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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

6. Advice for legal problems

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Advice for legal problems: Australian summary

For the 9 783 legal problems where Australian respondents sought advice, they were asked to provide information about the advisers they used and the nature of the help they received.

Respondents did not restrict themselves to traditional legal advisers but used a broad variety of advisers to try to resolve their legal problems. Respondents who sought advice used multiple advisers frequently — in 45.7 per cent of cases. Notably, legal advisers were used for only a minority (30.3%) of the problems where respondents sought advice. Legal advisers included private lawyers and not-for-profit legal services such as ALSs, CLCs, court services, LawAccess NSW and Legal Aid. Only non-legal advisers were used in the majority of cases (69.7%), with these including dispute/complaint-handing advisers (8.1%), government advisers (38.8%), trade unions or professional associations (7.6%), health or welfare advisers (27.2%) and financial advisers (22.2%).

Respondents who sought advice did not always receive ‘legal’ help that aimed to address the legal aspects of their problem from their main adviser. They received some type of legal help from their main adviser in only 66.7 per cent of problems. Types of legal help included advice on legal rights or procedures, negotiation with the other side, help with legal documents, pre-packaged legal information, help with court or tribunal proceedings or preparation, help with dispute resolution sessions and referral to legal professionals. In a further 20.1 per cent of cases, the help was of either an indeterminate nature or a non-legal nature (e.g. medical, counselling, financial or employment-related). In the remaining cases (13.2%), respondents did not specify receiving any type of help from their main adviser.

Legal help was not the exclusive domain of legal advisers, with non-legal advisers also sometimes providing legal help. Although legal advisers had the highest rates of providing legal help (92.2%), dispute/complaint-handling advisers (81.1%) and trade unions or professional associations (82.3%) also provided legal help in the large majority of cases.

The characteristics of legal problems strongly influenced both the advisers used and the help received. First, problem severity influenced the advisers used. Problems of substantial impact involved a greater number of advisers and were more likely to be dealt with by certain types of advisers. For example, legal advisers, trade unions or professional associations, and health or welfare advisers dealt with the highest proportions of substantial problems.

Second, the type of problem influenced both the advisers used and the help received. Most notably, family and money problems were particularly likely to result in the use of legal advisers and the provision of legal help. Respondents who sought advice used legal advisers for 71.3 per cent of their family problems and 61.8 per cent of their money problems, and they received legal help for over four-fifths of these problems. Housing (76.3%), credit/debt (75.9%), employment (71.8%) and government (71.0%) problems also resulted in higher than average rates of legal help when advice was sought, while health (43.5%), personal injury (52.4%), crime (53.6%) and accidents (58.7%) problems resulted in lower than average rates. In addition, the type of problem influenced the number of advisers used, with a significantly greater number of advisers being used for family, personal injury and employment problems.

Respondents were also asked about the nature of the contact with their main adviser. Respondents whose main adviser was a legal, dispute/complaint-handling or government adviser were asked how they sourced this adviser. In the majority of cases (75.7%), respondents used their own personal resources or networks to find this main adviser. For example, they relied on their own knowledge or experience (32.0%), obtained a referral from a relative, friend or acquaintance (13.7%), consulted an adviser who was a relative or friend (11.3%) and used the telephone book (9.1%) or the internet (6.4%). Less often, respondents were referred to their main adviser by a professional, with referral from a legal professional occurring in 5.8 per cent of cases. There were significant differences between these three types of advisers in the extent to which cost was seen as a barrier. For example, legal advisers were more likely to be sourced via referrals from both professionals and personal contacts.

Respondents were asked about the modes of communication that they used with their main adviser. Multiple modes of communication were used in 45.0 per cent of cases. Face-to-face contact was more likely when the main adviser was a legal adviser or a health or welfare adviser. Not surprisingly, there was a significant relationship between distance travelled to consult the main adviser face-to-face and remoteness, with residents of remote or regional areas travelling further than residents of major city areas.

Respondents whose main adviser was a legal, dispute/complaint-handling or government adviser were asked whether they had experienced any barriers in trying to obtain help from this adviser. Most notably, a range of barriers to the accessibility of these main advisers were frequently endorsed, such as difficulty getting through on the telephone (16.5%), the adviser taking too long to respond (14.0%), the adviser being too far away or too hard to get to (7.9%), inconvenient opening hours (7.5%) and difficulty getting an appointment (7.2%). Cost (10.8%) and inadequate or poorly explained advice (10.1%) were also endorsed as barriers. There were significant differences in the reporting of some barriers according to which of these advisers was used. In particular, legal advisers were more likely to be too expensive (23.0% versus 2.0–2.3%) and too far away or too hard to get to (10.6% versus 5.0–10.3%). In fact, cost was the most common barrier to obtaining advice from main advisers who were legal advisers. The finding that legal advisers were more often reported to be too far away or too hard to get to may in part reflect the greater use of face-to-face consultation with legal advisers.

Overall, respondents were generally satisfied with all of their advisers, rating them as very or fairly helpful in the majority of cases (76.2%). However, perceived helpfulness varied somewhat by adviser type. For example, over four-fifths of health or welfare advisers and financial advisers, but only about two-thirds of government advisers, were rated as very or fairly helpful. Legal advisers were rated as very or fairly helpful in 77.6 per cent of cases. Differences in perceived helpfulness may be due in part to differences in the nature of the problems handled by different advisers.

The survey also examined the extent to which respondents were aware of the free services provided by various not-for-profit legal services. Legal Aid had the highest awareness rates in absolute terms, with 87.7 per cent of Australian respondents recognising the name ‘Legal Aid’ when it was provided by the interviewer. The recognition rates for the other not-for-profit services examined were 66.9 per cent for ALSs (based on Indigenous respondents), 36.3 per cent for CLCs and 33.5 per cent for court services. In NSW, 14.2 per cent recognised LawAccess NSW.

The LAW Survey results for Australia on seeking advice for 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.


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