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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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Nature of help from advisers


Helpfulness of advisers

Respondents who sought advice in response to legal problems were asked to rate the helpfulness of the advisers they consulted (see Appendix A1, questions A17–A20). They were asked to rate the helpfulness of up to four advisers per problem.(15) Specifically, they were asked to rate whether each adviser was ‘very helpful’, ‘fairly helpful’, ‘not very helpful’ or ‘not at all helpful’. Helpfulness ratings were provided for 16 876 of the advisers used for the 9783 legal problems where advice was sought. Table 6.12 shows that, overall, respondents were generally happy with their advisers, rating them as very helpful or fairly helpful in the majority of cases (76.2%).

Table 6.12: Helpfulness of advisers, Australia

Adviser typea
Advisers rated as very/fairly helpful
All advisers ratedb
N
%
N
LEGAL ADVISER
Legal adviser
2 723
77.6
3 511
ALS
~
~
16
CLC
100
63.2
157
Court service
187
76.6
244
LawAccess NSW
22
85.9
26
Legal Aid
401
70.3
570
Private lawyer
1 905
80.8
2 358
Legal adviser — other or nfs
98
70.2
140
NON-LEGAL ADVISER
Dispute/complaint-handling adviser
550
70.2
784
Ombudsman
288
69.6
413
Tribunal
134
71.9
187
Dispute/complaint-handling adviser — other or nfs
128
69.9
184
Government adviser
2 764
66.1
4 185
Local council/government
390
61.4
635
Member of parliament
136
58.6
232
Police
1 570
68.3
2 299
Child welfare/support department/agency
119
54.1
220
Department of Fair Trading/Consumer Affairs
169
74.3
228
Government department/agency — other
380
66.7
570
Government adviser — nfs
~
~
0
Trade or professional association
513
73.0
702
Trade union
342
75.0
456
Professional association
171
69.4
246
Trade or professional association — nfs
~
~
0
Health or welfare adviser
3 013
84.6
3 562
Doctor (e.g. GP, medical specialist)
1 853
85.7
2 162
Health care service/facility/hospital
251
80.1
314
Psychologist/counsellor
570
84.5
675
Social/welfare worker
183
81.9
223
Health or welfare adviser — other or nfs
155
82.5
188
Financial adviser
1 866
82.7
2 256
Accountant
423
80.7
524
Bank/building society/credit union
231
73.8
313
Financial planner
191
82.2
232
Insurance company/broker
937
87.2
1 075
Financial adviser — other or nfs
85
74.9
113
Other adviser
1 433
76.4
1 877
Business/service provider
178
87.2
204
Employer/boss/supervisor
539
72.0
748
Non-legal community group/organisation
165
85.7
192
School/educational institution
408
74.8
545
Person or organisation — other or nfs
145
77.0
188
All advisers rated for problems where sought advice
12 863
76.2
16 876

~ Due to insufficient numbers, percentages are not provided.
a See Table 6.2 for further details on each adviser type. Adviser types are identical to those in Table 6.2.
b Respondents were asked to rate the helpfulness of up to only four advisers per problem. Where five or more advisers were consulted, respondents were asked to rate the helpfulness of the first three and the last of these advisers.
Note: N=16 876 advisers for problems where sought advice. Data were missing for 3238 advisers. Percentages do not sum to 100, because multiple advisers were used for some problems. Although percentages in the table are based on up to four advisers per problem, the adjusted chi-square test was based on first adviser for the problem (according to the seven broad adviser groupings). ‘nfs’ denotes ‘not further specified’. x2=226.52, F6,39 708=22.41, p=0.000.

An adjusted chi-square test based on the first adviser consulted for each legal problem showed a significant relationship between adviser type and perceived helpfulness (see note in Table 6.12). Similarly, the percentages in Table 6.12, which are based on up to four advisers per legal problem, suggest that some types of advisers received positive ratings in a higher proportion of the cases they handled. For example, whereas health or welfare advisers (84.6%) and financial advisers (82.7%) were rated as fairly or very helpful in over four-fifths of cases, government advisers were rated as fairly or very helpful in only 66.1 per cent of cases. Legal advisers were rated as fairly or very helpful in 77.6 per cent of cases.

