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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

5. Response to legal problems



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Strategy in response to legal problems


The different types of actions taken in response to legal problems were used to define the overall strategy adopted by respondents in relation to each legal problem. Three possible broad strategies were defined: ‘took no action’, ‘sought advice’ and ‘handled without advice’. For each legal problem, the broad strategy used was determined by whether or not:
    • some type of action was taken
    • one of the actions involved seeking advice (for cases where some type of action was taken).

Figure 5.3 displays the percentage of legal problems resulting in each of the three broad strategies. The first broad strategy, ‘took no action’, meant that the respondent did not use any of the six action types defined by the survey. As already noted, no action was taken in response to 3496 or 18.3 per cent of legal problems (see Figures 5.1–5.3). The second broad strategy, ‘sought advice’, meant that the action of seeking advice from formal or professional advisers had been taken, regardless of whether any of the other five action types had been used. Thus, the broad strategy ‘sought advice’ included both problems where the only action taken was seeking advice and problems where the action of seeking advice was taken in addition to any number of the other five types of actions. As shown in Figures 5.1 and 5.3, respondents sought advice in response to 9783 or 51.1 per cent of their legal problems. Finally, the broad strategy of ‘handled without advice’ was used for the remaining 5863 or 30.6 per cent of problems, which meant that at least one type of action was taken but seeking advice was not one of the actions taken. Thus, problems handled without advice involved one or more of the following types of actions: communicating with the other side, consulting relatives or friends informally, using websites or self-help guides, court or tribunal proceedings, or formal dispute resolution sessions.

Figure 5.3: Strategy in response to legal problems, Australia

Note: N=19 142 problems. Data were missing for 246 problems.

Figure 5.4 focuses on problems where some type of action was taken. It compares problems involving the strategy of ‘sought advice’ to problems involving the strategy of ‘handled without advice’ on all of the action types that were used. There were significant differences between problems where advice was sought and problems handled without advice in their likelihood of involving each of the following actions: communicating with the other side, consulting relatives or friends informally, court or tribunal proceedings, and formal dispute resolution sessions. More specifically, problems where advice was sought, when compared to problems handled without advice, were:
    • significantly less likely to also involve communicating with the other side to try to resolve the problem (31.4% versus 72.0%)
    • significantly less likely to involve consulting relatives or friends informally to try to resolve the problem (27.6% versus 40.6%)
    • significantly more likely to involve court or tribunal proceedings (16.4% versus 4.7%)
    • significantly more likely to involve formal dispute resolution (14.3% versus 4.9%).


Figure 5.4: Action types in response to legal problems by use of advice, Australia

Note: N=15646 problems where took action (i.e. N=9873 problems where sought advice and N=5863 problems where handled without advice). Percentages do not sum to 100, because multiple action types were used for some problems. Communicated with other side: ?2=2434.44, F1,9036=1468.75, p=0.000. Consulted relatives or friends: ?2=283.98, F1,9036=172.44, p=0.000. Website or selfhelp guide: ?2=3.72, F1,9036=2.29, p=0.130. Court or tribunal: ?2=469.09, F1,9036=290.58, p=0.000. Formal dispute resolution: ?2=338.94, F1,9036=214.65, p=0.000. Bonferroni correction applied, ?2 significant if p<0.01.

Strategy in response to substantial legal problems
The strategy used in response to legal problems was significantly related to problem severity (see Figure 5.5). Respondents sought advice in response to 62.1 per cent of substantial problems but only 41.4 per cent of minor problems. No action was taken in response to 24.1 per cent of minor problems but only 11.6 per cent of substantial problems.

Figure 5.5: Strategy in response to legal problems by problem severity, Australia

Note: N=19142 problems. Data were missing for 246 problems. ?2=913.98, F2,20634=274.17, p=0.000.

Reasons for taking no action in response to legal problems
Where no action was taken in response to legal problems, respondents were asked about all of their reasons for doing nothing in a series of closed-ended questions (see Appendix A1, questions A32.1–A32.11) and also one open-ended question (see Appendix A1, question A32.12). The reasons asked about in the closed-ended questions are listed in Table 5.5. Respondents were required to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to each of these questions. Thus, where appropriate, they were able to endorse multiple reasons for doing nothing.

