Law Library

Melbourne Law School Law Library

Guide to Researching your topic using Secondary Resources

This guide will help you to find and use secondary sources such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, commentary (Looseleaf and online) and journal articles when you need to:

How do I find the meaning of a word or phrase?

Use legal dictionaries to provide authoritative and often detailed definitions and to place terms in their legal context. The following dictionaries also often cite key cases and legislation which define terms.


•  Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary
•  Butterworths Australian legal dictionary  ( Reserve K 126 L3 K1 BUTT)
•  Australian Legal Words and Phrases


•  Oxford Dictionary of Law  
•  Stroud's Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases (RESERVE K 126 L3 STRO )
•  Words and Phrases Legally Defined


•  Black's Law Dictionary (print - RESERVE K 126 L3 BLAC)


•  Dictionary  of Canadian Law (print - RESERVE K 126 L3 DUKE )


How do I find overviews, summaries or general background on the law on a particular topic?

  1. Legal Encyclopaedias provide succinct summaries on the current state of the law. They are arranged by subject and include statute and case law authorities in support of the statements.


•  Halsbury's Laws of Australia
•  The Laws of Australia

United Kingdom

•  Halsbury's Laws of England

United States

•  Corpus Juris Secundum
•  American Jurisprudence
•  Restatements of the Law


•  The Canadian Encyclopedic Digest

Other Jurisdictions

•  Foreign Law Guide (online via SuperSearch or the Popular Databases page)

2. Books and book chapters provide authoritative, scholarly and comprehensive treatment of topics, including references to relevant cases, legislation, other books and articles.
Use keywords to search for your topic in:

•  The University of Melbourne Catalogue (finds print and e-books)
•  Libraries Australia
•  Google Books
•  Worldcat ( a worldwide catalogue)

3. Commentary – these full text online services (which were previously held in print as ‘looseleaf services') are all available via SuperSearch or the Popular Databases page, and 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.

•  Legal Online has titles on administrative law, equity/trusts and intellectual property.
•  LexisNexisAu has titles on defamation, family, contract, evidence, criminal and native title.
•  CCH Intelliconnect has titles on trade practices, tax, corporation, torts and global climate change.


How do I find more in-depth material on my topic to inform and refine my argument?

Journal articles provide current scholarly opinion and analysis of specific aspects of your topic. The following databases are all available online via SuperSearch or the Popular Databases page.


•  AGIS Plus Text– the key resource for Australian legal journal literature. Citations and some full text articles from 143 journals (1970+).
•  AUSTLII Journals– full text of over 60 Australian and New Zealand law journals, many of which are not indexed in AGIS. Date coverage varies.

United States

•  Legaltrac – provides citations and some full text articles from approximately 900 US and international journals (from 1980+).
•  Index to Legal Periodicals provides citations and some full text articles from approximately 900 journals (first volume of each title – 1981 on Wilson ; 1978+ on Lexis )
•  Hein Online – full text coverage of over 1200 titles back to the first volume for each title.

United Kingdom & European Union

•  Legal Journals Index (on Westlaw) – indexes 430 law journals
•  Legal Resource Index (on Lexis) – indexes 700 law journals (1977+)


•  Index to Canadian Legal Literature (on Westlaw) - indexes 200 law journals (1985+)


•  Asian law Online - developed by the Melbourne Law School Asian law Centre.
•  Most important Asian law journals are indexed in several of the UK and US indexing services listed above.

Other Jurisdictions

•  Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals


I have a citation / reference to a journal article - how do I find the article?

1. Abbreviated Titles

If the title of the journal is abbreviated, you'll need to know the title in full before you can find the journal. Some comprehensive online legal abbreviation indexes are:

2. Finding the Journal in print and/or online

Look for the title of the journal ( not the title of the article) in:

  • The library catalogue– this will provide the provide details of the print holdings and, if Melbourne University has access to the e-journal, a link to online holdings. TIP – if no online holdings are shown, click ‘source it at Melbourne
  • Or use the SuperSearch‘ Find e-journal' tab to look for the electronic version of the journal.

If the journal is not held at the University of Melbourne , you may be able to request an inter-library loan – please ask for assistance at the Information Desk or consult the ILL web site .


How do i find articles on a specific case?


  • AGIS Plus Text - search in the Legal Cases field
  • Casebase on LexisNexisAu– the results of a case search will include any articles.
  • AUSTLII– search for the case in the journals database.

United Kingdom

  • Search for the case name in Legal Journals Index (Westlaw) or Legal Resource Index (Lexis)

United States


How do I find commentary or articles on a particular act or section of an act?


  • AGIS Plus Text– search in the Legislation field
  • AUSTLII– search for the section of the act in the journals database.
  • Annotated Acts in eg: Intelliconnect (CCH online) – these acts provide commentary for each section of the Act, and also include relevant case law.

United Kingdom

  United States


What if I still need help?

(1) Consult other library guides and 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

(2) Supersearch for additional databases. Note the federated search (quicksearch) does not include law databases. Try "find Database" - by subject if your research is interdisciplinary.

(3) Ask at the law Library Information Desk for assistance with your specific question - we look forward to hearing from you!


Telephone +61 3 8344 8913

This guide last updated on 18 May 2010











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