Use of Force. It is also an ideal tool when teaching international legal research.

As an aid for classroom or training sessions, a ready-made one-page handout in pdf format is available on the About EISIL page.

You can use EISIL in a formal classroom setting for courses and seminars by creating instructive exercises. It can also be incorporated into more informal training sessions, such as lunch-time sessions with new associates in your law firm. You can tailor your searches to fit your law firm’s practice area, such as Air Transport, which is found in the Communications and Transport category.

If you work in a law school, you will find EISIL a handy tool for working with journal students and for International Moot Court training. EISIL will allow you to show these beginning students how international law is organized and what kinds of resources are authoritative and worthwhile for their research. Students will really appreciate the “More Information” section of each record with the legal citations and resource summaries.

On-going Development

EISIL is not a static database; it will evolve and grow as web resources develop in the future. Through the continuing labors of its authors, the input of the international legal community, and ongoing development by the American Society of International Law it will fulfill its goal of being the first stop on the web for international legal researchers.

So, the next time you are looking for international law on the internet, don’t waste time, just “EISIL it!”

Posted in: Features, International Legal Research, Legal Research Training, Training