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Deakin College

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!

The other sections of this Deakin College guide give you guidance on how to use the library to find books and journal articles. This section provides an overview of the relevant legal sources that you can access to undertake legal research.

Types of legal sources  

In simple terms, primary sources provide original evidence or first-hand accounts. 

Secondary sources summarise, interpret or analyse primary sources. 

Explore the infographic below to better understand primary and secondary sources of law.

Legal Research Methodology flowchart

Source of Law

  • Primary sources
    • Legislation
      • Extrinsic Materials
      • Explanatory Memorandum (EM)
      • Second Reading Speeches
      • Hansard
    • Cases
      • Australia
      • UK
  • Secondary sources
    • Journal articles
    • Textbooks
    • Legal Dictionaries
    • Legal Encyclopaedias
    • UN materials

Begin searching in secondary sources 

Research in law requires understanding legal terms and concepts. A good place to start is with legal dictionaries or encyclopedias. 


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. 

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.

Next steps in searching secondary sources 

Once you understand legal terms and concepts, move onto searching in books and journals which will explain the relevant cases and legislation which are primary sources of law.

Finding law books is the same as finding any other books. Refresh on searching for books in the Finding Library Resources section.



A helpful Australian business law book for Chinese speaking students is the International Student Guide to Business Law . It is written in Chinese and English, the book offers succinct and accurate explanation of key concepts and principles in business and commercial law. 

Quality peer-reviewed journal articles can be found via Library Search. 

Two Law-specific journal databases are AGIS Plus Text and LegalTrac. Expanded Academic ASAP also contains some articles from law journals. Access them from the A-Z Databases page.



LegalTrac is an international database, so remember to add 'Australia' to your search to limit unwanted results.

Google Scholar  is another useful index to journal articles, although it should not be the only place you search.  

When searching Google Scholar directly you can connect to resources in Deakin Library by changing your settings.

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: 

  • 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. 



The Library Resource Guide Researching Legislation contains more detailed instructions.

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

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 tab Government, NGO and legal.