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LAWS104 Foundations of Law and Legal Research

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit provides foundational knowledge of the origins, structures and processes of Australia’s legal institutions and the essential features of legal practice in Australia. It examines the main sources of authoritative law in Australia – legislation and judicial precedents – and their application in legal problem solving. 

Students will develop essential skills in legal reading, writing and research as they acquire, practice and extend their knowledge and skills in the interpretation of legislation and judicial precedents. The knowledge, skills and understanding they build in this unit will provide the foundation to successfully undertake their law degree. Their core skills and understanding will be developed further in LAWD107 Introduction to Public Law.

This unit aims to provide an introduction to the core legal professional skills: how to interpret case law and legislation, how to conduct legal research and how to write and cite in accordance with professional conventions.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Discuss the origins and functioning of our laws and legal system (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10)

LO2 - Describe and apply the fundamental principles of precedent, judicial decision-making and statutory interpretation (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10)

LO3 - Develop and assess participation and legal writing skills (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10)

LO4 - Research cases, legislation and journal articles to solve basic legal problems (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9, GA10)

LO5 - Implement the essential requirements of professional legal writing and research including the citation of legal materials in accordance with the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (GA3, GA5, GA8, GA9, GA10)

LO6 - Apply the I-R-A-C technique to analyse legal problems (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9, GA10)

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics will include:

  • The origins of our laws and legal system
  • The fundamental principles of precedent and judicial decision-making
  • The fundamental principles of statutory interpretation
  • The fundamentals of legal research and citation
  • Professional legal writing, study and exam skills

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit will be delivered using a combination of lectures and workshops. The strategy is to encourage students to actively engage with unit content and their peers; to provide a clear link between lecture content and workshop practicum to develop skills that bridge the gap between theory and practice. Within an integrated learning framework, lectures will provide core content relating to our legal system and begin the process of exploration, which will be followed by detailed explanation and further investigation in workshops. Through direct interaction between students and teachers, students are encouraged to engage in critical analysis of the foundational knowledge they acquire; to test that knowledge by applying it to factual situations; to produce solutions supported by legal authorities and arguments; and to reflect on their learning. Each component is intended to build on knowledge and skills and progressively scaffold student learning.

The online learning platforms used in this unit provide multiple preparatory and practice opportunities to guide in-class and out-of-class study. Technology assistance in the form of online learning resources, notices, assessment information (including online submission, marking and return of results/feedback), is student focused, affording greater accessibility and flexibility to the learning experience.

Further to this, to ensure students are ready to transition from the Diploma and articulate into the second year of undergraduate study, transition pedagogies will be incorporated into the unit as the key point of differentiation from the standard unit. This focuses on an active and engaging approach to learning and teaching practices, and a scaffolded approach to the delivery of curriculum to enhance student learning in a supportive environment. This will ensure that students develop foundation level discipline-based knowledge, skills and attributes, and simultaneously the academic competencies required of students to succeed in this unit.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This unit employs various instructional techniques to move students progressively towards stronger understanding of the foundations of law, legal methods and greater independence in the learning process.

The assessment tasks for this unit are designed to assess student achievement of the learning outcomes and graduate attributes. Assessment 1 prepares students for the later assessments by requiring students to complete a series of workshop tasks to develop their legal study and research skills. Through lectures and workshops, students are assisted to develop skills in active reading, critical thinking, the use of primary and secondary sources, and interpreting statutes and referencing in accordance with the Australian Guide to Legal Citation. These skills are assessed in Assessment 2 (case analysis) and Assessment 3 (statutory interpretation and legal writing).

The assessment tasks follow an incremental, building-block approach with the use of various supportive instructional techniques and feedback by lecturers in the lead up to the submission of assessment tasks 2 and 3. 

Strategies aligned with transition pedagogies will be utilised to facilitate successful completion of the unit assessment tasks. For each assessment, there will be the incorporation of developmentally staged tasks with a focus on a progressive approach to learning. This will be achieved through activities, including regular feedback, particularly early in the unit of study to support their learning; strategies to develop and understand discipline-specific concepts and terminology; in-class practice tasks with integrated feedback; and greater peer-to-peer collaboration. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment 1: Communication and Engagement

Students are required to participate in a participate in a number of skills-based activities, in recognition that the development of skills in locating, referencing and analysing research materials is assisted by attendance and participation in weekly sessions.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO6

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10

Assessment 2: Research Essay

Written presentation requiring students to demonstrate their ability to locate, read and evaluate primary and secondary sources of law and apply the conventions of legal writing and legal citation.


LO2, LO4, LO5, LO6

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9, GA10

Assessment 3: Case analysis and Interpretation of Legislation 

Written presentation requiring students to demonstrate their ability to locate, read and evaluate judicial precedent, and to identify and interpret legislative provisions in accordance with the rules and principles of statutory interpretation.


LO2, LO4, LO5, LO6

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references

Australian Guide to Legal Citation (Melbourne University Law Review Association, 4th ed, 2018).

Nicholas James, Rachael Field and Jackson Walkden-Brown, The New Lawyer: Foundations of Law (Wiley, 2nd ed, 2019).

Creyke, R., Hamer, D., O’Mara, P., Smith, B., & Taylor, T. S. (2021). Laying down the law. (11th ed.) LexisNexis.

James, N., Field, R., & Walkden-Brown, J. (2019) The New Lawyer: Foundations of Law. Wiley.

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