However, it is important to remember that the choice of adviser was related to both the type of problem (see Table 6.3) and the severity of the problem (see Table 6.4), as would be expected, due to differences in advisers’ functions or expertise. As a result, differences in the perceived helpfulness of advisers may in part reflect differences in the nature of the problems handled or in the suitability of the adviser to handle different types of problems or clients.

Helpfulness of main adviser

As might be expected, the helpfulness ratings for respondents’ main advisers appeared to be slightly higher than those for all advisers examined.(16) Helpfulness ratings were provided for 9160 of the main advisers used by respondents for the 9783 legal problems where advice was sought. Overall, respondents rated their main adviser as fairly or very helpful in the overwhelming majority of cases — that is, in 84.7 per cent of cases. As noted above, the percentage for all advisers examined was slightly lower in absolute terms, at 76.2 per cent (see Table 6.12).

Like the helpfulness ratings for all advisers examined, those for main advisers appeared to vary by adviser type, with the ordering being similar.(17) Again, the highest helpfulness ratings were for health or welfare advisers (91.2%) and financial advisers (90.4%; cf. Table 6.12). Main advisers who were legal advisers (87.9%) or trade unions or professional associations (82.9%) were also rated as fairly or very helpful in more than four-fifths of cases. Main advisers who were government advisers (75.5%) or dispute/complaint-handling advisers (79.3%) had the lowest helpfulness ratings.

Helpfulness of main adviser compared to relatives or friends

One type of action taken by respondents to try to resolve their legal problems was to consult relatives or friends informally. Respondents took this action in response to 26.6 per cent or 5083 legal problems (see Figure 5.1). These respondents were asked to rate the helpfulness of the ‘most helpful’ of these relatives or friends (see Appendix A1, questions A29 and A30). Such helpfulness ratings were provided for 5045 problems. Respondents rated the ‘most helpful’ relative or friend as fairly or very helpful in 80.8 per cent of these 5045 problems. As noted above, the percentage of main advisers who were rated as fairly or very helpful was similar, at 84.7 per cent.

Types of help from main adviser

Respondents who sought advice were asked a series of questions about the types of help they received from their main adviser (see Appendix A1, questions A23, A24 and A28). These questions were asked for all types of main advisers. The types of help received from the main adviser were captured for 9327 of the 9783 problems where respondents sought advice.(18)

The specific types of help received from the main adviser were grouped into three broad categories: ‘legal help’, ‘other help’ and ‘no help specified’. This classification is based on the nature of the help received rather than the type of adviser providing that help. Thus, the classification acknowledges that legal help can be provided by both legal and non-legal advisers (see Pleasence 2006). That is, the classification adopts a broad view of access to justice which acknowledges that legal resolution can occur by means outside the formal justice system. It allows assessment not only of how often legal help is provided, but also of the extent to which legal help is provided via non-traditional pathways.

‘Legal help’ in the current classification is defined as information, advice or assistance that aims to address the legal aspects of the problem and includes the following specific types of help:
    • pre-packaged legal information
    • advice on legal rights or procedures
    • help with legal documents
    • help with court or tribunal proceedings or preparation
    • help with formal dispute resolution sessions (e.g. mediation or conciliation)
    • negotiation with the other side
    • referral to a lawyer or legal service.

Although the types of help within the legal help category are often core types of help provided by lawyers, they are not necessarily provided exclusively by lawyers. For example, non-legal advisers sometimes disseminate pre-packaged legal information and sometimes accompany or represent people at court or tribunal hearings.(19)

The ‘other help’ category comprises:
    • help that was of a non-legal nature (e.g. medical or financial advice or assistance)
    • help where it was unclear whether the help was of a legal or non-legal nature (e.g. ‘contacting another professional or agency’ or ‘unspecified’).

