Features – Using EISIL to Research Private International Law

Louise Tsang is a reference librarian at Georgetown University Law Library. She is also an ESIL content author. Other guides she has published on LLRX.com are here.


Trade, commerce and other forms of legal transactions very often involve people of different nationalities or places of domicile. Resolution of disputes over any of these transactions can be difficult as they bring up various conflict of laws issues, such as choice of law, jurisdiction, enforcement of judgments. As people, goods and services become increasingly mobile across international boundaries, there are more and more cases involving private international law, sometimes also known as conflict of laws in common law-oriented jurisdiction, which seek to determine the applicable law and jurisdiction in private matters.

Lawyers representing international corporations are no longer the only ones who have to deal with conflict of laws/private international law issues. More and more often attorneys helping clients with seemingly ordinary cases, such as divorces or contracts, encounter private international law issues because the parties involved are nationals of or residing in different countries. More students are taking conflict of laws or private international law courses. The Electronic Information System for International Law (EISIL) includes Private International Law resources to help librarians, attorneys and students find private international law treaties and related resources in an efficient manner. The category focus on transnational, regional and international efforts in making private international rules more predictable or uniform.

The EISIL home page and all EISIL categories are designed to be “browsing friendly.” The “Private International Law” category is organized into the following sub-categories: “Basic Sources,” “Trade & Commerce,” “Finance & Banking,” “Wills, Trusts & Estates,” “Family & Children,” “International Judicial Assistance,” “Jurisdiction & Judgments.” Within each sub-category, selected resources are further organized under the following headings: “Primary Documents,” “Web Sites,” and “Research Guides.” While this structure facilitates browsing, the database is also searchable. You can use the “Find” box (at upper left hand corner of the page) to search the entire EISIL database or restrict the search to the category you are in. You can also use “Advanced Search” to customize the search by dates, keywords, resource type, and many other options.

Many different types of cases can involve private international issues. The following legal research scenarios demonstrate the variety of resources included in the “Private International Law” category as well as the different ways you can maximize your use of the database.

Scenario 1

Alice is taking a course in conflict of laws in the international arena in the new school term. She is hoping to obtain an overview of private international law and browse through a few international conventions in preparation for the course. She has found a few introductory books but would like to find a Web site where she can browse and search for private international law treaties in the comforts of her own home. You, the librarian, show her EISIL, a reliable database built by a group of information professionals for the American Society of International Law. EISIL was built with the needs of the user in mind. Each category or subcategory has a short introduction indicating the scope of that category. Each subcategory lists and briefly describes international instruments, useful Web sites, as well as research guides which will provide Alice with further guidance in her research later. You also point out to her that not only does the list provide direct access to an authoritative version of the treaty/international instrument, it also provides a brief description as well as legal citations (click the “More Information” link). The authoritative version, legal citations and brief description make EISIL a far more superior research tool than most search engines. She can also search the database for the international instruments mentioned in the introductory treatises she is going to read. You may also point out to her that there is an online demo (next to the “Search” button), in case she needs to refresh her memory on how to use EISIL. For a more detailed description of the structure and features of EISIL, see Looking for International Law? EISIL It! by Marci Hoffman and Jill Watson.

Scenario 2

A lawyer in your firm researching an inter-country adoption case comes to you for help to find treaties dealing with this issue, especially but not exclusively those treaties with China as a signatory. He does not have the title of the treat(ies). You are not familiar with this area of law, but you have heard of a Hague Convention on adoption. You could do a Google search for Hague Convention adoption, but you would miss other conventions or treaties on adoption not in the Hague system. And if you broaden the search to treaty adoption, you would get too many hits. You have heard of EISIL being a reliable resource from ASIL. You decide to do a simple search for the keyword “adoption” in “Links in the Entire Category” with an understanding that it may return irrelevant records, but you do not want to miss any. The search returns over 25 records (still a lot fewer than a Google search would return) including primary documents, Web sites and research guides. You browse through the list and click on “More information” to find out if the results look promising. When you select the “More Information” display, you can choose to save the record:

You save the records for “Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption,” “Inter-American Convention on Conflict of Laws Concerning the Adoption of Minors,” “Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues,” and “International Family: A Selective Resource Guide.”

EISIL gives you the option to email the saved records to the attorney. The records include links to the text of the conventions, the URLs of useful Web sites, and the URLs of useful research guides. They also include brief descriptions of these resources and citations of primary documents. Most of the Hague Conventions include a status report which provides information on the signatories.

Scenario 3

You are a lawyer and your client suspects one of the artworks now currently on show in a museum in Paris belongs to his family. It was lost during the Nazi regime in Austria. He wants you to find out what actions he can take with an aim to repossess the artwork. Among other things, you need to find out which court has jurisdiction and whether judgment would be recognized and enforced in the country where the artwork now resides. You know that there are conventions that regulate the choice of jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments. You have heard about EISIL and decide to take a look at the “Private International Law” category. You notice the “Jurisdiction & Judgments” as one of the subcategories under “Private International Law” and decide to check the “Show Description” box to browse through the brief descriptions of all primary documents quickly to determine which convention applies to your client’s case.

As these research scenarios show, the “Private International Law” category on EISIL, like the rest of the database, is browsable by sub-category and searchable by keyword. Records can be saved and emailed or printed for your own use or for the attorney you are helping. For more information on using EISIL in private law firms, see Krista Lindhard’s Using EISIL in Private Law Firms. //www.llrx.com/features/eisilinlawfirms.htm. To help librarians or attorneys introduce EISIL to fellow librarians and attorneys, EISIL has prepared a PowerPoint presentation with script on the “About EISIL” page.

Why Google it, EISIL it!

Posted in: Features, International Legal Research, Legal Research