Set Expectations: Many sources will NOT be translated into English, unless English is an official language of the country you are researching. For international organizations, most make an effort to have documents available in the official languages of each member state, but that is not always feasible. As a general matter, primary sources are more likely than secondary sources to be translated. When you do find translations, they may be described as authoritative, authentic, official, or unofficial - authoritative would be considered the most desirable and unofficial the least desirable.
A big part of this is understanding the legal system - You will often not find case reporters for civil law countries as they generally do not follow stare decisis. For cases in civil law systems, if you can find a case, it will typically be published in a legal journal, international journal, or maybe in a specialty subscription database.
Narrow your Research Question: At the very beginning, narrow your research question. What country’s law do you need? Are you looking for a case, code, statute, administrative rule or decision, treaty, etc.? What is the specific subject area at issue? Do you want the law in full-text or abstract? How recent is the document? Must you have the latest amendments? What languages can you read?
A Sometimes Useful Database: A popular subscription database the covers many countries and includes machine translation is vLex Justis. A nice option in vLex is that it can also translate search terms when running an advanced search. To download or print anything on this source, you will need to make an individual account first. (Always access using the law library link before logging into your individual accounts.) Machine translations, like those offered by vLex and Google translate are generally unreliable though they can help you identify the subject matter.
For a much more in-depth look at translations and research steps, see chapter 2 on translations in Marci Hoffman & Mary Rumsey, International and Foreign Legal Research: A Coursebook (2d ed. 2012), available in the library here.
For legislation, Google the name of the law in English; the most likely results will be from government websites in English or unofficial translations from law firms (most likely with legislation related to commerce) or from a variety of non-profits (most likely with social justice topics).
There are some free websites from international organizations by topic that provide national legislation; they often have English summaries if not the whole document. Some of the most popular are:
You can also find other guides that provide information on translations - for example:
Tips for finding translations of cases:
Other databases that might provide translations by topic:
Consider secondary sources: If you do not know where to start, and you do not already have a citation to the foreign law, then start your research with secondary sources: commentaries, treatises, legal encyclopedias, articles. These sources may provide a specific citation to a law (name, date, etc.) so that you can search the library catalog. Also, a citation is essential if you have to request a copy from another library through interlibrary loan. Secondary sources may also provide a summary of the law (which is sometimes better than nothing).