Finally, the ‘no help specified’ category comprises the problems where respondents did not endorse any of the questions asking about the types of help received from the main adviser and said ‘no’ to the catch-all question which asked if the main adviser provided ‘any other information, advice or assistance’ (see Appendix A1, question A24.7).

Table 6.13 details the help received from the main adviser both in terms of the three broad categories of help and in terms of the specific types of help within the broad categories. It can be seen that 13.2 per cent of problems where advice was sought fell into the ‘no help specified’ category, suggesting that in these cases respondents felt that they did not receive any useful help from the main adviser.(20)

Table 6.13: Specific types of help from main adviser, Australia

Type of help
N
%
No help specified
1231
13.2
Legal
6221
66.7
Pre-packaged legal informationa
1846
19.8
Advice on legal rights/procedures
4127
44.2
Help with legal documentsb
2729
29.3
Help with court/tribunal process
915
9.8
Help with formal dispute resolutionc
658
7.1
Negotiation with other side
3295
35.3
Referral to lawyer/legal service
560
6.0
Other
6372
68.3
Medical advice/assistance
1467
15.7
Counselling/support
2034
21.8
Financial advice
1344
14.4
Employment advice
688
7.4
Help with other paperwork
2821
30.2
Contacted other professional/agency
2582
27.7
Other referrald
482
5.2
Unspecifiede
1481
15.9
All problems where sought advice
9327
a E.g. leaflets, internet addresses.
b E.g. legal letters, complaints, agreements.
c E.g. dispute resolution, mediation, conciliation sessions.
d E.g. referral to dispute/complaint-handling, government, trade union, medical, health, welfare or financial professional or organisation.
e Comprises ‘yes’ responses to question A24.7 (see Appendix A1), which asked about other information, advice or assistance but did not capture further details.
Note: N=9327 problems where sought advice. Data were missing for 456 problems. Percentages do not sum to 100, because multiple types of help were reported for some advisers.

Legal help of some type was reported for 66.7 per cent of problems where respondents sought advice (see Table 6.13). Respondents often indicated that they received multiple types of legal help from their main adviser. The types of legal help that were most commonly endorsed included advice on legal rights or procedures (44.2%), negotiation with the other side (35.3%), assistance with legal documents (29.3%) and pre-packaged legal information (19.8%). Other types of help of a legal nature included help with court or tribunal proceedings or preparation (9.8%), help with formal dispute resolution sessions (7.1%) and referrals to legal professionals (6.0%).

Within the ‘other help’ category, the most common types of help provided by the main adviser included assistance with paperwork other than legal documents (30.2%), contacting professionals or agencies on the respondent’s behalf (27.7%), counselling or support (21.8%), medical advice or assistance (15.7%) and financial advice (14.4%).

Respondents often indicated that both legal and other types of help were provided by the same main adviser. To give one example, a main adviser who provided advice on how a respondent could best consolidate their financial circumstances (i.e. ‘financial advice’) may also have provided advice on the respondent’s legal rights in the event of bankruptcy (i.e. ‘advice on legal rights or procedures’). Figure 6.5 summarises the overlap between the broad categories of legal help and other help. As noted above, in 66.7 per cent of problems where respondents sought advice, the main adviser provided legal help. This proportion consists of 48.2 per cent of cases where both legal help and other help were received and 18.5 per cent of cases where only legal help was received. In a further 20.1 per cent of cases, the main adviser provided only help that fell into the other category. Thus, in these 20.1 per cent of cases, either the help provided was of a non-legal nature only, or it was unclear if any of the help provided was of a legal nature. As already noted, no help was specified by respondents in the remaining 13.2 per cent of cases.

Figure 6.5: Legal help from main adviser, Australia

Note: N=9327 problems where sought advice. Data were missing for 456 problems.

Whether or not legal help was received from the main adviser was significantly related to the type of main adviser (see Figure 6.6). Not surprisingly, legal help was particularly likely to be received when the main adviser was a legal adviser (92.2%). Main advisers who were trade unions or professional associations (82.3%) or dispute/complaint-handling advisers (81.1%) were also particularly likely to provide legal help of some sort. Health or welfare advisers were the least likely to provide legal help but still provided legal help in 45.6 per cent of cases.

