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Research Report: Legal Australia-Wide Survey: Legal need in Australia
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Legal Australia-Wide Survey: Legal need in Australia  ( 2012 )  Cite this report

5. Response to legal problems



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Response to legal problems: Australian summary


Australian respondents used a wide variety of actions to try to resolve their legal problems and did not restrict themselves to seeking professional advice. The following six types of actions were used in a sizeable proportion of cases:

1. seeking advice from a professional or formal adviser (51.1%)
2. communicating with the other side (38.1%)
3. consulting relatives or friends informally (26.6%)
4. using websites or self-help guides (19.5%)
5. court or tribunal proceedings (9.8%)
6. formal dispute resolution sessions (8.8%).

In addition, respondents often used multiple actions to try to resolve legal problems, with at least three of these six types of actions being used in 19.4 per cent of cases.

These six different types of actions were summarised into two broad strategies: seeking advice and handling the problem without advice. Approximately half of the problems (51.1%) resulted in the strategy of seeking advice, regardless of whether any of the other five action types were also used. A further 30.6 per cent of problems were handled without advice but involved one of the other five types of action. However, a third broad strategy — taking no action — was also identified, with no action of any type being taken in response to 18.3 per cent of legal problems.

The reasons respondents provided for doing nothing suggested that, although inaction may sometimes be apposite, in many cases inaction signalled possible unmet legal need. Respondents sometimes failed to take action due to poor legal knowledge, other personal constraints or systemic constraints. For example, respondents reported taking no action because it would take too long (35.4%), they had bigger problems (31.1%), it would be too stressful (29.6%), it would cost too much (27.1%), they didn’t know what to do (21.4%) and it would damage their relationship with the other side (12.7%). Similar reasons were provided in the small number of cases where the only action was to consult relatives or friends, again suggesting that legal needs may sometimes remain unaddressed in some of these cases.

The factors that determine the strategies adopted in response to legal problems were examined via regression and other statistical analyses. The characteristics of legal problems strongly influenced strategy. Regression models revealed that problem group was the strongest predictor of strategy. For example, money and family problems resulted in the highest odds of taking action. In addition, personal injury, crime, accidents and family problems resulted in the highest odds of seeking advice when action was taken. Problem recency was also a significant, albeit weaker, predictor of strategy in the regressions, with high levels of taking action and seeking advice for problems that had persisted for at least seven months. Other analyses revealed that the severity of the problem influenced strategy. Substantial problems resulted in a greater number of action types and also in higher levels of seeking advice.

Demographic characteristics also influenced strategy, although their effect was not as strong as that of problem group. According to the regression analyses, some demographic groups had low levels of taking action and some had low levels of seeking advice when action was taken. In descending order of strength, the following demographic groups had significantly lower odds of taking action compared to their counterparts:
    • people whose main language was not English
    • people aged 65 years or over (versus 18–54 year olds)
    • people with low education levels (versus those with post-school qualifications)
    • males
    • people without a disability
    • people who had been unemployed.

Also, in descending order of strength, compared to their counterparts, the following demographic groups had significantly lower odds of seeking advice when action was taken:
    • 15–34 year olds (versus those aged 65 years or over)
    • people whose main language was not English
    • people who had been unemployed
    • people without a disability
    • people who were not single parents
    • males
    • people with low education levels (versus those with post-school qualifications).

The LAW Survey results for Australia on the responses to legal problems are interpreted further in Chapters 9 and 10. These chapters compare the Australian results to the LAW Survey results for other jurisdictions and to international findings.

  


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Coumarelos, C, Macourt, D, People, J, MacDonald, HM, Wei, Z, Iriana, R & Ramsey, S 2012, Legal Australia-Wide Survey: legal need in Australia, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney