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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

1. Review of legal needs surveys



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Response to legal problems


Just as legal needs surveys have demonstrated diversity in people’s experience of legal problems, they have also demonstrated diversity in people’s responses to legal problems. Not everyone who experiences a legal problem takes action to resolve it. Those who take action use a variety of resolution strategies. Notably, only a minority of people seek advice from lawyers or use the formal litigation system. Many seek advice only from non-legal advisers, while others are capable of resolving their legal problems successfully on their own without professional advice. The evidence suggests that the choice of strategy used in response to a legal problem depends on both the nature of the problem and the characteristics of the respondent. Once again, disadvantage appears to play a role in what people elect to do about their legal problems. As detailed below, certain disadvantaged groups are more likely to ignore their legal problems and are less likely to seek advice (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Pleasence 2006).

Inaction

Legal needs surveys have repeatedly shown that ignoring legal problems is common, with typically between about one-tenth and one-third of legal problems resulting in no attempt at resolution (ABA 1994; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Gramatikov 2008; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c, 2010).(25) This level of inaction is not intrinsically a matter of concern. As noted earlier, inaction does not always constitute unmet legal need. While inaction signals the possible risk of unmet legal need, it can sometimes be apposite (Dignan 2006; Pleasence 2006). As inferred by Felstiner et al.’s (1981) influential model, seeking a remedy may sometimes be unwarranted, because the legal problem may be too trivial or may be the individual’s own fault.

Surveys have examined the reasons why people do nothing to resolve legal problems. These reasons confirm that inaction is appropriate in some cases but reflects unmet legal need in others. Similarly, Balmer et al. (2010) made a distinction between informed and constrained inaction. The former means that the individual correctly decides that taking action is unnecessary, while the latter means that the individual wants to act but is constrained from acting by factors such as a lack of legal knowledge or capability. Across surveys, many of the common reasons for inaction suggest unmet legal need. For example, these reasons have included:
    • unawareness or confusion about the legal nature of the problem, legal rights, legal services or possible legal solutions
    • intimidation or insufficient power regarding legal processes or remedies
    • concern about escalating the problem, such as becoming involved in acrimony, fearing repercussions or damaging the relationship with the other side
    • concern about the personal or financial costs of taking action, such as taking too much time, being too stressful, being too embarrassing, being unable to afford it or not knowing about free legal services (e.g. AFLSE 2007; Cass & Sackville 1975; Consortium 1994; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Fishwick 1992; Genn 1999; HKDOJ 2008; Ignite Research 2006; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c; Rush 1999; Sandefur 2007; Schulman 2003; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004).

Thus, these reasons indicate that taking action can be undermined both by gaps in people’s legal knowledge and by limitations in their legal capability, due to psychological factors such as anxiety, embarrassment, fear and stress.

Other commonly cited reasons for inaction, if taken at face value, suggest that inaction may have been sensible and may not necessarily indicate unmet legal need:
    • The problem was trivial or unimportant.
    • Nothing could be done, or taking action would make no difference.
    • There was no dispute, or the respondent was at fault.
    • It was too early to act, or the problem was likely to be resolved without the respondent needing to do anything (e.g. Coumarelos et al. 2006; Consortium 1994; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; HKDOJ 2008; Ignite Research 2006; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c; Schulman 2003; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004).

Where such beliefs correctly mirror reality, inaction may be appropriate. Reasons such as ‘nothing could be done’ or ‘it would make no difference’ may sometimes accurately reflect failings within the justice system and institutions of remedy (see Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006; Sandefur 2009). However, a few authors have argued that such beliefs are ultimately based on the respondent’s legal knowledge. Given that there appear to be extensive gaps in the general public’s legal knowledge, lay judgements about the seriousness of problems, the possible legal solutions and the likely outcomes of certain resolution strategies will sometimes be erroneous (Balmer et al. 2010; Buck et al. 2008; Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006). Thus, legal needs surveys suggest that, while inaction in response to legal problems is not always a matter for concern, it is likely to be a matter of concern in many cases.

