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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

3. Prevalence of legal problems



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Prevalence of legal problems overall


Respondents were asked about legal problems they had experienced in the 12-month period prior to interview, including both problems that began in this period and problems that began earlier but were still ongoing in this period (see Appendix A1, questions P1–P40). Overall, the 20 716 Australian respondents reported experiencing a total of 52 950 legal problems in the 12-month reference period.(1) It is worth noting that the LAW Survey measured not only the number of different types of legal problems experienced, but also the number of times that each specific type of legal problem was experienced. Thus, the total number of legal problems for each respondent in the 12-month period is the sum of the number reported for each specific type of legal problem.

Half of the respondents (50.3% or 10 427) reported that they did not experience any legal problems during the 12-month reference period (see Figure 3.1). The remaining respondents (49.7% or 10 289) reported experiencing at least one legal problem in the reference period. The percentage of respondents who experienced multiple problems (i.e. two or more problems) was 31.3 per cent, with 21.8 per cent of all respondents experiencing three or more legal problems. Applying these sample percentages to population numbers, it is estimated that approximately 8 513 000 people aged 15 years or over in the Australian population experience a legal problem within a 12-month period, including 1 631 000 experiencing two problems and 3 736 000 experiencing three or more problems.(2)

Figure 3.1: Prevalence of legal problems, Australia
Figure 3.1: Prevalence of legal problems, Australia

Note: N=20 716 respondents.

The median number of legal problems for those Australian respondents who experienced at least one legal problem was 2.0,(3) while the most commonly reported number of problems (i.e. the mode) for those who experienced legal problems was 1.0.(4)

Table 3.1 presents a cumulative frequency distribution of legal problems for the Australian respondents.(5) It can be seen that a minority of respondents accounted for a disproportionate number of the legal problems experienced. For example, while the respondents who experienced three or more legal problems represented less than one-quarter of the Australian sample (21.8%), they accounted for more than four-fifths of the 52 950 legal problems experienced (85.4%). Less than one-tenth (8.8%) of the sample accounted for approximately two-thirds of the problems (64.5%), and 4.5 per cent of the sample accounted for about half of the problems (49.9%). It is worth remembering here that the legal problems experienced by some respondents included multiple instances of the same specific type of legal problem in the reference period.(6)

Table 3.1: Cumulative frequency distribution of legal problems, Australia

Problems
per respondent
All respondents
All problems
N
Cumulative
%
N
Cumulative
%
25+
351
1.7
16 930
32.0
24
19
1.8
461
32.8
23
36
2.0
830
34.4
22
22
2.1
482
35.3
21
29
2.2
601
36.5
20
26
2.3
512
37.4
19
32
2.5
602
38.6
18
40
2.7
729
39.9
17
44
2.9
748
41.3
16
50
3.1
794
42.8
15
62
3.4
937
44.6
14
62
3.7
864
46.3
13
71
4.1
918
48.0
12
85
4.5
1 026
49.9
11
113
5.0
1 248
52.3
10
136
5.7
1 359
54.8
9
157
6.4
1 415
57.5
8
214
7.5
1 709
60.7
7
283
8.8
1 981
64.5
6
436
10.9
2 616
69.4
5
490
13.3
2 452
74.1
4
721
16.8
2 883
79.5
3
1 036
21.8
3 109
85.4
2
1 971
31.3
3 942
92.8
1
3 803
49.7
3 803
100.0
0
10 427
100.0
Total
20 716
52 950

Note: N=20 716 respondents.


1. As a result of rounding weighted data, some numbers and percentages in the report do not sum precisely to totals.

2. These figures are based on estimated Australian population numbers as at June 2008 (ABS 2004d, 2007a, 2008e). See Appendix A2, ‘Weighting’ section for details.

3. The median, like the mean or average, is a measure of the central tendency of a frequency distribution. The median provides the midpoint of the frequency distribution and is a more appropriate measure of central tendency than the mean when the distribution is skewed, as it is in the present case. When the distribution is skewed, the mean can be unduly influenced by a minority of extreme scores, resulting in a distorted picture of what constitutes a ‘typical’ score.

4. When respondents were not sure whether they had experienced a specific type of legal problem in the reference period, they were not credited with experiencing that problem type. Furthermore, in a small number of cases, a respondent reported experiencing a problem type but did not specify how many times they had experienced this problem type in the reference period. In these cases, a frequency of one was assigned to such specific problem types, given that the mode for each specific problem type across the Australian sample was 1.0.

5. As for Figure 3.1, the total number of legal problems for each respondent is the sum of the frequency reported for each specific type of legal problem.

6. In a small minority of cases, frequencies of 20 or more for some specific problem types were reported by individual respondents.

  


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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