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Legal research for non-law students: Planning your legal research

This guide is designed for students who are studying a law related topic in their course and need the basics

Who is this guide for?

If you need to find cases and legislation for your assessment, and you are not studying the Bachelor of Laws, then this is the guide for you!

This guide will take you through:

  • Planning your legal research
  • Using secondary sources
  • Using primary sources
  • Accessing international materials

If you're in the Bachelor of Laws, please refer to the

Planning your search

Legal resources are broken into two categories Secondary and Primary. In general, when starting your legal research, it's good to start in the secondary resources which will help you identify the primary resources you'll need to refer to. Secondary resources include 

  • legal encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • books,
  • journal articles,
  • legal commentaries and 
  • government documents - explanatory notes, 2nd reading speeches and law reform documents.

Secondary resources help us to understand, analyse and interpret the relevant Primary source material (legislation and case law) for your issues.

Before you start your legal research, it is useful to plan a search strategy. You should 

  • Identify your search terms - consider the keywords and phrases that best describe the legal issues in your scenario.
  • Identify some alternative search words (synonyms) - legal dictionaries and encyclopedias can help you do this.
  • Consider any search parameters - do you need to limit your search to a particular jurisdiction or point in time?
  • Decide what type of secondary source you are looking for - e.g. journal articles.

Introduction to legal sources

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