Action types

There has been considerable variation across surveys in their measurement of the responses to legal problems. Many surveys following Genn’s (1999) approach have examined a broad range of actions, including consulting lawyers, consulting non-legal professionals, negotiating with the other side, using self-help guides and the internet, and consulting family and friends (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; HKDOJ 2008; Murayama 2007; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010; van Velthoven & Klein Haarhuis 2010; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004). These types of actions (or their absence) have often been grouped into three main action strategies for reporting purposes:
    • seeking advice from professionals (whether legal or non-legal)
    • handling the problem alone or without professional advice
    • inaction or doing nothing.

In contrast, many of the early surveys, and some of the recent US surveys, focused virtually exclusively on the use of lawyers and the formal justice system (e.g. AAJC 2009; Cass & Sackville 1975; CSRA 2003; Curran 1977; Dale 2000, 2005, 2007, 2009; Fishwick 1992; LASNSC 2005; Rush 1999). While a number of the recent US surveys captured information on non-legal advisers, when compared to Genn’s (1999) surveys they still retained a heavier focus on the use of traditional legal remedies (e.g. ABA 1994; AFLSE 2007; CEALS 2001; GKA 2006, 2008; LSNJ 2009; Miller & Srivastava 2002; Schulman 2003, 2007; TALS 2004; Task Force 2003).

Surveys following Genn’s (1999) approach have emphatically demonstrated that people use a wide variety of actions to handle legal problems. First, significant proportions of people (e.g. 10–40%) handle the matter alone, without seeking expert advice, via actions such as negotiating with the other side or obtaining information from self-help guides, the internet, family and friends (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004).

Second, although seeking expert advice is a frequent response, typically reported for around two-fifths to two-thirds of all legal problems, people by no means restrict themselves to advice from traditional legal practitioners. Instead, a wide variety of non-legal advisers are used, including dispute resolution and government bodies, trade unions, and health, welfare and financial professionals. Furthermore, the use of non-legal advisers is common and can be more frequent than the use of legal advisers. Surveys using Genn’s (1999) approach have typically reported the use of legal advisers for no more than two-fifths of all problems, which usually translates to no more than about half of the cases involving external advice (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; HKDOJ 2008; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004).(26)

The earlier surveys and the US surveys have also invariably confirmed that lawyers are used fairly rarely. Earlier Australian surveys found that respondents obtained legal advice for less than half of their legal problems (Cass & Sackville 1975; Fishwick 1992; Rush 1999). Similarly, the US surveys have typically reported that less than one-fifth of all legal problems experienced by low-income households led to the use of a lawyer, and the pattern was similar when only more severe problems were examined (LSC 2007, 2009).

Just as inaction is not intrinsically problematic, failure to seek advice in general or legal advice in particular also does not necessarily imply unmet legal need (Dignan 2006). Indeed, as will be discussed later, some people are able to achieve satisfactory resolution without legal advice. Nonetheless, the evidence suggests that failure to consult a legal adviser can sometimes result in unmet legal need. For instance, in some of the US studies, the reasons provided by respondents for failing to seek legal help confirmed a lack of awareness that their problem had a legal dimension, had a potential legal solution or could be addressed by legal aid (LSC 2009).

Response and different types of legal problems

Legal needs surveys have consistently revealed that, fittingly, the nature of a legal problem influences the type of response. First, the severity of the problem influences the response. As might be expected, more important or severe problems are less likely to be ignored and more likely to result in the use of legal advice (Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c, 2010).

Second, studies have invariably found, via both regression and other analyses, that the type of response depends on the type of legal problem. Despite the differing coverage of legal problems and actions across studies, some commonalities have emerged. Most notably, family breakdown problems usually result in high rates of taking action, seeking advice or seeking legal advice (ABA 1994; Cass & Sackville 1975; Currie 2007b; Dale 2005, 2007; Dignan 2006; Genn 1999; LASNSC 2005; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010; Rush 1999; Schulman 2003, 2007; Task Force 2003).(27) Problems regarding conveyancing, clinical negligence, personal injury, and wills, estates or advance directives usually also result in high rates of taking action or seeking advice of some sort (Cass & Sackville 1975; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Fishwick 1992; Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010; Schulman 2003, 2007).(28) In contrast, high rates of inaction usually result from problems related to discrimination, human rights and unfair police action (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Fishwick 1992; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010). In addition, consumer problems tend to have lower rates of seeking advice and tend to result either in higher rates of inaction or in higher rates of handling the problem alone (Cass & Sackville 1975; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010).

