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Legal research

Legal research is one of the hardest parts to master throughout your uni life. The skills you learn are important for both doing problem question assignments as well as essays. That's why we have compiled a concise summary of the most useful resources we have come across, along with some tips on how to search for the information you need.

Useful tips for searching:
- Use quotations marks for phrases
- Use search operators such as AND, OR, NOT
- Use wildcards such as *, !, especially where there may be different forms of the word

  Resource Description
Cases LexisNexis Australia, as well as the US and UK sites The best place for finding cases and their full text versions. They have a CaseBase feature where some important cases are summarised.
FirstPoint Less hits for cases than LexisNexis, but most of the important ones are there. Usually accompanied with a short summary. Good for getting PDF copies of cases.
Westlaw Good for finding overseas cases
AustLII Law firms hate it, but is loved by academics. Search engine is not use-friendly. However, this is official source for High Court of Australia cases.
Journals Westlaw A very good resource for finding articles published in overseas journals, and has a very intuitive interface.
JSTOR A huge index of articles and journals in almost all subject areas, not just law. However, it contains mostly US articles.
Hein Online Similar to JSTOR. Between JSTOR and Hein Online, you will usually find the articles you need. However, the search function is very unintuitive.
AGIS/Informit Focuses mainly on Australian issues. A bit of a hit and miss in relation to useful articles, but there is often a hidden gem if you are persistent. Not everything is in full-text, but use the ones that are not as leads for future research.
SAGE Publications Has a very good search engine with a mix of both local and international content.
Google Searching on Google can provide a good lead for finding useful journal articles. Don't forget that Google now also searches books, so you have more information at your fingertips.
Institutions relevant to the subject area Don't forget that some legal institutions have their own database of relevant articles. For example, if you are looking for articles on taxation, the Taxation Institute website has a whole database of tax seminar papers and essays which are not indexed anywhere else.
LexisNexis Not the best for Australian journals, but you will have better luck with the US and UK sites.
Legislation ComLaw The official site for Australian federal law. Has both PDF and HTML copies, and usefully links to each Act to subordinate legislation and regulations made under that Act.
AustLII The quickest and easiest way to browse any Australian federal or state legislation. However, sometimes it might be outdated, and be wary of spelling errors.
LawLex Very useful for tracking the progress of legislation in Parliament, as well as tracking start dates for new and amended legislation. Also indexes regulations and bills.
Commentary CCH A wide range of topics is available on CCH, and is regularly updated. Easy to navigate and good for gaining a broad overview.
LexisNexis Has numerous sources of commentary, the most useful being Halsbury's Laws of Australia.
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How to answer Law Problem questions

Answering problem questions in assignments is just like how you would answer it under exam conditions, albeit in a much longer and more detailed fashion. Sometimes, you may need to do legal research to find relevant cases. In this regard, you should read our legal research section above. You may also find our free sample problem question useful. We have outlined some tips for you below:
  • Introductions and conclusions - Make sure you have an introduction and conclusion. A strong introduction should foreshadow your arguments but should not contain substantive legal argument. Your conclusion should concisely summarise all the findings. Ensure your conclusion answers the question posed.
  • Headings - Make generous use of headings and sub-headings. If possible, number these headings for ease of reference. For example, if you find yourself referring to facts or legal analysis from earlier paragraphs, you need only guide the reader to the relevant heading. This saves you from wasting your word limit and repeating yourself.
  • Apply the law - Do not simply quote the case, legislation or book without applying it to the problem. As you are constrained by a word limit, it is always better to apply the legal proposition directly to the issue. This avoids unnecessary repetition, and also maintains the flow of your argument.
  • Structure and flow - Make sure your legal argument flows and is logical throughout your whole answer. Lecturers are not marking your answer based on discrete parts of your legal argument. Instead, they are marking you based on the whole assignment's logical presentation of ideas in a clear and succinct manner. Avoid legalese if possible.
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How to answer Law Essay and Research questions

Essay and research questions require thoughtful analysis of the question. We have outlined some tips for you below. You may also find our free sample research essay useful.
  • Research - A good thing to keep in mind when researching for such questions is the scope of your research. If you cast your search is too wide, you will be inundated with articles that are similar to but not actually what you need. In this regard, a useful tip to quickly finding the most relevant articles is to find the references and citations that a relevant article has made. You can then use the references in that article to look for other related articles.
  • Headings - As with answering problem questions, make sure you use as many headings and sub-headings as you need to. If possible, number these headings for ease of reference. This helps maintain the structure and flow of your essay.
  • Take a stand - A well written essay should always present both sides of the argument comprehensively before explaining why the author has taken a particular stand on the issue. As such, you must ensure that you cover both arguments and take a side, to show to the marker that you have thought through your argument before presenting it.
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Citation guide

Proper citation is expected in all law assignments. However, while it can be the most boring thing to do, it is more important than you think. Lecturers expect students not to take shortcuts when doing citations, and that's why they hammer the point to all first and second year students. Easy marks, and a good impression of your assignment, can easily be gained by following the proper citation rules.

Helpfully, the Melbourne University Law Review Association has published the Australian Guide to Legal Citation, which is a comprehensive guide detailing the proper rules for legal citation. It is very easy to follow and can be downloaded online here.
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