Tailoring services for specific legal problems
In setting priorities for the provision of legal services, the LAW Survey findings(43)
indicate that some consideration needs to be given to the types of legal problems that require greater resources, time or expertise to resolve (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001). Some types of legal problems were common, while others were rare. Furthermore, legal problems varied in their severity and their adverse impacts on a variety of life circumstances. Some legal problems were relatively intractable, requiring external advice or assistance, being less likely to be finalised and resulting in poorer outcomes. In fact, the type of legal problem was often the strongest determinant of the strategies adopted, the finalisation of legal problems and the types of outcomes achieved. The methods used to resolve legal problems also varied according to the type of problem. Thus, the findings suggest the potential benefits of tailoring legal services to meet different types of legal needs.
Legal services should be able to deal effectively with severe, more intractable legal problems. The present findings suggest that family problems are of particular note in this regard. Family problems were less likely to be finalised.(44)
In addition, family problems typically stood out as being very likely to comprise substantial legal problems with a broad range of negative consequences on health, economic and social circumstances.(45)
In several jurisdictions, family problems clustered with credit/debt problems.(46)
In most jurisdictions, respondents were more likely to seek advice for family problems than for other legal problems when they took action to try to resolve them.(47)
It is not surprising that family problems such as separation and divorce may trigger further legal and non-legal problems, given that they often result in major changes to housing and finances (Pleasence 2006). Although family problems were less frequent than some types of problems, they clearly require considerable investment of time, resources and expertise to achieve successful resolution.
Similarly, health and employment problems tended to be substantial, with relatively high numbers of adverse impacts, again suggesting the importance of ensuring that there is sufficient targeting of legal services to deal effectively with these problems.(48)
These problems were perceived as having average or less favourable outcomes across jurisdictions.(49)
Thus, people may need to be encouraged to seek expert advice for health and employment problems more often than they currently do in order to improve outcomes. In most jurisdictions, when respondents took action, they were no more likely to seek advice for these problems than for other problems.
The severity and adverse impacts of these problems are in keeping with past research and may reflect the financial hardship that can result from illness and unemployment (Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006). Furthermore, a link between employment problems and financial hardship was seen in two jurisdictions in the present study. Employment and credit/debt problems co-occurred or clustered together in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
While personal injury problems similarly tended to have a high number of adverse impacts, they were less often rated as substantial problems.(51)
Personal injury problems were more likely than average to result in seeking advice when action was taken.(52)
They were also more likely to result in favourable outcomes in most jurisdictions.(53)
Thus, the current pathways used for resolving personal injury problems appear to work relatively effectively when compared to the pathways for other types of problems. Nonetheless, these findings do not rule out the possibility of further improvements to the pathways and outcomes for personal injury problems.
Legal services should also be able to deal effectively with common legal problems. Consumer and crime problems were the most common types of problems in all jurisdictions. Across jurisdictions, consumer problems were most frequently finalised via agreement with the other side. In addition, consumer problems were perceived as having average or favourable outcomes.(54)
The Australian Consumer Survey similarly found that negotiating with the other side was a common means of resolving consumer problems that often led to satisfactory outcomes (Sweeney Research 2011). Although the present survey found that most consumer problems were relatively minor, the sheer volume of consumer problems means that the population will still face many substantial problems of this type. Thus, there is likely to be a considerable need for expert legal information and advice for more complex consumer problems that are not easily handled by direct negotiation with the other side.
Similarly, the survey demonstrated that, even though most of the crime problems experienced by respondents were minor, the high volume of crime problems means that many substantial crime problems will be experienced. Across jurisdictions, crime problems were commonly finalised via the respondent not pursuing the matter further or via agencies such as the police and insurance companies. In addition, crime problems were perceived to result in less favourable outcomes.(55)
These findings may in part reflect the nature of crime victimisation. In addition to the personal violation experienced, common crimes such as theft, burglary and vandalism often remain unsolved, due to the difficulty in identifying the perpetrator (NSW BOCSAR 2011b). Thus, in many instances, abandonment may be an appropriate means of finalising crime problems. However, it is important that decisions to abandon rather than take further action to resolve crime problems are properly informed. Hence, legal information and advice services could play a useful role in facilitating such informed decisions.
