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Law Search Guide: Law Search Example

This guide will show you how to search a law topic using quick and simple methods.

Jill and Jane are twin law students who are undertaking their first research assignment. For their first assignment, they are given this question:

Select one case of your choice from the High Court, write a case note on the decision. In your case note explain the facts of the case, identify the legal issues, explain the outcome, and explain if and how the case changed the law. 

Even though they are twins they have two very different ways of researching for their assignments. Read below about how each twin undertakes their research. What method will you try for your assignment research?


Jill reads through the question several times so she is very clear on what she has to do.

She reads through the marking rubric in her unit and attends the lecture where her lecturer explains how it is important for this topic to search beyond the case. Students will need to use journal articles that can help them understand the case and see if and how it has changed the common law. 

Jill understands that researching for the assignment is only one aspect of the overall task. She uses the Assignment Scheduler to write up her study schedule to include enough time to research, write and proofread before submitting before the due date.  

Web search

Jill starts her research with a quick Google search and chooses the keywords 'famous high court case australia'.

Jill clicks the second link Top 10 Most Influential Court Cases of the Last 40 Years. She notes that the page was created by The College of Law, which may be ok as an initial source, was published in 2014 so won't have any more recent cases.

Jill decides to choose an older case as may be easier to choose as there may be more time to publish information on it. Reading through the list of cases Jill is interested in the cases of Dietrich v The Queen from 1992. She quickly looks through the summary of the legal issues and she thinks the right to a fair trial will be interesting to research. 

Jill then types 'dietrich v the queen' in Google reads a Wikipedia entry which gives her the citation [1992] HCA 57 and a quick overview of what the case was about.

Searching for Case Law in FirstPoint 

Jill then wants to check out a more detailed legal summary of the case to understand the legal issues. Jill remembers the Library workshop that she did early in the semester, Jill knows she can get some easy-to-read case summaries through FirstPoint. Jill does a Google search for the Law Guide by typing the keywords 'Law Guide CDU' into the search box. The Law Guide is the first result and Jill finds the link to FirstPoint on the page.

After logging in Jill copies and pastes the citation she found online into the citation search box which brings her back to the case. From FirstPoint, Jill can read the summary of the case, she can also download the full-text case as a PDF as she finds this easier to read and print out to make her own notes.

Jill sees the PDF to the Commonwealth Law Reports copy and she downloads this version as it is the authorised report and the one she will need when using the AGLC. She saves it to a folder titled 'assignment 1' on her laptop. Jill knows it is easier to save the PDF now than to have to try and find all the sources again. Later she can print it out and make her own notes on it. 

Jill notes that the case has been published in the Commonwealth Law Reports and decides to use this version. Not only is the authorised law report, but it will also make her other research easier as journal articles will refer to this version of the case when they use page numbers and is a citation requirement of the AGLC. 

Jill wants to know if this case is still good law. She goes to the bottom of the FirstPoint entry and sees that some cases that have been handed down since her case have been distinguished, some cases have also been applied and considered very recently. Jill makes her own conclusion about the case based on the evidence FirstPoint has given her. 

Searching for Journals in Google Scholar and Library Search  

Jill notes that she will have to go beyond just finding the case and will need to find out more about the right to a fair trial. She clicks on 'Related Documents' at the top of the FirstPoint page and can see a list of relevant journal articles, some are direct links to articles. For the articles with no links, she can copy and paste the title into either Library Search or Google Scholar to see where and if copies are available in another database. Based on this list Jill selects 4 journal articles: A Constitutional Right to a Fair Trial? Implications for the Report of the Australian Criminal Justice System, Dietrich, the High Court and Unfair Trials and Difficulty in Obtaining a Fair Trial in Terrorism Cases. All of them have quick summaries at the top so Jill can scan through them easily, they are written by experts and the citation details at the top of the articles make them easy to cite. 

Jill realises that she may need more resources for her assignment so she searches Library Search from the Library home page. She types in the keywords: 'right fair trial australia'.

Jill finds several more articles on the topic of a fair trial,  she saves them in her assignment folder to read later, they are The Dietrich DilemmaLegal Aid and Access to Legal Representation: Redefining the Right to a Fair Trial and The Truth Can Cost Too Much: The Principles of a Fair Trial. She chooses these articles as they are about Dietrich and they have been recently published in journals. These are useful articles for Jill as they help her analyse what the case was about, provide her with context, and explain the main legal issues.   


