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Researching Case Law

1 What are you trying to find?

 Take a moment before you start researching to think about what you are trying to find.

Are you researching for a research essay, a problem question, or something else? Are you trying to find cases, legislation, secondary sources or all of these?

Are you trying to find the one right answer to a specific question, such as whether euthanasia is legal in your state or territory, or are you trying to find general information on a topic, such as children’s rights?


  • The nature of the research task
  • The research question
  • Your pre-existing knowledge and relevant experience
  • Some possible search terms
  • Your time frames


Video: Identifying your Search Terms

Click the play button below to watch the video on Identifying your Search Terms.

2 Decide on your research strategy

 Decide how you are going to tackle the research.

  • What information do you already have? It may have some useful pointers.
  • Brainstorm some key words for searching, and think about the area of law. Are there some obvious legal issues that need to be researched?
  • Carefully read the information provided and identify the key terms and concepts.
  • Consult legal dictionaries and legal encyclopaedias to help you define the terms and concepts you have identified.
  • You usually need to consult several sources, and evaluate and synthesise the information that you find.

Legal sources can be divided into two types: primary sources and secondary sources.

Primary sources are the actual text of the law, that is, legislation and case law, as created by the parliaments and the courts.

Secondary sources are the tools that assist you in locating and understanding the relevant primary sources.


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











3 Do the research and sort out the results

 Do the research.

Our Law guides will assist in identifying databases you can use that contain authoritative sources.

  • Keep a record of where you have looked and what search terms you have used - this will save you repeating the same searches. 
  • Focus on the purpose of your research. Get rid of anything irrelevant and hone in on the most important results. These will often lead you to further research through their references.
  • If you find conflicting results, check the currency of the source – one of them may be out of date. You should keep all relevant results, be they for or against your ‘client’.

Try some of these search tips:


Video: Information Searching Techniques

Click the play button below to watch the video on Information Searching Techniques.

4 Finalise your research outcomes

 Now that you have the results – what have you found?

  • Have you reached a conclusion on a particular question?
  • Have you uncovered some anomaly in the law that needs to be addressed?
  • Have you discovered that the relevant area of law is one that has changed little for years, or one that is in a constant state of flux?
  • Most importantly, has the research and results you have found addressed your initial purpose?

If so, well done! You can now write it up in whatever format has been set for your assignment.

Remember, writing involves the strategic use of the research findings to support a viewpoint you may be taking or an argument you may be putting forward.


Video: Evaluating Information Sources

Click the play button below to watch the video on Evaluating Information Sources.