28 Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias

Legal dictionaries

Legal dictionaries assist with clarifying the meaning of legal jargon and other terms/phrases. They may provide references to legislative provisions defining the term and/or cases that have considered the term. Legal dictionaries can help you to:

  • identify terms relevant to a particular area of law
  • understand specific legal meanings for everyday words
  • locate words and phrases defined in legislation or judicially interpreted.

Your university may prescribe an official dictionary to use as part of your law studies. Use your university library search to find other law dictionaries available in print or online. In the Lexis Advance law database, use the Quick Find  Defined Terms search to quickly locate the definition of a term or phrase.

Legal encyclopaedias

Legal encyclopaedias contain more extensive information than dictionaries and provide:

  • a concise introduction to the topic
  • key case and legislation references
  • coverage across all Australian jurisdictions.

They are a useful starting point when researching an unfamiliar area of law or legal topic. The table of contents is organised by title (field of law/subject) and then structured into chapters > subheadings > [paragraphs]. Encyclopaedias provide basic overview information for legal concepts, including references to key legislative provisions and case law in the notes area beneath each paragraph. To find information in legal encyclopaedias, browse through the table of contents topics using the + symbols, search across an entire encyclopaedia by keyword/s or limit a search to within headings/titles only.

Two online Australian legal encyclopaedias are available:

  1. The Laws of Australia in the Westlaw Australia database – view the publisher’s training video [2:12].
  2. Halsbury’s Laws of Australia in the Lexis Advance database – view the publisher’s training video [2:33].


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Legal Research Skills: An Australian Law Guide: 2023 Edition Copyright © 2023 by The University of Queensland, James Cook University, the University of Southern Queensland, Charles Darwin University, Southern Cross University, Queensland University of Technology, and Deakin University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.