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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

6. Advice for legal problems



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Adviser type


Respondents were asked to identify both the legal advisers and the non-legal advisers that they used (see Appendix A1, questions A9–A14). Legal advisers included not-for-profit legal services, such as legal services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (ALSs),(4) CLCs,(5) court services (i.e. services provided by court registrars and staff) and Legal Aid.(6) Legal advisers also included private lawyers. Private lawyers who were relatives or friends but were consulted in their professional capacity were included as legal advisers. Non-legal advisers included dispute resolution or complaint-handling bodies, government bodies (including the police), trade unions or professional associations, health or welfare advisers, financial advisers, employers, schools or educational institutions, and community groups.(7)

Figure 6.3 presents the percentage of problems where respondents who sought advice used one or more legal advisers. As shown, respondents did not limit themselves to legal advisers in response to legal problems. In fact, one or more legal advisers were used in response to only 30.3 per cent of the problems where respondents sought advice. In the remaining 69.7 per cent of the problems where advice was sought, respondents used only non-legal advisers.

Figure 6.3: Use of legal advisers, Australia

a Comprises problems where only legal advisers were used, as well as problems where both legal and non-legal advisers were used. Examples of legal advisers are ALSs, CLCs, court services, Legal Aid and private lawyers.
b E.g. dispute/complaint-handling bodies, government bodies (including the police), trade unions or professional associations, health or welfare advisers, financial advisers, employers, schools or educational institutions, and community groups.
Note: N=9783 problems where sought advice.

Table 6.2 presents more detailed information about the types of legal and non-legal professionals used by respondents as advisers. The table is based on all of the advisers used for each problem and, thus, includes multiple advisers for some problems. It can be seen that not-for-profit legal services were used in only a relatively small proportion of cases where advice was sought. Legal Aid was used in 6.0 per cent of cases, court services were used in 2.7 per cent of cases, and CLCs were used in 1.7 per cent of cases. LawAccess NSW was used in under one per cent of legal problems where advice was sought, as were ALSs. At least one of these not-for-profit legal services was used in 971 or 9.9 per cent of all problems where respondents sought advice.

Table 6.2: Adviser type, Australia

Adviser type
N
%
LEGAL ADVISER
Legal adviser
2 969
30.3
ALS
13
0.1
CLC
168
1.7
Court servicea
267
2.7
LawAccess NSWb
28
0.3
Legal Aid
584
6.0
Private lawyer
2 079
21.3
Legal adviser — other or nfsc
287
2.9
NON-LEGAL ADVISER
Dispute/complaint-handling adviser
790
8.1
Ombudsman
422
4.3
Tribunal
198
2.0
Dispute/complaint-handling adviser — other or nfsd
200
2.0
Government adviser
3 799
38.8
Local council/government
578
5.9
Member of parliament
220
2.3
Police
2 096
21.4
Child welfare/support department/agency
217
2.2
Department of Fair Trading/Consumer Affairs
223
2.3
Government department/agency — othere
599
6.1
Government adviser — nfsf
198
2.0
Trade or professional association
747
7.6
Trade union
467
4.8
Professional association
255
2.6
Trade or professional association — nfs
38
0.4
Health or welfare adviser
2 661
27.2
Doctor (e.g. GP, medical specialist)
1 846
18.9
Health care service/facility/hospital
337
3.4
Psychologist/counsellor
707
7.2
Social/welfare worker
231
2.4
Health or welfare adviser — other or nfsg
266
2.7
Financial adviser
2 173
22.2
Accountant
566
5.8
Bank/building society/credit union
325
3.3
Financial planner
255
2.6
Insurance company/broker
1 057
10.8
Financial adviser — other or nfsh
176
1.8
Other adviser
1 670
17.1
Business/service provideri
185
1.9
Employer/boss/supervisor
701
7.2
Non-legal community group/organisationj
194
2.0
School/educational institution
423
4.3
Person or organisation — other or nfsk
248
2.5
All problems where sought advice
9 783

