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Legal research: Home

The guide provides an overview of the legal Research Process, how to locate various law sources for your Core Law units, access free law resources, and decipher abbreviations.

Welcome to the Legal Research Guide. It provides detailed support for finding specific legal information. We have incorporated links to various other Library Guides for your convenience. In the Legal research guides section, you can find in-depth Library Guides in relation to researching Case Law and Legislation and locating various Secondary Sources. You can also find tips on how to decipher legal abbreviations, using our Abbreviations Guide. In the I'm studying section, you will find links that will point you out to subject specific Guides relating to Criminal Law, Procedure, Public International Law, Public Law and Torts. To assist your legal research journey further, we have included a section on the Legal Research Process, that outlines a 7 step strategy, to help you conduct effective and efficient legal research.     

Legal research guides

Click on the links below to access the following legal research guides:

I'm studying...

Click on the links below to access the following unit-specific guides:

The Legal Research Process: Researching legal issues involves checking many sources. There is no 'one size fits all' approach, as each legal problem has its own unique considerations. These 7 steps will help you during your research journey.

Step 1. Analyse the problem – identify the legal issues

  • Think about the problem or situation and understand the legal issues involved, not just the facts.
  • Does the problem relate to a particular jurisdiction or a particular period in time?
  • Do you have a thorough understanding of the legal terms and phrases used in describing the problem or situation?

    This will help you with Step 2, planning your research strategy. But check step 7 before you move on.

Step 2. Plan your research strategy – what are your  key sources and key concepts you need to use?

  • What are the key concepts you need to research? (These will become your search terms).
  • Use a legal dictionary or encyclopaedia to check for synonyms or alternative ways of describing these key concepts.
  • In online legal databases you will sometimes need to use Boolean operators and other techniques to construct effective searches. Learning how these operate in different databases is important to assist you in planning effective research.


 Step 3. Use secondary sources to get an overview of the legal issues: this works well for legal topics that are unfamiliar to you. 

  • Consulting secondary sources such as encyclopaedias or commentaries will give you a summary of the law in the area you’re researching and also give you a sense of the broader issues and context with links (which you should note) to relevant legislation and cases.

Step 4. Follow leads to primary sources – these are your key authorities

  • Reviewing your topic in secondary sources will have given you links to relevant legislation and cases. These primary sources of law should be the key focus of your research.
  • Review the relevant parts of statutes and follow up on relevant cases.
  • Searching and browsing though these may lead you back and forth between the secondary and primary sources.

Step 5. Check for currency – are your authorities still ‘good law’?

  • Law is dynamic and evolving. Make sure that your information is current and that your authorities are still ‘good law’. Has the legislation you’re using been amended? Have you checked the most recent treatments of cases you are citing?

Step 6. Broaden your search for more information as necessary, from journals, core texts etc.

  • Look more broadly at how your topic has been treated in core texts or journal articles. These can be helpful in discussing how legislation has been interpreted or applied in a comparative way.
  • Other secondary sources such as bills, second reading speeches, and explanatory memorandum can be helpful in understanding the area of law you are researching.

Step 7. Document your research process as you go.

  • Document your research process by making a  note of what and how you search.
  • Take note of sources and record the details necessary for your referencing.
  • EndNote or other citations management software can be useful to record your sources
  • Note the search terms you use and your results – this will save you time and duplication of effort.

The legal research process: Key points

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