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Legal Research Basics

Beginning legal research

Knowing how to use the Library will help you find the right type of legal information and help you maximize your success in this unit!

Find out about the services and resources available to you on the Deakin College library guide.

This diagram is a guide to approaching research effectively:

 

Choose the types of legal resources you'll need:


Legal Research Methodology - Primary Sources (Cases and Legislation), Secondary Sources (Journal Articles, Books, Dictionaries, Encyclopaedias, UN materials)

 

 

 

Secondary sources describe and analyse the law. Start with them if you are looking for a description of an area of law and want to identify any relevant cases and legislation.

Find other tips for beginning research at the Your first steps in legal research guide.


Finding legislation

Legislation is also known as Acts and statutes.

Only use authorised versions of legislation! Acts from AustLII are not authorised.

If you use Google to find legislation, you may not link to the most current version.

Go to:

Victorian LegislationVictorian Legislation website for Victorian Acts.
At this page, select In force legislation  for all current, in force Victorian Acts.

​​​​​​​Federal Register of Legislation for Commonwealth Acts.

The Australian Consumer Law is schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth).
It is in volume 3 of the Act.


Finding cases

                            The full text of cases are located on AustLII or Jade.                                         

Case citations provide information about the case:

Udaipur Lake Pty Ltd v Michael Sklovsky Pty Ltd [2019] VSC 23

This case was handed down in 2019 in the Victorian Supreme Court (VSC). It was the 23rd case decided by that court in 2019.

For court abbreviations (the letters after the date), consult the Legal Abbreviations guide.


Researching secondary sources

Dictionaries

Lawyers use words precisely, so if you are unsure of any word or phrase, look it up! Words can have a legal meaning different to everyday use, so don't be caught out using words incorrectly.

The Australian Law Dictionary is available online.

Type in the word or phrase in the 'Starting with: box:  Click on the link in the results list: 

Read all of the definition. Legal dictionaries provide you with related or preferred terms and, sometimes, citations of important cases and relevant legislation.    

Legal Encyclopaedias

The encyclopaedias Halsbury's Laws of Australia (REF KH 51 Hal/Hlo) and Laws of Australia (REF KH 51 Rio/Loa) give brief introductions to areas of law and include important legislation for each jurisdiction as well as key cases. They can be consulted on Level 3 of the Library. Start with the index volume. Ask for assistance from library staff if required.

Books

Use the catalogue to find books on specific subjects. If you are sure of the title, use that option, otherwise use keywords. Select the 'Print Books' option to limit the results to hardcopy items. 

For ebooks, use Proquest Ebook Central, which can be accessed from the A-Z Databases page. Use the Advanced search, and add the word 'Australia' to reduce unwanted results.

The International Student Guide to Business Law is an Australian business law book in Chinese and English aimed to help international students from China.

Journal articles

Plan your database search using these tips. Search planning time is never wasted time!

AGIS Plus Text and LegalTrac are two recommended databases from the Library. Search both - they contain different articles. Access them from the A-Z Databases page.

AGIS Plus Text 

Use the Advanced Search option:

and 

Check the result list for relevant articles:

 provides you with additional information, including

  • cases and legislation discussed in the article
  • subject headings you can use for other searches
  • an abstract describing what the article is about.

links to the full text of the article.

LegalTrac

This is an international database, so remember to add 'Australia' to your search to limit unwanted results if you are searching for a general word or phrase:

Results are listed by 'relevance': for most recent articles first use the dropdown box: 

Check the result list for relevant articles.

Expanded Academic ASAP also contains some articles from law journals. Access it from the A-Z Databases page.

Google Scholar

Use the advanced search: 

Check the result list for relevant articles.

Click on the title link.

Remember to expand legal abbreviations when citing journal articles in your assignments! 

In the above example, UNSWLJ is written in full and in italics as University of New South Wales Law Journal.


International law (treaties)

The International treaties library guide provides information on the law of treaties as well as links to major international treaties, including the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) and treaties to which Australia is a party.


Referencing guide

Cite your references according to the Harvard system explained in the Harvard referencing guide. Legal materials are described under the heading Other sources.