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Research Report: Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas
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Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas  ( 2006 )  Cite this report

Ch 10. Towards improving access to justice: a multidimensional approach

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Tailoring legal services for specific legal needs

The present study suggests the potential benefit of carefully tailoring legal information, advice and assistance services to meet different types of legal needs. Some legal issues are much more common than others and some are genuinely more difficult to resolve. Furthermore, the type of legal issue experienced is related to whether or not individuals seek legal advice, where they go for advice and whether or not they are satisfied with the outcome.

Consequently, as argued elsewhere (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001), in setting priorities for the provision of legal information, advice and assistance services, some consideration needs to be given to the type of legal issue. Legal services should be able to deal effectively not only with frequently occurring legal problems, but also with legal problems that are relatively intractable, likely to appear in clusters or likely to trigger additional problems. In the present study, relatively frequently occurring legal events related to general crime, housing, consumer, government, accident/injury and wills/estates issues. Legal events that were relatively less likely to be resolved involved business, employment, government, health and family issues. As noted earlier, resource allocation for legal service provision should take into account the fact that some legal matters may require greater resources, time or expertise to resolve. Some problems can be resolved with the provision of appropriate legal advice, whereas others require further assistance, representation or support to achieve a satisfactory outcome (e.g. Genn 1999).

Legal practitioners and policy makers should also be aware of the legal issues for which people tend to seek help and those for which people are less inclined to do so. The present study indicated that respondents were most likely to seek help for accident/injury, employment and wills/estates events, and least likely to seek help for consumer and human rights events. The reasons why people were less likely to seek help for consumer and human rights events were not specifically examined. However, people may decide not to seek advice for certain legal issues because those issues are relatively unimportant, because appropriate services to resolve those issues are not readily available, because they are unaware of the relevant services or because they perceive the available services to be inadequate. Consequently, a question for future research is to investigate whether the reduced tendency to seek help for consumer and human rights issues reflects a low demand or an inadequate supply of services to address these issues in the areas of NSW surveyed. In the United Kingdom, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that help was more likely to be sought for serious problems.

Legal service providers also need to recognise the legal issues for which clients tend to be dissatisfied with the outcome, particularly because such dissatisfaction may provide a disincentive for seeking legal assistance in the future. The present survey found higher than average satisfaction with the outcome of accident/injury and wills/estates events, and lower than average satisfaction with the outcome of business, consumer, government and general crime events. As noted earlier, some legal issues are more difficult to resolve in the client’s favour, particularly where disputes or disagreements with other parties are involved. Thus, an important task for legal practitioners should be to ensure that their clients have realistic expectations about the likely outcomes of their legal issues.

The diverse areas covered within the law and the complexity of the legal system have inevitably resulted in a degree of specialisation among legal practitioners. Indeed, in recent years, the United States has seen the emergence of ‘micro-niche’ legal practices that specialise in extremely narrow areas of the law (ABA SCDLS 2002). Legal specialisation, like medical specialisation, is conducive to the provision of expert advice and assistance with regard to specific problems.

However, legal specialisation in NSW has tended to result in legal service delivery being ‘siloed’ by the type of legal matter (Forell et al. 2005). The present finding that various types of civil, criminal and family issues tend to occur in clusters suggests that, in some instances, it will be inadequate to deal with each legal issue in isolation, without also addressing interconnected legal issues. As is discussed further in the section Coordinating service provision and managing demand, below, there is a need to better coordinate legal services that specialise in different legal issues so that the needs of people facing multiple, interrelated legal issues can be addressed efficiently and effectively. In the present study, family and domestic violence problems tended to co-occur, as did credit/debt and business issues, and as did general crime, consumer, government, housing, accident/injury, employment and wills/estates issues.


Coumarelos, C, Wei , Z & Zhou, AH 2006, Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney