Get started with legal research

Halsbury's Laws of England

All research involves a lot of searching and reading, and you should expect to have to read quite a lot before finding what you’re looking for. So don’t despair if you can’t immediately find anything relevant – it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not doing it right – exploring the literature and following up on clues is part of the process.

Quick overview of the legal research process

  • Identify the scope of the legal question you have identified. Specifically, you need to identify: (a) the relevant jurisdiction, (b) key sources and search terms, and (c) the applicable time period.
  • Use a range of secondary sources to start your research. Use textbooks, Halsbury’s Laws of England (historic collection in print in the Law Library, and up to date electronically via Lexis+ UK), Westlaw UK Insight, and key articles to build a map of how your legal question fits into the broader legal context.
  • Identify relevant legislation and cases. Start with Westlaw UK to find connections (use the Precedent Map), then continue using Westlaw UK  or Lexis+ UK and to see annotated legislation.
  • Use Library Search to search for relevant articles. Search for keywords, then use Database Search to link out to the full-text of articles in Lexis+ UK, HeinOnline, Westlaw, and other platforms.
  • Identify relevant statutes (try Halsbury’s Statutes).
  • Review all the articles, cases, legislation and other documents, and zero in on those which are relevant for your specific facts.
  • Check that your authority is still good law (try Westlaw Case Analysis, Lexis+ UK Case Search, and Halsbury’s Is It in Force? for legislation).
  • Keep a record of your research trail – and include all sources you’ve explored, even if you didn’t find them relevant. This will avoid wasting time going over old ground, and it will save you a lot of time if you need to go back to a source to check something. Try out a research tool such as Zotero.
  • Return to your research question, and check for scope creep. It is likely that the focus of your research will have strayed from your original question – this is part of the process! You then need to decide whether to adjust your research question, or steer your research more firmly to bring it back to your original question.
This guide, published by the Institute of Advance Legal Studies, provides an introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

You may also like...