LAW 788 - Legal Research Methodology

A course designed to provide students with the research skills required for law postgraduate studies at the University of Auckland.

Lecturer biography

Professor Richard Scragg came to Auckland after twenty years at the University of Canterbury, for the last six of which he was Dean and Head of Law. He has published in a number of fields. He is the author of a book on Legal Method and recently published a book on Legal Writing. Before entering the academic world Richard had a substantial career in practice and was a partner in a law firm in Christchurch; he is currently an Associate Member of the New Zealand Law Society.

Course outline

The Legal Research Methodology course is designed to provide students with the research skills required for law post graduate studies at the University of Auckland. The course is divided into two parts:

  • Part 1 (Day 1): Legal research methodology
  • Part 2 (Days 2 and 3): Introduction to common law theory and practice.

Not all students enrolled in LAW 788 are required to attend all days. Please see the table below for further information outlining possible exemptions. 


Day 1: 9.00 am-3.00 pm

Legal Research Methodology

Day 1 is divided into two sessions.

9am-12 midday

  • Legal research process
  • Research ethics
  • Legal writing style

1 pm-3 pm

  • Getting started at the University of Auckland
  • Authentication
  • Finding information
  • Tour of Davis Law Library

Days 2 and 3: 9am-4pm

Common law Theory & Practice


  • Common Law and Civil Law Traditions
  • Classification of the Law
  • Structure of Government
  • The Separation of Powers
  • The Administration of the Law
  • The New Zealand Court System and Hierarchy
  • The New Zealand Constitution
  • The Sources of LawThe Treaty of Waitangi
  • Introduction to Statutes
  • The Judges role in Law
  • Statutory Interpretation
  • The Doctrine of Stare Decisis
  • Analysing Judgments in Terms of Ratio and Obiter
  • Extending and Distinguishing Precedents
  • Case Studies

Delivery modes

This course will be delivered by means of lectures, hands-on classes, online self-paced modules and online presentations.

The online self-paced modules cover training in the use of the following legal databases:

  • LexisNexis NZ
  • Westlaw NZ
  • CCH Intelliconnect
  • Westlaw International
  • New Zealand legal journal articles
  • International legal journal articles

Students have the choice of either attending hands-on classes to learn these databases or to use the online self-paced, own-time modules on canvas. Further details will be provided during the session on Day 1.

Learning outcomes

The legal research process is much more than simply finding material. The different component parts of the legal research process are canvassed in this course: initial analysis, finding relevant and appropriate information, research ethics, writing style and writing a research essay. All students, but especially those who are new to the University of Auckland, are provided with information about the University of Auckland Library with emphasis on the Davis Law Library, its collections and resources.

On completion of Day 1, students will have acquired the following aptitudes:

  • A sound understanding of the legal research process
  • A solid understanding of research ethics
  • Foundational knowledge on the resources of the Davis Law Library
  • Knowledge on conducting research across a variety of other jurisdictions

Building on this broad knowledge, students should also be able to:

  • Provide a structured initial analysis of a research question or problem
  • Find appropriate primary and secondary sources to answer the research question
  • Produce a research essay using correct referencing techniques based on the New Zealand Law Style Guide

Days 2 and 3

The primary focus of Days 2 and 3 of the course is to provide students with a general introduction to the common law legal system in New Zealand. This includes a brief outline of the common law tradition, the development of English law, the distinction between common law and equity and a clarification of the application of English law in New Zealand. In addition, the judicial structure and administration of the law, including the role of the jury within the New Zealand court system is discussed. Students will be introduced to the various sources of the New Zealand constitution including the Constitution Act 1986, the Treaty of Waitangi and the Bill of Rights Act 1990. Both primary and secondary sources of law are covered with a focus on legislation and case law development. Students will learn the process of creating a law within the New Zealand legal system and will be introduced to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. The later part the course will focus entirely on case law as a primary source of law in New Zealand’s common law system. The role of case law, the various parts of a judgment and statutory interpretation will be studied. Students will also have the opportunity to carry out case studies.

Attendance and participation

LAW 788 Exemptions

Type of graduate Details of exemptions from LAW 788
LLB Graduates from the University of Auckland Compulsory attendance morning session of Day 1.
Exempted from rest of the course including the research essay.
LLB Graduates from other NZ Universities Compulsory attendance Day 1.
Exempted from Days 2, 3 and research essay.
LLB Graduates from Common Law Jurisdictions Compulsory attendance Day 1.
Recommend Days 2 and 3.
Exempted from research essay.
BCom(Hons) Compulsory attendance Day 1.
Compulsory research essay.

Recommend Days 2 and 3.
All other students Compulsory attendance Days 1,2,3.
Compulsory research essay.

Students eligible for exemptions must contact the Postgraduate Student Adviser for the exemption to be recorded:

Miss Angela Vaai
Student Academic & Support Adv
Phone: +64 9 923 8180

Course details


Stone Lecture Theatre
Level 3
Building 801
9 Eden Crescent


Semesters: First and Second
Study mode: Intensive
Dates: 1-3 March (Semester One)
19-21 July (Semester Two)
Time: 9am-5pm
Assignment due dates: Semester One: Thursday 6 April, 12 noon
Semester Two: Thursday 24 August, 12 noon

Contact details

Law Student Centre
Level 2, 1-11 Short St

Lecturer Contact Details

Richard Scragg