Skip to Main Content


french legal research, legal research guide France

About This Guide

This research guide provides a brief introduction to researching French law.

France is a civil law system.  Thus, the most important sources of French law are the five basic codes (Code civil, Le nouveau code de la procedure civile, Code de commerce, Code pénal, and Code de procedure pénal) and the French Constitution.  These sources, along with custom, are primary sources of law. Persuasive sources of law include jurisprudence (court decisions) and doctrine (legal writings).  An important distinction in French law lies between "public law" and "private law."  Public law includes questions relating to government, the constitution, public administration, and criminal law; private law includes questions of justice between private persons or corporations.

If you are trying to answer the question of "what law governs a particular legal issue in France?" one of the best resources you can use is the Foreign Law Guide This source does not contain explanations of what the law *is*; instead, it identifies the name and citation of the law(s) or code provision(s) that deals with a legal issue (e.g., abortion, securities offering, inheritance).  Foreign Law Guide also notes whether an English translation of a law or code is available. With that information, you will be in a much better position to find the answer to your legal question.

France is a federal parliamentary republic organized into three branches of government, with a strong executive branch.  The president appoints the Council of Ministers, which is commonly referred to as the government.  The legislative branch (Parlement) is bicameral, consisting of l'Assemblée nationale (National Assembly) and le Sénat (Senate).  An English-language version of the National Assembly's website is available, though with limited content:   lAssemblée nationale (

Two recent introductory works on French law are John Bell et al., Principles of French Law (2d ed. 2008) KJV233 .B45 2008 and Introduction to French Law (George A. Bermann & Etienne Picard eds., 2012) KJV237 .I58 2012.

Research guides are helpful in providing guidance on French legal research as well as more information about the French legal system.  SeeCatherine Elliott et al., The French Legal System (2d ed. 2006) Reference Office KJV233 .E43 2006; Christian Dadomo & Susan Farran, The French Legal System (2d ed.1996) KJV 290 .D33x 1996; or Introduction to French Law (George A. Bermann, Etienne Picard eds., 2008)KJV237 .I58 2008.   

Another useful resource, particularly for comparative law questions, is Raymond Youngs's English, French and German Comparative Law (2d ed., 2007). KJC147 .Y68x 2007.

Credits: This guide is based on an earlier version created by Mary Rumsey.

University of Minnesota Law Library
Reference Desk: 612-625-4309 • Circulation Desk: 612-625-4300 • Contact Us