a E.g. services provided by court registrars and staff.
b LawAccess NSW sometimes receives inquiries from interstate in relation to federal matters, NSW matters or other matters, sometimes from former NSW residents.
c E.g. lawyer not further specified, legal telephone line/organisation.
d E.g. Community Justice Centre, commissioner, family dispute mediation body.
e E.g. Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink, department dealing with climate, education, environment, housing, industrial relations, justice, planning, workers’ compensation.
f May include some dispute/complaint-handling advisers, because the information supplied was not sufficient to determine whether the adviser had a dispute/complaint-handling function.
g E.g. chiropractor, physiotherapist, occupational therapist.
h E.g. superannuation fund, mortgage company.
i E.g. home/building/auto trade.
j E.g. neighbourhood group, church/charitable organisation, health/welfare/women’s advocacy organisation.
k E.g. owner’s/strata body/corporation, real estate agent.
Note: N=9783 problems where sought advice. Percentages do not sum to 100, because multiple advisers were reported for some problems. ‘nfs’ denotes ‘not further specified’. Subtotals show the number of problems where at least one of that adviser type was used (e.g. one or more legal advisers were used in 2969 problems).

Private lawyers were used in response to 2079 or 21.3 per cent of legal problems where respondents sought advice. In 428 of these 2079 problems, respondents consulted a private lawyer who was a relative or friend.(8) These 428 problems accounted for 4.4 per cent of all problems where respondents sought advice.

In terms of non-legal advisers, government advisers (38.8%), health or welfare advisers (27.2%) and financial advisers (22.2%) were all consulted relatively frequently. Within the government adviser group, the police were consulted in 21.4 per cent of the problems where advice was sought, local councils or governments were consulted in 5.9 per cent, and a variety of government departments were also consulted.

Within the health or welfare adviser group, doctors were most commonly consulted (18.9%), followed by psychologists or counsellors (7.2%). Insurance companies or brokers (10.8%) and accountants (5.8%) were the most commonly used financial advisers.

Dispute/complaint-handling bodies were used as advisers in 8.1 per cent of the problems where advice was sought, and trade unions or professional associations were used in 7.6 per cent. Employers, bosses or supervisors were consulted in 7.2 per cent of the problems where respondents sought advice.

It was of interest to examine whether the type of problem dictated the types of advisers consulted. An adjusted chi-square test was conducted on the relationship between problem group and the type of adviser first consulted for each problem. This relationship was significant, indicating that the type of problem tended to guide respondents’ choice of first adviser, and that the first adviser appeared generally to be appropriate.(9) To give a few examples, the first adviser consulted for:
    • family and money problems was significantly more likely to be a legal adviser
    • health and personal injury problems was significantly more likely to be a health or welfare adviser
    • accidents problems was significantly more likely to be a financial adviser, typically an insurance company.

The relationship between problem group and adviser type is explored further in Table 6.3, which includes all of the advisers consulted for each problem rather than only the first adviser. The descriptive data in Table 6.3, based on all advisers, are generally in keeping with the chi-square results on first adviser outlined above.(10) Again, the data indicate that the choice of advisers generally appeared to be appropriate. For example, when respondents sought advice for accidents problems, which comprised injury-free motor vehicle accidents, the most frequent type of adviser used was an insurance company/broker (72.6%). The police were the second most common type of adviser used for accidents problems (25.6%).

Table 6.3: Adviser type by problem group, Australia [click to enlarge]




The most frequently used advisers for consumer problems were dispute/complaint-handling advisers (29.8%), predominately for consumer problems with telecommunications services (e.g. telephone, internet, pay television) and utilities services (e.g. water, electricity, gas). Government advisers were the next most commonly used advisers for consumer problems (27.2%), mainly for consumer problems regarding professional or trade services, telecommunications services and the purchase of faulty goods. Legal advisers were also used for a sizeable proportion of consumer problems (22.2%), such as problems with insurance and services provided by lawyers, other professionals or tradespeople. In addition, financial advisers were used for some consumer problems (20.3%), particularly problems with bank, building society or credit union services, and insurance.

For credit/debt problems, the most frequently used advisers were financial advisers (44.7%) and legal advisers (43.7%), especially for problems concerning repayment of money owed to the respondent, and a creditor’s threats or actions. Financial advisers were also used for problems regarding credit ratings or credit refusal.

