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Introduction to Legal Research

This guide is an introduction to legal research at the University of Melbourne. This guide is intended for law students in the JD, MLM , Breadth programs who are new to legal research. Students in other disciplines who may need to conduct legal research

Introduction to Finding Cases on a Topic

1. Start with secondary sources, which will cite significant cases on the topic. 

2. Find relevant journal articles, use topic keywords to search:

  • Informit databases such as AGIS and the Humanities & Social Sciences Collection (UniMelb staff & students)
  • LawCite (free)
  • AustLII journals (free)

3. Use commentaries on the topic, such as those on CCH, Lexis Advance Pacific and Westlaw AU. You can find these databases on the Law Library website Research Databases by Type page under the section 'Commentary'. 

4. In addition to using secondary sources:

  • FirstPoint on WestlawAU indexes cases by topics which can be browsed or searched using the 'Classification' field on the search form. You could also enter a search term in the 'Catchwords' field in the FirstPoint search form - this will search for your term in the catchwords section of the judgment. 
  • Use the Australia - by catchwords on Lexis Advance Pacific to search the topic in the catchwords lookup search box.
  • JADE (free) can be searched by topic, tag or cloud.

Beware: the case law databases will find many cases, but not all will be significant - use books, articles and commentaries to ensure the importance of the case.

Finding the Most Important Cases on a Topic

Secondary Sources are the best place to start if you are looking for the most important cases on a topic. Following are recommended approaches for finding the most important cases on a topic:  

  • Recent books and book chapters. Use the Library Catalogue to find relevant recent print and e-book titles. Secondary sources are the best way to find a discussion of the jurisprudence on the subject.
  • Legal encyclopaedias such as The Laws of Australia (Westlaw AU) or Halsbury's Laws of Australia (Lexis Advance Pacific). These are arranged by topic and can also be searched. 
  • The most important Australian cases will generally be those decided in the High Court. But English cases are often important in that this may be where the law was first enunciated or developed. See our Research Guide United Kingdom Legal Research for information about researching English law. 
  • If you find the case discussed in an encyclopaedia or book, use a case citator such as Casebase or Firstpoint
    • a) to ensure that you are referring to the authorised or 'best' version of the case, and
    • b) to check how the case has been treated subsequently by other cases paying particular attention to whether the case has been overturned.