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Legal research

LAWS1000 Legal Research and Writing
Legal Research and Writing is an introductory core skills course for Law.  Students will learn how to solve legal problems and approach law assignments; how to find, interpret and use primary and secondary sources; how to distinguish credible from non-credible sources; how to communicate clearly and persuasively in academic and professional contexts; and how to reference appropriately.

About this guide

This guide was created by a librarian and contains some key resources you can refer to throughout the legal research & writing course.

Legal Research

This guide is designed to support the University of Notre Dame Australia community identify essential legal research resources.

When starting legal research, it can be useful to begin with secondary resources. This includes encyclopedias and dictionaries, books, journal articles and commentaries. These will point you to relevant primary resources including case law and legislation. 

Summary of Legal Research

University of Notre Dame Australia School of Law has generally adopted the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion) approach for legal analysis & hypothetical legal problems.

  • Read the question: Use IRAC to identify
    • Issue(s): What happened? Who did it happen to? Where did it happen? What is the area of law? 
    • Rules/Relevant Law: Identify relevant case law and legislation, focusing on legal principles. 
    • Application: Apply the law to the facts and develop legal arguments
    • Conclusion: Stand back and play 'judge', choose the argument that you think is strongest and justify why

Legal research methodology

A suggested research methodology is to find secondary sources/analysis (1-4) which will help you to to identify relevant primary legal materials (5 & 6).

Analyse and define your topic.

  1. Dictionaries - check the meaning of words and terms.
  2. Encyclopedias - for a broad overview and contextual snapshot of a legal topic
  3. Books and eBooks- for more indepth and focused analysis of a topic
  4. Journal articles - detailed analysis of legal problems and issues
  5. Legislation - find and read the authorised/official version of the Act to the point in time, consider looking at relevant extrinsic material.
  6. Cases - make sure you have the most authoritative version and consider the precedent used as well as its status

Broader issues to consider

What is the relevant jurisdiction?

  • Is there a relevant time frame? Be time conscious is in terms of sourcing the material:  is there a specific point in time, or do you need the most recent or the original version?

General research practice: 

  • Use the correct citation format (AGLC4)
  • Keep a track of the resources you used, when you consulted them and assess how effective your search was.

Other key considerations

Become familiar with information hierarchies

  • Legislation: “Go to the source” for legislative materials:  Western Australian legislation website, NSW legislation  and Federal Register of Legislation (Commonwealth) websites.
  • Case law: the authoritative case report is more valued than an unreported judgment
  • Articles: scholarly journals are more considered and reviewed by experts prior to publication.  Law society journals are practice focused and quickly published, some other specialty journals are not peer reviewed but encourage critical analysis and thinking.

The consequences of not being a good legal researcher include the potential risks including

  • a negative impact on your professional standing: see the Legal Professional Rules for your jursidiction
  • financial cost to you and your client
  • being sued for negligence by your client
  • challenge the reputation and professional integrity of the firm and
  • be a threat to your professional reputation.

The Australian Guide to Legal Citation (AGLC) is a footnote citation style specifically designed to identify legal sources. It does not deal with legal writing style. AGLC is medium neutral, which means it allows for a resource to be cited in a consistent manner, regardless of whether it has been published in print or online, in reported or unreported format.

The Library's AGLC guide provides a summary of the full AGLC rules and deals with the most highly used sources by law students. This is a good place to start, remembering you call refer to the full AGLC 4th Edition manual when it is unclear how to correctly cite a particular source.