Unsurprisingly, the police were the most frequent type of adviser used for crime problems (68.4%), particularly for crime victimisation. The next most common advisers for crime problems were health or welfare advisers (21.0%), financial advisers (20.5%) and legal advisers (18.2%). The types of crime problems for which health or welfare advisers were used were mostly problems regarding being a victim of assault or sexual assault, domestic violence and robbery. When financial advisers, such as insurance companies/brokers, were consulted for crime problems, it was mainly for problems concerning being a victim of theft or burglary and being a victim of property damage or vandalism. When legal advisers were used for crime problems, these tended to be in relation to being charged, arrested or questioned by police, being a victim of assault or sexual assault, and being a victim of domestic violence.

When respondents sought advice for employment problems, trade unions or professional associations (45.3%), health or welfare advisers (35.6%), employers, bosses or supervisors (23.7%) and legal advisers (22.1%) were the most commonly used advisers, particularly in relation to problems with employment conditions, workplace harassment or victimisation, being sacked or made redundant, and work-related discrimination.

For family problems, respondents most frequently consulted legal advisers (71.3%), particularly concerning divorce/separation and child custody/contact issues. The next most commonly consulted advisers for family problems were health or welfare advisers (47.6%), mainly for divorce/separation and child custody/contact problems. Government advisers, particularly government departments/agencies, were used for more than one-third of family problems (36.3%), chiefly for problems concerning child support payments and child custody/contact.

The most frequently used advisers for government problems were government advisers (43.8%) and legal advisers (32.0%), particularly for local government services, amenities, building works, developments or planning. Respondents also sometimes sought advice from accountants for government problems (15.9%), such as problems related to tax assessment/debt problems.

Health or welfare advisers, such as doctors, health care services or facilities, and psychologists or counsellors, were consulted for 84.4 per cent of legal problems from the health problem group. Doctors were consulted for 64.2 per cent of these problems, particularly for clinical negligence issues. In addition, legal advisers were consulted for 17.5 per cent of legal problems from the health problem group, and many of these problems similarly concerned clinical negligence.

Respondents most frequently sought advice for housing problems from government advisers (63.3%) and legal advisers (33.3%), mainly for problems with neighbours, but also for issues concerning renting private housing and home ownership (e.g. problems with settlement, contract of sale, title, boundaries, and rights of way or access).

Legal advisers (61.8%), particularly private lawyers (54.2%), and financial advisers (35.5%) were frequently used for money problems, especially problems concerning wills or deceased estates, and owning a business. Furthermore, financial advisers were also sometimes used for problems concerning investment income (e.g. superannuation, shares, trusts or managed funds).

The most common advisers for personal injury problems were health or welfare advisers (79.1%), particularly for work-related and motor vehicle injuries. Doctors were identified as advisers for more than two-thirds of personal injury problems. Legal advisers were used for nearly one-quarter of personal injury problems, including work-related, motor vehicle and other injuries. When respondents consulted employers, bosses or supervisors for personal injury problems (16.0%), these tended to be work-related and motor vehicle injuries.

Respondents sought advice from a range of advisers for rights problems, but most commonly from schools or educational institutions (40.6%), health or welfare advisers (37.5%), government advisers (28.4%), including the police (18.2%), and legal advisers (23.7%). All these types of advisers were used for rights problems concerning student bullying or harassment problems. Health or welfare advisers, legal advisers and government advisers were also sometimes consulted for problems concerning unfair treatment by police and discrimination.

There was also a significant relationship between the type of adviser first consulted for each legal problem and problem severity (see note in Table 6.4). Table 6.4, which is based on all advisers for each legal problem, similarly suggests that some types of advisers deal relatively more often with problems of substantial impact. For example, about three-quarters of the problems dealt with by legal advisers, trade unions or professional associations, and health or welfare advisers had been rated by respondents as problems which had a substantial impact on their everyday lives. In contrast, around half of the problems dealt with by government and financial advisers were rated as being of substantial impact. Less than one-third of the problems dealt with by insurance companies or brokers were considered to be substantial problems.