Now Jill has a good collection of resources, she can now start writing. Jill reads through the material and makes notes of the case, and on the secondary sources, she has found.

She summarised the information in her own words and starts grouping the main ideas to form paragraphs in her essay. She uses the Resource Review Grid to help her summarise her resources ready to write. Jill plans out her essay using the AGLC Essay Template and makes sure she has covered all the topics needed for a case note. 

When Jill starts to write her assignment she refers to the authorised version of the Dietrich case from the Commonwealth Law Reports, she mentions the primary sources of law including the Australian Constitution and the other relevant cases. Jill also relies on academic-quality journal articles to help her interpretation of the legal issues. Jill doesn't rely on the information from her initial Google or Wikipedia search, she now has better resources to choose from. 

Jill finishes her writing a couple of days before the assignment is due. This gives her time to read through her essay a couple of times, she checks her references are correct using the AGLC, she uses the AGLC Checklist to help her. After she has looked through her essay a couple of times Jill submits her assignment on time. 

Final Result 

Jill gets her mark back a couple of weeks later. She got an HD!  The comments on her essay indicate that she got excellent marks due to her quality research, her selection of resources, and the academic quality of her work. Jill is glad she saved time researching by starting with some easy searches and then building up to academic quality material, it saved her time reading and helped her pick out the legal issues.  


Jane reads through the assignment once and is really confused.

She is not quite sure where to start but hears from another student that they are going to look at the He Kaw Teh case. Jane decides that she will do this too

Jane assumes that she has to talk about the main issue in the case, she hasn't been going to the lectures, but she is going to spend lots of time on this assignment and find lots of different resources to make up for it.  

Web Search 

Jane starts her search by typing the case name into Google and gets to the Wikipedia page He Kaw Teh v The Queen. Jill decides that this information summarises the case enough for her and decided to copy and paste the information into her essay and cite Wikipedia and the source. Jane still isn't quite sure about what the main point of the case, is but decides to get some information on drug trafficking in Australia as this seems to be the main issue. 

Jane knows that she needs to go beyond just reading the case as her sister Jill keeps on reminding her.  Jane does a Google Search by typing in 'what's the deal with drugs in Australia?'.

She finds some web pages including information on What It's Like to Deal Drugs in Australia's Capital City, she finds a page on drug use and possession in New South Wales called Lawstuff, then she finds a page called Drug Abuse from a website called HealthDirect and a page about penalties for drug supply from Armstrong Legal. It takes a while for Jane to read through all the web pages and see keeps on searching to add more resources for her assignment. Jane knows that referencing is important so she records all the resources she has by copying the URL and pasting it into her references list at the end of her essay. This way she will know where the web pages came from. 

Jane decides that she needs more information on the case so goes back and conducts a Google search using the case name. She finds a case summary of UnitStudy Guides, she can see that this information originally comes from a textbook but decides to cite this website for the case. Jane also finds some criminal law summary notes of a site called student VIP and some cram notes that briefly mention the case. Jill does find a version of the case on Jade but gives up as the case is way too long to read through when she has to do all the research. 


Jane has spent a fair amount of time surfing the web and decides the quickest way for her to finish the assignment is to copy the best part of her resources into her assignment to form her essay. 

Final Result 

Jane is very surprised when she receives a fail grade! Where did it all go wrong?

The comments on her paper reveal to Jane that she missed the main issue of the case. Even though the case did involve importing heroin into Australia, the main legal issue was that of intent or 'mens rea'. Research skills are really important, but it would have helped Jane if she was clear on what she had to research in the first place.

Similarly, because Jane didn't look at the authorised case, she didn't get the benefit of reading a full case summary, she also didn't have the benefit of having the case history and clear evidence that demonstrated if the case was still being used in the law today.

Jane also lost marks because her resources were of poor quality, using the web is useful for the initial stage of research is useful, however, when selecting resources to include in an academic essay Jane would have been better off looking at academic sources to support her arguments.

Jane also lost marks by not following the AGLC in relation to citation. A list of URLs at the end of the essay led to her easily missing marks compared to placing them in the correct format. 

The most serious problem with Jane's essay was with what she was writing, she was mostly copying and pasting from the various sources she found without quotation marks and without analysis.

Jane should have used her own words and her own work. Just copying and pasting from other sources, with or without citation, is poor academic practice. This has also raised an issue with plagiarism and now Jane may have breached academic integrity she is called in to talk to her lecturer under the CDU Student Breach of Academic Integrity Procedure

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