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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

2. The present study

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Legal need and access to justice

Like the NSWLNS by Coumarelos et al. (2006), the LAW Survey adopted Genn’s (1999) broad approach to legal needs research. First, the present study used Genn’s justiciable problem approach of defining legal problems broadly to include all situations where there is the potential for legal resolution, regardless of whether the respondent recognises that the problem is ‘legal’ or whether legal resolution is actively sought. Thus, legal need was broadly defined as arising whenever a problem with a potential for legal resolution was experienced, and continuing until that problem was satisfactorily resolved. Second, the current study adopted a broad definition of access to justice that encompasses a wide range of legal and non-legal pathways to resolving legal problems — for example:
    • information, advice, assistance or legal representation from a legal professional (e.g. private lawyer or Legal Aid, CLC or other lawyer)
    • information, advice, assistance, support or advocacy from a non-legal professional (e.g. government, complaint-handling, trade union, medical, health, welfare, financial or community worker)
    • websites or self-help guides
    • informal advice from relatives or friends
    • communication with the other side
    • court or tribunal proceedings
    • formal dispute resolution.

Socioeconomic disadvantage

The LAW Survey adopted a broad definition of socioeconomic disadvantage, employing multiple indicators of disadvantage. The selected indicators have been used frequently in the broader literature and have typically been linked to the experience of legal problems in past legal needs surveys. The survey examined the following indicators of disadvantage: Indigenous background, disability, low education levels, unemployment, single parenthood, disadvantaged housing, government payments as the main source of income, non-English main language and living in remote areas. Further details of the indicators of disadvantage are provided in the ‘Data analysis’ section of this chapter.


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