Figure 6.6: Legal help from main adviser by adviser type, Australia

Note: N=9327 problems where sought advice. Data were missing for 456 problems. x2=1108.78, F6,38 392=119.50, p=0.000.

Table 6.14 breaks down each specific type of help by type of main adviser. As would be expected, there were also significant differences in the types of specific help provided by different types of main advisers. In particular, each of the seven specific types of legal help was relatively more likely to be provided by legal advisers than by the remaining adviser types. Legal advisers were relatively more likely to provide:
    • pre-packaged legal information (28.5% versus 19.8% of cases on average)
    • advice on legal rights or procedures (80.6% versus 44.2%)
    • help with legal documents (57.6% versus 29.3%)
    • help with court or tribunal proceedings or preparation (28.7% versus 9.8%)
    • help with formal dispute resolution sessions (15.1% versus 7.1%)
    • negotiation with the other side (52.0% versus 35.3%)
    • referral to a lawyer or legal service (14.3% versus 6.0%).


Table 6.14: Specific types of help from main adviser by adviser type, Australia [click to enlarge]



In addition to legal advisers, dispute/complaint-handling advisers and trade unions or professional associations had elevated rates of providing some types of legal help. Dispute/complaint-handling advisers had relatively higher rates of providing pre-packaged legal information (31.9% versus 19.8% on average), advice on legal rights or procedures (53.0% versus 44.2%) and negotiation with the other side (47.4% versus 35.3%). Trade unions or professional associations had higher rates of providing pre-packaged legal information (28.4% versus 19.8%), advice on legal rights or procedures (62.5% versus 44.2%), help with legal documents (38.3% versus 29.3%), help with formal dispute resolution (13.4% versus 7.1%) and negotiation with the other side (50.4% versus 35.3%).

Some advisers had elevated rates of providing various types of ‘other help’. For example, medical advice or assistance was most likely to be provided by health or welfare advisers (68.9% versus 15.7%), as was counselling or support (52.6% versus 21.8%). Higher rates of financial advice than average (14.4%) were provided by financial advisers (36.3%) and by legal advisers (20.1%). Advice on employment was provided more often by trade unions or professional associations (37.6%) and by health or welfare advisers (11.8%) than by all advisers on average (7.4%).

Respondents were most likely to specify that they didn’t receive any help when the main adviser was a government adviser (25.1%) or a financial adviser (17.3%). Respondents were least likely to specify receiving no help from legal advisers (4.8%) and health or welfare advisers (5.1%) but were also less likely than average to specify receiving no help from trade unions or professional associations (8.2%) and dispute/complaint-handling advisers (9.7%; see Table 6.14).

Whether or not legal help was received from the main adviser was also significantly related to the types of problems experienced by respondents (see Figure 6.7). Respondents were particularly likely to report receiving legal help for family (84.8%), money (81.5%), housing (76.3%), credit/debt (75.9%), employment (71.8%) and government (71.0%) problems, and least likely to report receiving legal help for health (43.5%), personal injury (52.4%), crime (53.6%) and accidents (58.7%) problems.


Figure 6.7: Legal help from main adviser by problem group, Australia

Note: N=9327 problems where sought advice. Data were missing for 456 problems. x2=572.15, F11,70 182=33.29, p=0.000.

Table 6.15 breaks down each specific type of legal and other help by problem group. The table shows that the type of legal problem affected the specific types of help received from the main adviser. First, the types of legal help received depended on the type of problem. In particular, each of the seven specific types of legal help was significantly more likely to be provided for family problems than for other problems on average. More specifically, compared to all problems on average:
    • pre-packaged legal information was more likely to be received for family, credit/debt and housing problems
    • advice on legal rights or procedures was more likely to be received for family, money, credit/debt and housing problems
    • help with legal documents was more likely to be received for money, family, credit/debt and government problems
    • help with court or tribunal proceedings or preparation was more likely to be received for family and money problems
    • help with formal dispute resolution sessions was more likely to be received for family, employment and money problems
    • negotiation with the other side was more likely to be received for family, money, employment, rights, housing, consumer and government problems(21)
    • referral to a lawyer or legal service was more likely to be received for family, credit/debt and money problems.

