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Legal Research: Secondary Sources: Introduction


Themis is an ancient Greek Titan and is believed to be the embodiment of divine order, custom and law.

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This guide will help you to find and use secondary sources such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, commentary (looseleaf and online) and journal articles. The following outlines a step-by-step process to approach legal research.

Step 1. Consult legal dictionaries and encyclopaedias. Legal dictionaries provide authoritative and often detailed definitions and place terms in their legal context. Legal encyclopaedias provide succinct summaries on the current state of the law, they are arranged by subject and include legislation and case law authorities in support of the statements.

Step 2. Textbooks are a useful next point of reference as they contextualise legal topics, provide background on areas of law and examine specific areas of law. Textbooks may provide authoritative, scholarly and comprehensive treatment of topics, including references to relevant cases, legislation, other books and articles.

Step 3. Commentary services or reporters provide up to date and thorough commentary on an area of law and often include legislation, rules, practice directions and case law.  These full text online services (which were previously held in print as 'looseleaf services') 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.

Step 4. Journals and journal articles provide current scholarly opinion and analysis of specific aspects of your topic. Academics or practitioners who have expertise in specific areas of law usually write the journal articles.  It is important to distinguish between scholarly literature in 'academic' journals and 'industry' literature which is produced by law societies for example. Articles written in law society journals are usually short and practical, providing updates on the profession and new legal developments.

The Australian Guide to Legal Citation 3rd edition (AGLC3) is the standard citation style used in legal writing in Australian law schools.

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