Table 6.4: Adviser type by problem severity, Australia

Adviser typea Problem severity
Total
MinorSubstantial
% %
%
N
Legal adviser 26.6 73.4 100.0
2 969
Private lawyer 26.6 73.4 100.0
2 079
Not-for-profit legal servicesb20.979.1100.0
971
Dispute/complaint-handling adviser30.369.7100.0
790
Government adviser44.555.5100.0
3 799
Local council/government 49.0 51.0 100.0
578
Government department/agencyc 30.8 69.2 100.0
1 006
Police 48.8 51.2 100.0
2 096
Trade or professional association29.470.6100.0
747
Health or welfare adviser24.675.4100.0
2 661
Doctor (e.g. GP, medical specialist) 25.5 74.5 100.0
1 846
Psychologist/counsellor 14.6 85.4 100.0
707
Financial adviser52.747.3100.0
2 173
Accountant 33.2 66.8 100.0
566
Insurance company/broker 70.7 29.3 100.0
1 057
Other adviser42.257.8100.0
1 670
Employer/boss/supervisor 40.5 59.5 100.0
701
School/educational institution 40.4 59.6 100.0
423
All problems where sought advice26.673.4100.0
9 783

a See Table 6.2 for further details on each adviser type. Apart from the exceptions noted below, adviser types are identical to those in Table 6.2.
b Combines the following categories from Table 6.2: ‘ALS’, ‘CLC’, ‘court service’, ‘LawAccess NSW’ and ‘Legal Aid’.
c Combines the following categories from Table 6.2: ‘child welfare/support department/agency’, ‘Department of Fair Trading/Consumer Affairs’ and ‘government department/agency — other’.
Note: N=9783 problems where sought advice. Although percentages in the table are based on all advisers for the problem, the adjusted chi-square test was based on first adviser for the problem (according to the seven broad adviser groupings). x2=555.84, F6,39832=58.66, p=0.000

It is likely that this pattern in part reflects the types of problems dealt with by different advisers. For example, legal advisers tended to be used frequently for family problems, and the family problem group tended to comprise a relatively high proportion of substantial problems (see Tables 3.3 and 6.3). Similarly, health or welfare advisers were often used for legal problems from the health problem group, which again tended to comprise a relatively high proportion of substantial problems (see Tables 3.3 and 6.3).


4. The term ‘ALSs’ is used in the present report to refer to organisations that specifically focus on the delivery of legal services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These services are provided by different organisations across Australia. See Appendix Table A6.2 for further details.

5. The term ‘CLCs’ is used in the present report to refer to independent not-for-profit community-based centres, services or organisations that provide free legal advice, information and education to their client communities, with a particular focus on the disadvantaged members of the community with special needs. See Appendix Table A6.2 for further details.

6. As noted earlier, the capitalised term ‘Legal Aid’ is used throughout this report to refer to the Legal Aid commissions across Australia — namely, Legal Aid NSW, Victoria Legal Aid, Legal Aid Queensland, Legal Services Commission of South Australia, Legal Aid Western Australia, Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania, Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission and Legal Aid ACT. When uncapitalised, ‘legal aid’ refers to legal aid services generically, including legal aid services in other countries.

7. Note that advisers were classified as ‘legal’ advisers only if one of their primary roles is to provide legal information, advice, assistance or representation. Thus, professionals and organisations that sometimes provide legal information or advice as a subsidiary activity are classified as ‘non-legal’ advisers. For example, police are classified as non-legal advisers, because their central activity involves law enforcement, even though they are often the first point of professional contact for criminal law problems and may provide some legal information or advice about such problems.

8. Note that, for some problems, respondents may have used private lawyers who were relatives or friends as well as other private lawyers.

9. The adjusted chi-square test was based on first adviser for the problem according to the seven broad adviser groupings shown in Table 6.2. x2=9777.00, F63,421 995=97.28, p=0.000.

10. Note that for 54.3 per cent of problems where advice was sought, the first adviser was the only adviser (see Figure 6.1).




  


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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