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Law - Beginning Your Research

How to do legal research.

Legal Textbooks

Legal textbooks provide in-depth commentary and scholarly analysis of areas of law. They also provide footnotes with citations to potentially relevant cases, statutes and secondary authorities. Useful standard features include: tables of contents and indexes; and tables of cases, statutes and abbreviations. 

Finding Books on Your Topic

Using the Library Catalogue:

From any UBC library web page, (www.library.ubc.ca) select Search Collections from the top menu choices and then choose Books & Media (Catalogue).

Keyword searching is a good way to begin your search for relevant books and other materials on your topic. In the library catalogue search screen, select Keywords (use AND, OR, NOT or “a phrase”). Try combinations of words that might be used to describe your topic or that might appear in the title of a relevant book. Enclose phrases in quotation marks, and use the word “and” between your terms to narrow your results. Use a question mark to search for any ending of a root word.

Examples:  contracts and law and canada

                   "international law" and refugee?

Once you have generated a list of results, scan the list for books that might be relevant to your topic. Click on the titles of these books to see the full records. Note that the full records include ‘clickable’ subject headings that allow you to find additional books on the topic that you are researching.

Subject Searching

A subject heading is a word or phrase assigned to a book to describe its subject content. It can have additional subheadings.

Example:   Refugees--Legal status, laws, etc.--Canada

Searching by subject allows you to retrieve all of the books at UBC Library that have been assigned the same subject heading, and helps you find additional books that are relevant to your topic. In the catalogue record for a book, you can click on a subject heading to jump to where it appears in an alphabetical list of subject headings, and then click on other subject headings to find similar books.

Note that you can also use the Subject begins with and Subject keyword equals options in the library catalogue search screen to find subject headings relevant to your topic.

Searching by Call Number

A call number is a unique number given to a book in order to give it a specific location on a library shelf.

Example:  KE 4454 .I43 2007

In the catalogue record for a book, you can click on the call number to jump to its location in an ordered list of catalogue numbers. This performs much the same function as browsing the shelves at the library, and may help you find additional books that are similar in content.

 The UBC Law Library’s book classification system arranges books by jurisdiction. In the example above, KE represents Canada, 4454 refers to the subject “refugee law”, I43 is the author designation, and 2007 is the year of publication.

  • Books in the Reference Room:

Another way to become familiar with some of the leading texts in various subject areas is to browse the shelves in the Reference Room. The latest editions of most of the leading Canadian and British legal texts are shelved in the Reference Room. For example, Canadian texts on criminal law & procedure are shelved at KE 8801 – KE 9440; Canadian contracts texts at KE 850 – KE 1225; Canadian torts texts at KE 1232 – KE 1309; property law at KE 618 – KE 781 and constitutional law at  KE 4125 – KE 4381.5.

  • Selective Lists of Law Books:

For a list of books and other Canadian research resources, see chapter 8 entitled “Legal Research by Topic”, in Ted Tjaden’s book Legal Research and Writing - Reference Room (level 2): KE250 .T53 2010 and online UBC Library Logo

Or, browse an electronic listing. Legaltree provides a list of books by subject area, highlighting “leading texts” and the Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide provides a selective listing of textbooks by topic.