Table 6.15: Specific types of help from main adviser by problem group, Australia

a See Table 6.13 for further details on each type of help. Types of help are identical to those in Table 6.13.
Note: N=9327 problems where sought advice. Data were missing for 456 problems. Percentages do not sum to 100, because multiple types of help were reported for some advisers. No help specified: x2=338.76, F11,70 019=20.28, p=0.000. Pre-packaged legal information: x2=318.12, F11,70 182=18.30, p=0.000. Advice on legal rights/procedures: x2=660.71, F11,70 151=38.68, p=0.000. Help with legal documents: x2=459.79, F11,70 134=25.80, p=0.000. Help with court/tribunal process: x2=430.59, F11,68 820=24.55, p=0.000. Help with formal dispute resolution:x2=431.44, F11,68 149=25.65, p=0.000. Negotiation with other side: x2=657.62, F11,70 184=37.82, p=0.000. Referral to lawyer/legal service: x2=240.18, F11,69 707=13.78, p=0.000. Medical advice/assistance: x2=2395.85, F11,69 817=137.78, p=0.000. Counselling/support: ?2=679.05, F11,70 158=39.73, p=0.000. Financial advice: x2=431.17, F11,70 040=24.75, p=0.000. Employment advice: x2=1547.60, F11,68 451=89.57, p=0.000. Help with other paperwork: x2=262.01, F11,70 139=15.18, p=0.000. Contacted other professional/agency: x2=244.53, F11,70 259=14.28, p=0.000. Other referral: x2=65. 09, F11,69 437=3.85, p=0.000. Unspecified: x2=41.89, F11,70 232=2.48, p=0.004. Bonferroni correction applied, x2 significant if p<0.003.

Second, other specific types of help received also depended on the type of problem. For example, compared to all problems on average:
    • medical advice or assistance was more likely to be received for personal injury and health problems
    • counselling or support was more likely to be received for health, rights, employment, family and personal injury problems
    • financial advice was more likely to be received for credit/debt, family and money problems
    • employment advice was more likely to be received for employment and personal injury problems.

Respondents were most likely to specify that they didn’t receive any help from the main adviser when the problem was a crime, accidents or housing problem (16.1–24.2% versus 13.2% on average).

15. Where four or fewer advisers were consulted, respondents were asked to rate the helpfulness of all of these advisers. Where five or more advisers were consulted, respondents were asked to rate the helpfulness of the first three and the last of these advisers.
16. A significance test was not conducted on this comparison.
17. A significance test was not conducted on the helpfulness of main advisers by adviser type.
18. Given that these data are based on respondents’ perceptions, it is worth noting that respondents may sometimes have failed to recognise that they received a particular type of help or may have mislabelled the type of help they received.
19. Similarly, although negotiation with the other side on behalf of a client is often provided by lawyers (cf. Legal Aid NSW 2010; Scott & Sage 2001), this type of help can also be provided by non-legal advisers. The categorisation of ‘negotiation with the other side’ as help that aims to address the legal aspects of the problem is consistent with the common definition of ‘negotiation’, which is to bargain or attempt to strike a deal about settlement terms. In addition, this categorisation is consistent with broader conceptualisations of access to justice, which acknowledge that legal resolution can occur outside the formal justice system without the use of lawyers or the courts.
20. Note that the ‘no help specified’ category included only problems where the respondent had (i) not endorsed any of the help questions; and (ii) answered ‘no’ to at least half of the help questions, including ‘no’ to question A24.7, which asked about ‘any other information, advice or assistance’ (see Appendix A1). Problems where the respondent had not endorsed any of the help questions and had answered ‘can’t say’ to the majority of the help questions were excluded from the ‘no help specified’ category and treated as missing in Table 6.13.
21. Although this type of help was received for a similar percentage of credit/debt problems, this result did not reach significance.

  


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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