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Legal Skills and Research: Legal Skills Introduction

Information and resources on legal skills and legal research techniques.

Purpose of this guide

This guide is intended for students at the University of Oxford seeking support in legal research and mooting skills. It is primarily designed for those either new to law or new to English law, but students of all levels and other disciplines are also welcome to use it.

Welcome to the Legal Skills and Research Programme!

During your first year, the LRMSP programme will introduce to some of the key skills required for studying law.

These skills include legal research skills, legal writing, citation and reference management, mooting skills, using databases effectively and navigating reading lists.  Use the tabs above to get to the various sections in this guide.

In law there are various specific types of information you will be required to read.  Below is a very basic summary of this information with links through to our UK Guide for a more detailed explanation of how to find them.

Guide to types of legal material

This is a quick guide to the types of  legal material you will come across and that you will have to research.  There are more detailed Bodleian online guides available on how to find and use these and there will be links through to the relevant guides.  There is a quick guide to Key Online Resources below.

 Primary sources


Treaties can cover many different legal subject areas and can be multi-national or bi-lateral (between just 2 countries).  It is always worth starting with the organisation that created the document or a source for one of the countries. See the UK guide treaty tab, the Treaties and Treaty Law guide, EU libguide or a relevant  topic or jurisdiction guide via the pages of the Bodleian's Law Index guide for more information on how to search.


There are 2 different types of legislation (a) primary legislation which are acts and treaties and these form the main backbone of the law and (b) secondary legislation which in the UK are Statutory Instruments and these look to put the meat on the bones and often form more concrete regulations rules and orders.

Acts/Statutes are only passed after debate in Parliament and they aim to draft the act carefully in order to make sure that the correct intention of Parliament is achieved.  This means that the terms and phrases used are very different to natural language and can be quite difficult to interpret.  It is however an important skill as you will need to do this to use legislation in essays and arguments.  See the  UK LibGuide for more information about how to find legislation and how to navigate an act.


Cases are a very important source in English and Welsh law as it is a common law country.  This means that judgments made become 'part of the law' under the doctrine of precedent.  This precedent has grown over 100s of years in certain legal topics such as contract, tort and equity where very little legislation has been made and so the law are the doctrines that have been enshrined in case law.  Even where legislation has been made (and in Scotland as well) case law helps to interpret the legislation and so is a very important source.  More information on how to find case law, how to navigate a law report and how to use case law can be found on the UK Libguide under the case tab and the citation tab.


 Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are a great place to start for getting background a legal topic.

 Core Texts 

For each legal topic you will find there will be a large number of textbooks available.  It is likely if you are studying that you will work from a reading list and there will be textbooks recommended for you on there.  However there are a number of practitioner's textbooks for the major legal topics which are seen as an authority on a subject.  It is always worth consulting one of these if you need an authoritative secondary source.  To search for textbooks in Oxford you can use SOLO or see the Books page in our UK law online guide for more information.


There are many encyclopedias within the law.  These looks to sort the law into organised topics and  to provide a thorough explanation with links through to other sources. The main one for England and Wales is called Halsbury's Laws of England and this is a large multi- volume work which is arranged by broad subject. It is available online to holders of an Oxford SSO via LexisLibrary's Commentary section. The structure of it is very good in building an understanding of the law, all topics start out with an introduction and then the first subsection is the law 'in general' before moving on to more specific areas.  There is a basic definition the law with links through to cases and legislation.  For Scotland there is the Stair's Memorial Encyclopaedia which is also available online to holders of an Oxford SSO via LexisLibrary's Commentary section. 


These are summaries of cases. legislation and commentary arranged either by topic or by date/topic.  These can be useful if you wish to get an overview of legal material for a specific subject.  See the UK Libguide for more information.


You are likely to have to read a number of articles if you are researching the law.  These have the benefit of being able to focus on more specific topics of law, being able to be published more quickly that books in the event of an important piece of legislation being passed or a case being decided.  See the citation tab on how to cite these or the UK Libguide tab on journals.


These are a record of research work done before and can be very useful.  See the page on the Bodleian's official website to see sources for finding Theses/Dissertations.

Contact your subject support

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Kate Matthews
Bodleian Law Library
St Cross Building
Manor Road
01865 271463

Books on Legal Skills

Below is just one example. The main class mark for books on English legal skills in the Bodleian Law Library is KL130.35. They are on level 2, the entrance level.

Other online guide

Related guides

The Law Bod has other guides  for sources of law