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Research Report: Data digest
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Structure and scope

The Digest is divided into two sections, the first reporting on legal assistance services and the second on dispute resolution agencies.

Section 1:  Legal assistance services

This section presents data from the following not-for-profit legal assistance services in NSW: Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service, Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service, LawAccess NSW, NSW Community Legal Centres and the Chamber Magistrate Service. These services were chosen on the basis that they are high volume providers of information, advice and minor assistance to a wide range of users about diverse legal issues.

There are a range of services that provide legal assistance which are not covered by the Digest, such as Indigenous legal services and services specialising in particular areas of law. These were not included due to resource limitations or lack of availability of data. Future editions will endeavour to include additional services.

Data from two additional services—the Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC) and the Women’s Information and Referral Service (NSW Department for Women)—are, however, included in Appendix 2. LIAC plays an important role in providing legal information across New South Wales through the public library network. As their data were based on surveys for the State Library LIAC only, and also included a high proportion of student inquiries (approximately 50%), LIAC data are included in an appendix rather than in the main body of the report. Data on legally related inquiries to the Women’s Information and Referral Service have been included to illustrate the potential use of data from specialist services to examine the legal needs of particular disadvantaged groups.

Section 1 is divided into three chapters. A description of the services and data analysis methods is provided at the beginning of this section.

Section 2:  Dispute resolution agencies

This section provides an overview of the role of, and the demographic data published by, key dispute resolution agencies providing services to people in New South Wales. These include government agencies such as the Anti-Discrimination Board, tribunals such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and self-regulated industry bodies such as the Credit Union Dispute Resolution Centre. A list and description of the agencies included in the Digest is provided at the beginning of Section 2.

Dispute resolution agencies have been included in the Digest because they provide an important access point for identifying and resolving legal disputes, especially for those in the community who may not be able to afford private legal assistance or traditional court-based litigation.

The focus is on data that assist with identifying service users. Due to time and resource constraints, only data published in the Annual Reports of these agencies have been reported.

Scope of the analysis

The ‘inquiry’ was the unit of measure for all data analyses. The nature of an inquiry can vary significantly, ranging from the provision of brief information over the telephone to providing ongoing assistance to a client with court-related matters.

The Digest looks particularly at patterns of use rather than volume. Information for the previous three to four calendar years has been included where available to ascertain trends over time.

The Digest focuses on the people who use the services rather than how the services respond to these people. For this reason, information about service delivery characteristics covering, for example, the quality of services, the level of satisfaction of service users, or the length of time taken to answer inquiries, has not been included. These are important issues but they are not within the scope of this report.

This is a picture of expressed need, rather than of underlying demand (i.e. the data are gathered from people who actually contact a service to seek help with their problem). It does not measure unexpressed need (i.e. people who have a problem but do not contact a service). For example, a relatively small proportion of inquiries from Indigenous Australians about credit and debt issues may reflect a low incidence of inquiries to services from Indigenous Australians about those issues, rather than a low incidence of credit and debt issues among the broader Indigenous community.

The Digest is intended as a reference tool, providing in one volume, usage and trend data from a number of services. Explanation of data trends is beyond the scope of the Digest. The Foundation will be drawing on the data in this report to carry out further analysis in Stage 2 of the Access to Justice and Legal Need Research Program. It is the hope of the Foundation that others may also find the Digest a useful starting point for critical analysis of this kind.


Scott, S, Eyland, A , Gray, A, Zhou, A & Coumarelos, C 2004, Data digest, a compendium of services usage data from NSW legal assistance and dispute resolution services 1999-2002, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2004