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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

4. Nature of legal problems

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Nature of legal problems: Australian summary

Respondents who experienced legal problems were asked a series of in-depth questions about the nature of their most serious problems — a total of 19 388 problems. They were asked about the other side in each problem or dispute, and the impact of the problem on various life circumstances. The types of problems that tended to occur together were also examined.

Respondents nominated a wide variety of people and organisations as the other side in their problems, including family, relatives, friends, professionals, service providers, government organisations and non-government organisations. The type of other side nominated by respondents appeared to be commensurate with the type of problem reported.

The legal problems experienced in Australia often had considerable adverse consequences on a broad range of life areas. The LAW Survey measured five different types of adverse health and social consequences resulting from legal problems. Almost half of the legal problems examined (45.2%) led to at least one of these five adverse consequences. Income loss or financial strain was reported for 28.9 per cent of problems, stress-related illness for 19.7 per cent of problems, physical ill health for 18.5 per cent of problems, relationship breakdown for 10.1 per cent of problems and moving home for 5.4 per cent of problems.

The adverse impacts of legal problems were related to their severity and to the number of legal problems experienced by respondents. A significantly greater number of adverse consequences were experienced:
    • for problems rated by respondents as having a substantial impact on their everyday lives
    • when respondents had multiple legal problems.

Some types of legal problems were also more likely than others to have adverse impacts on a variety of life circumstances. Most notably, family problems were rated as having the most adverse consequences, with an average of 2.2 adverse consequences resulting from each family problem. Health (1.5) and personal injury (1.5) problems had the next highest mean numbers of adverse consequences, while accidents (0.2) and consumer (0.4) problems had the lowest. Relatively high proportions of the family problems experienced were reported to cause income loss or financial strain (56.2%), relationship breakdown (53.5%), stress-related illness (43.0%), physical ill health (34.3%) and having to move home (29.7%). The corresponding percentages for the accidents problem group ranged from 0.5 to 11.7 per cent, while those for the consumer problem group ranged from 0.9 to 22.9 per cent.

The cluster analysis conducted for Australia suggested that some types of legal problems tended to co-occur or, in other words, tended to be experienced proximately by the same people. Such analyses point to the possibility that these types of co-occurring problems may be causally connected in some way. For example, one legal problem may directly trigger another problem, some types of problems may arise from the same circumstances, or some people may be particularly vulnerable to certain groups of problems. Nonetheless, the possibility that problems sometimes co-occur even though they are unrelated cannot be ruled out. The following problem groups tended to occur in combination:
    • The consumer, crime, housing and government problem groups — the four most frequent problem groups — joined with the money problem group to form a cluster.
    • The credit/debt and family problem groups formed a cluster.
    • The employment, health, personal injury and rights problem groups formed a cluster consisting of rights and injury/health issues.

The LAW Survey results for Australia on the nature of 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