Table 5.5: Reasons for taking no action in response to legal problems, Australia

Reason
N
%
Problem not very important
1 437
43
Problem resolved quickly
1 874
56.1
Would take too long
1 182
35.4
Would be too stressful
989
29.6
Would cost too much
906
27.1
Would damage relationship with other sidea
425
12.7
Would make no difference
1 879
56.2
Had bigger problems
1 038
31.1
Was at fault/there was no dispute
914
27.4
Didn’t know what to do
714
21.4
Didn’t need information/advice
1 310
39.2
Other reasonb
428
12.8
All problems where took no action
3 342

a Respondents were not asked about this reason for the 785 problems where there was no other side or the other side was an unidentified person.
b Comprises answers to the open-ended question (see Appendix A1, question A32.12), whereas the remaining reasons are based on the closed-ended questions (see Appendix A1, questions A32.1– A32.11).
Note: N=3342 problems where took no action. Data were missing for 154 problems. Percentages do not sum to 100, because multiple reasons were reported for some problems.

The reasons for doing nothing were provided for 3342 of the 3496 problems where no action was taken. Respondents often endorsed multiple reasons. As shown in Table 5.5, frequently endorsed reasons by those who did nothing were that the problem was resolved quickly (56.1% of problems) and that the problem was not very important (43.0%). However, in some cases where respondents did nothing, they felt that they didn’t have the resources to take action or that taking action would not be beneficial. For example, the reasons provided by respondents for taking no action included that it would make no difference (56.2% of problems), it would take too long (35.4%), the respondent had bigger problems (31.1%), it would be too stressful (29.6%), it would cost too much (27.1%), the respondent didn’t know what to do (21.4%) and it would damage the respondent’s relationship with the other side (12.7%).

Other reasons for doing nothing were provided from the open-ended question for 428 (12.8%) of the problems where no action was taken# (see Table 5.5). These comprised numerous different reasons, with the most common being that:
    • the person responsible could not be identified or contacted, or there was no proof
    • the problem had been finalised without assistance
    • the problem had occurred recently, or some action was pending
    • the respondent wanted to avoid contact or confrontation with the other side or wanted to avoid escalating the problem
    • the respondent found it difficult dealing with a large bureaucracy/agency.

Reasons for only consulting relatives or friends in response to legal problems
Of the 5863 problems where respondents handled the problem without advice, 776 problems (or 13.2%) involved the sole action of consulting relatives or friends informally about the problem. The respondents who took only this action were asked their reasons for not taking any other type of action in a series of closed-ended questions (see Appendix A1, questions A33.1–A33.11) and one open-ended question (see Appendix A1, question A33.12). Again, respondents were required to answer each question separately and could thus endorse multiple reasons as appropriate. The reasons asked about in relation to only consulting relatives or friends were the same as those asked about in relation to doing nothing (cf. Tables 5.5 and 5.6).


Table 5.6: Reasons for only consulting relatives or friends in response to legal problems, Australia

Reason
N
%
Problem not very important
264
34.1
Problem resolved quickly
350
45.2
Would take too long
319
41.1
Would be too stressful
343
44.2
Would cost too much
264
34
Would damage relationship with other sidea
171
22.1
Would make no difference
450
58.1
Had bigger problems
282
36.4
Was at fault/there was no dispute
166
21.3
Didn’t know what to do
298
38.4
Didn’t need information/advice
284
36.6
Other reasonb
155
19.9
All problems where only consulted relatives or friends
776

a Respondents were not asked about this reason for the 123 problems where there was no other side or the other side was an unidentified person.
b Comprises answers to the open-ended question (see Appendix A1, question A33.12), whereas the remaining reasons are based on the closed-ended questions (see Appendix A1, questions A33.1–A33.11).
Note: N=776 problems where only consulted relatives or friends. Data were missing for nine problems. Percentages do not sum to 100, because multiple reasons were reported for some problems.

The pattern of reasons for only consulting relatives or friends was similar to that for taking no action. Again, respondents often endorsed more than one reason. In addition, in a sizeable proportion of cases, respondents endorsed reasons indicating that they didn’t have the resources to take other actions or that taking other actions would not be beneficial (see Table 5.6). For example, the reasons endorsed for only consulting relatives or friends included that it would make no difference (58.1% of problems), it would be too stressful (44.2%), it would take too long (41.1%), the respondent didn’t know what to do (38.4%), the respondent had bigger problems (36.4%), it would cost too much (34.0%) and it would damage the respondent’s relationship with the other side (22.1%).




  


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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