Law Library

Melbourne Law School Library Guide

Introduction to Legal Research

This guide will help you when you need to

A. Undertake legal research during your law degree

B. Have an understanding of the sources of law

Legal research databases referred to in this guide are listed on the Law Library Popular Databases page


A. There are 4 main steps in the legal research process:
1. Analyse the facts and identify the issues

Do the facts suggest a contract, might you have to sue the Crown, has your client been charged with theft, has someone been refused a job because of their religious beliefs? Thinking about these kinds of very basic issues allows you to narrow the range of your initial research. As you become more experienced, you will be able to identify these kinds of very broad issues much more quickly.

Identifying the key issues will also assist in formulating your approach to finding information on the topic you will need to know the most important concepts / words / phrases.


2. Obtain an overview of the subject in the secondary materials (for more detailed information on this topic, refer to the Library Guide on Secondary Sources)

Consult textbooks, encyclopaedias and commentary for broad treatment of general principles. Use the library catalogue to find books. A good search option is to use Keyword and type in relevant search terms.
You might also go to an encyclopedia such as Halsbury's Laws of Australia on (LexisNexisAU) for summaries on the current state of the law.

Online commentary services, such as those found on CCH Intelliconnect, provide up to date authoritative statements of legal principles and topics, supported by and linking directly to case law and legislation. They are subject specific, and are more up to date than books or encyclopaedias.

Journal articles provide a more in-depth analysis of narrower concepts. The Library catalogue does not identify journal articles, use a journal index such as AGIS to find Australian articles.


3. Consult the primary materials (for detailed guides to research using primary materials, refer to the Library guides on legislation and caselaw)

By the time you have completed stage two you will have notes comprising general principles and references to primary sources. You must always go to these primary sources, which are the principal focus of your research and which are also your authorities.


4. Make sure your research is up to date

The fact that the law is constantly changing makes ensuring that your research is up to date a key part of the challenge of legal research. Has a case been overruled or a statute amended? Use Casebase on LexisNexisAU to see how a case has been subsequently treated, and Timebase, Comlaw or Victorian Law Today for legislation changes. All are available on the Popular Databases page.

B. Sources of Law
Legal researchers divide sources of law into two types - primary and secondary



These are resources in which the researcher can find out what the law is, though in the common law system they are not considered to be an authority for proving the content of the law.

•  "Finding tools" - dictionaries, digests of decisions, citators, encyclopaedias, annotations and online commentaries are found in a number of legal databases such as LexisNexisAU, Legal Online, Intelliconnect (CCH Online) and Westlaw.

•  Textbooks and journal articles describe, comment on and criticise the law check the Library catalogue for books, and AGIS, Legal Online, LexisNexisAU, LegalTrac, Hein, Lexis and Westlaw for full text journals.


What if I still need help?

If extra help is needed consult other Library guides or legal research books such as Laying Down the Law which is held in the Law Library Reserve section at KL 155 K1 LAYI, and A Practical guide to Legal Research which is held in the Law Library Reserve section at KL 155 K1 MILN.

Ask a Librarian at the Law Library Information Desk for assistance with your specific question we look forward to helping you!


Telephone: +61 3 8344 8913

This guide last updated on 8 April 2010

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