Housing and government problems also tended to be relatively frequent across jurisdictions. Government problems are worth noting, because they were less likely to be finalised and resulted in average or poorer outcomes in most jurisdictions.(56)
Given that government problems tended to be handled without advice when action was taken,(57)
there may be some benefit in encouraging people with these problems to seek expert advice more often than they do currently. Government problems included a considerable number of problems related to fines, government payments and local government issues, as well as some state and federal government issues.
Legal service provision could also focus on the types of legal problems that tend to have poorer outcomes. As noted above, respondents perceived that crime, employment, government and health problems had average or poorer outcomes in all jurisdictions. In addition, credit/debt and rights problems had average or poorer outcomes across jurisdictions.(58)
Credit/debt problems were more likely than other problems to be handled without advice when action was taken,(59)
suggesting that empowering people to seek advice more often for these problems may be useful. Rights problems resulted in average or lower than average levels of taking action across jurisdictions,(60)
suggesting that mobilising people to act may improve outcomes. Thus, the present results support the contention that public legal education may be more necessary for some legal issues than for others (Balmer et al. 2010). Such initiatives could be targeted to enable people to take action and seek advice for the types of legal problems that currently tend to have poorer outcomes as a result of being ignored or being handled without advice.
Enhancing realistic expectations about outcomes
It has been argued that encouraging people to take action and seek advice for legal problems is likely to improve outcomes and increase people’s satisfaction with the end results. It is worth noting that people’s perceptions about outcomes being unsatisfactory may sometimes be founded on unrealistic expectations. The psychosocial literature indicates that satisfaction is a complex response that is shaped by both the fulfilment of needs and the fulfilment of expectations about quality and fairness (Oliver 1997). Thus, correcting any unrealistic expectations about the likely outcomes of legal problems may increase people’s level of satisfaction with the results achieved. Legal information and advice services could work towards ensuring that people’s expectations are realistic, by providing them with sound information on their rights, the available legal solutions and the probable outcomes of certain resolution strategies, given the specific circumstances of their legal problem.
43. The present section on ‘Tailoring services for specific legal problems’ draws on both descriptive statistical analyses (e.g. percentages and means) and inferential statistical analyses involving significance testing (e.g. chi-square and regression analyses). See Chapter 9 for a summary of the major findings across jurisdictions. For full details of the results from all the statistical analyses conducted in each jurisdiction, see Chapters 3–8 in each LAW Survey report.
44. This result was significant in all jurisdictions.
45. In Australia as a whole, family problems comprised the highest proportion of substantial problems and had the highest mean number of adverse consequences.
46. In Australia as a whole, this clustering effect was evident.
47. In Australia as a whole, this result was significant.
48. In Australia as a whole, these problem groups were ranked in the top four in terms of both proportion of substantial problems and mean number of adverse consequences.
49. In Australia as a whole, both employment and health problems had significantly lower levels of favourable outcomes.
50. Australia as a whole was an exception. Both of these problem groups resulted in significantly higher levels of seeking advice when action was taken.
51. In all jurisdictions, personal injury problems were ranked in the top four in terms of mean number of adverse impacts but were below the top four in terms of proportion of substantial problems.
52. Personal injury problems resulted in significantly higher levels of seeking advice when action was taken in all jurisdictions.
53. Personal injury problems had significantly higher levels of favourable outcomes in Australia as a whole.
54. In Australia as a whole, consumer problems had significantly higher levels of favourable outcomes.
55. Crime problems resulted in significantly lower levels of favourable outcomes in all jurisdictions.
56. In Australia as a whole, government problems had significantly lower levels of both finalisation and favourable outcomes.
57. Government problems resulted in significantly lower levels of seeking advice when action was taken in all jurisdictions.
58. In Australia as a whole, both credit/debt and rights problems had significantly lower levels of favourable outcomes.
59. Credit/debt problems resulted in significantly lower levels of seeking advice when action was taken in all jurisdictions.
60. Rights problems resulted in significantly lower levels of taking action in Australia as a whole.