Legal research tips - forming good habits early


A career in the law means that research will always be part of your life. It is so important to get into good habits from the beginning. I still use the skills I learnt at a Legal Research tutorial at uni to this very day.

Here are my top 5 tips of research:

  1. Don't know anything about the subject? Start with a legal encyclopaedia like Halsbury's or Laws of Australia, or a textbook (you know - that thing that cost you $150 at the start of semester?!) - it will give you an overview of the law and give you some background before you start researching a more complex issue.

  2. Use the best databases, and know the search tips and rules for each. Your uni or work probably has some great database subscriptions - take advantage of these great resources and read the guides. I use Lexis Nexis and Firstpoint/Westlaw for case law and commentary, and Comlaw and Timebase for Australian legislation.

  3. Use the most authoritative versions of a case or Act. For cases, find the reported versions (if available) - e.g. CLR (rather than HCA), FCR (rather than FCA), NSWLR (rather than NSWSC). For legislation, use government websites - e.g. Federal Register of Legislation (look for the Australian tick - these are the authorised versions).

  4. Keep a record of your searches - the database, the search terms, and the number of results you get. I do this in practice as a solicitor - I list the searches I make so that I know that I have covered all bases and so I don't accidentally double up. 

  5. Summarise your findings as you go - if you find a good case, write a little summary, note the key paragraphs and the findings. This will save you a lot of time later.

Happy researching!