Peter Roudik is the director of the 20-person staff of the Global Legal Research Center at the Library of Congress. The center serves all three branches of the government when they have inquiries about international laws.
In an increasingly global community, the laws of other countries become more pertinent to agencies’ work. To interpret those laws, the Library of Congress‘ Global Legal Research Center gives legal advice to the government.
The Social Security Administration may need to know a person’s eligibility for foreign benefits. Or the Department of Interior may need to find out if goods brought into the country were acquired legally.
“Our specialists will explain what the laws of Mongolia, for example, say about hunting regulations,” said Peter Roudik, the center’s director.
The 20 foreign-trained lawyers have U.S. law degrees but, unlike regular lawyers, the legal specialists at GLRC are experts in geographical regions — not a particular topic. Roudik calls them legal “universalists.”
The areas of law they research can range from immigration, land zoning, family, inheritance and others. Many requests, in fact, are cross-disciplinary, Roudik said. Since 9/11, the center has received more inquiries about national security and terrorism, he said.
“Just recently, we had a request related to questions for how foreign countries passed legislation similar to the U.S. Patriot Act and how it affected civil liberties abroad,” Roudik said.
Last year, GLRC received 473 Congressional requests, 450 inquiries from agencies and 25 from the Judiciary. The center also provided hundreds more responses to the public.
Many specialists come to GLRC from very distinguished careers abroad, such as prosecutors, law professors or legal secretaries for political leaders, Roudik said.
Roudik, who was born in Moscow, came to the center after working for a legal institution for the Russian government.
Specialists draw on the Library of Congress’ own collection for research. LOC boasts the largest foreign legal library in the world, covering 240 jurisdictions, said David Mao, the deputy law Librarian of Congress.
The number of jurisdictions in the collection include previous jurisdictions, such as imperial Russia and Nazi Germany, Mao said. These materials are housed in the LOC’s Madison building, with much of the materials taking up the equivalent of 1 1/2 football fields of compact shelving in the sub-basement, Mao said.
“Sometimes our collection is even better than inside the [foreign] country,” Roudik said.
The coolest part of his job is the ability to combine academic research and legal practice, Roudik said. Once in awhile, the legal specialists will also testify at hearing or court trials.
Roudik jokes the legal specialists are like astronauts. “They practice for many years and maybe they fly once to the stars. Same with us. We work hard here. We prepare reports. And from time to time, we are called to testify before Congress.”