Researching the law

This guide will help you learn about doing legal research, finding cases, legislation and commentary about the law on a subject or topic. You will also find a useful introduction to the Australian legal system.

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Key to library resources

Access anywhere with a library card In the Library (or anywhere with a Library card for NSW residents)
Available to access in the library Only in the Library
Publicly available online Publicly available

Legal research

Legal research - a strategy

It is important that you take some time to think about what you are looking for.  What are the key facts in your legal problem and what are the key search terms?  Write these down.  Do you know of any cases or legislation that cover this area of law?  If you don't know anything about the law covering your legal problem, start with finding simple plain language information to give you a basic understanding.

Find Legal Answers website

The following website provides an excellent starting point for legal research if you don't know anything about the laws relating to your legal problem or topic.  It provides access to useful, current and easy to understand information about the law in NSW.

Law handbook

The Law handbook is a practical guide to 40 legal topics, the legal issues which affect people in their everyday lives.  Start with the Law handbook to get an understanding of your legal topic before doing more detailed research.

Legal dictionaries

Use legal dictionaries for definitions of legal terms.  

Legal texts

Text books provide you with an overview and broader understanding of the law on a particular topic or subject or on a legal issue.  You will get a clear summary of the law and it will refer you to key cases and legislation.  

Loose-leaf services  provide in-depth commentary and discussion on a particular topic or subject of the law that includes summaries of key cases and legislation.  Loose-leaf services are updated regularly.  Lawyers regularly use these services to keep up to date with their area of law.

Start by looking at the Find Legal Answers website (see above).  You will find a useful list of loose-leaf services under each topic.  When you find the topic or subject that covers your search question, click on the content location 'In the State Library' to find the list of State Library resources.  Note that this is not an extensive list.

To find a more detailed list of legal texts and looseleaf services, use the State Library catalogue.  Make sure you check the date of publication to ensure you are looking at a current text.  The most up-to date publications will be on the reference shelves

Legal encyclopaedias

Legal encyclopaedias give overviews of legal topics.

Journal articles

Journal articles are helpful if you want to find discussion or commentary about your topic when there have been recent changes to the law.  This will help you understand the impact of these changes.  They are also helpful for finding discussison and commentary about a recent court decision.

The State Library holds a large collection of legal journals. Search the catalogue or AGIS Plus to find journal articles.


The State Library subscribes to a number of legal databases which are useful fo rexperienced legal researchers.  Lawyers regularly use these services to keep up to date with their area of law. They can be difficult to use, so we recommend you read the user tips provided by the vendor or publisher. If you are new to the law, we recommend you start your legal research with more general resources such as the Law handbook.

Find a full list of the eResources available at the State Library.  Click on the 'Law" topic to find all the eResources about the law.

Case citators

Case citators are useful for identifying key cases on your research topic.  If you have found a case that is similar to your scenario, you can use a citator to see how this case has been followed by subsequent cases.

Legal information at the Library

This Guide has been developed by staff of the Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC), State Library of NSW. The State Library holds an extensive collection of case law, legislation and looseleaf publications.

Find out more about legal research

If you want to learn about how to do legal research, the State Library has a number of books in its collection.

abbreviations - law journals

Understanding a journal citation

A journal reference or citation tells you the journal name, volume, year, issue and page number of the article you want to read.

Example - (2005) 79 (5) ALJ 276

  • (2005) - year of article
  • 79 - volume of journal
  • (5) - issue of journal - not always given
  • ALJ - abbreviation of journal - Australian Law Journal
  • 276 - page at which you will find the article

If the title of the journal is abbreviated, you will need to find the full title before searching the Library Catalogue. Use this abbreviation list to locate your abbreviation:


Tips for using case citators

If you want more help with using these case citators, use our Research Guide Case Law - case citators.