Not all of the results regarding the link between the type of legal problem and strategy can easily be explained in terms of the severity of the problem. Rather, both problem severity and problem type appear to have an influence (Dignan 2006; Pleasence 2006). Pleasence (2006) argued that some legal problems with high levels of inaction, such as problems concerning discrimination, domestic violence, mental health and unfair police action, may reflect concerns about the consequences of taking action rather than a lack of seriousness. He noted that, strikingly, such problems reflect substantial imbalances in knowledge, standing and institutional support, or else reflect substantial interpersonal conflict.

Response, demographics and disadvantage

Several studies have used regression analyses to examine the link between demographic characteristics and response to legal problems. Comparisons between these studies are sometimes difficult to interpret, however, because they have contrasted different types of responses. Some of these studies have compared seeking advice to a category grouping all other responses (e.g. Coumarelos et al. 2006; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001). In contrast, the CSJS and Dutch studies firstly compared inaction to a category grouping all types of action and then also compared the two actions of seeking advice and handling the matter alone (Pleasence 2006; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004). In Canada, Currie (2007b) examined five strategies: inaction due to unimportance, inaction for a reason, handling alone, non-legal advice and legal advice. In New Jersey, seeking assistance from a lawyer was compared to a category that included all other responses — namely, inaction, seeking assistance from a non-lawyer and handling the matter alone. The comparison was then repeated with the exclusion of inaction (LSNJ 2009; Miller & Srivastava 2002). The findings are outlined below.

Response, age and gender

Typically, regression analyses have found that age predicts the response to legal problems. Middle-aged or somewhat older respondents are often reported to have the highest rates of taking action or seeking advice. In contrast, the younger respondents, and sometimes also the oldest respondents, are reported to have low rates of taking action or seeking advice (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004). Other types of analyses have further supported this relationship (Fishwick 1992; Ignite Research 2006).

While some regression analyses have found a relationship between gender and type of response (e.g. Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c), others have not (e.g. Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Genn & Paterson 2001; Miller & Srivastava 2002; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004). The studies finding a relationship have reported higher rates of inaction or lower rates of seeking advice for males (Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c). Similarly, other analyses have indicated that males are less likely to take action to handle legal problems (Fishwick 1992; Ignite Research 2006; Maxwell et al. 1999).

Response and disadvantage

There is considerable evidence that certain disadvantaged groups are more likely to ignore their legal problems than other sections of the community. First, lower rates of taking action, seeking advice or seeking legal advice more specifically have tended to emerge from disadvantaged populations than from general populations. For example, Hadfield (2010) provided a comparative assessment of legal needs surveys conducted in the US, the UK, Japan, the Netherlands and Slovakia. She noted that the low-income samples in the US had higher rates of inaction than the general population samples in the other countries. She also noted greater use of legal advisers in the UK than in the US. Hadfield argued that differences in legal environments may have contributed to these results, given that, for example, non-lawyers can provide legal advice in the UK and the Netherlands but not in the US. However, as detailed earlier, a variety of other differences between studies may also have affected the response rates, such as differences in the coverage of legal problems and actions. Thus, such a comparative analysis of surveys provides suggestive but not conclusive evidence that disadvantage increases inaction and reduces the use of legal advice.

Second, stronger evidence that socioeconomic disadvantage may influence response to legal problems has come from the CSJS in the UK, which used identical methodology to survey both a disadvantaged and a general population sample. A much higher rate of inaction was found for the disadvantaged sample (28%) than for the general population sample (10–19%; Pleasence et al. 2004c).

Third, regression analyses have provided evidence of a link between disadvantage and either inaction or failure to seek advice. In particular, such analyses have revealed that less educated respondents and ethnic minorities have higher rates of inaction or lower rates of seeking advice (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Genn 1999; LSNJ 2009; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004). With regard to ethnicity, different studies have necessarily focused on different ethnic groups. For example, Coumarelos et al. (2006) found lower rates of seeking advice for Indigenous Australians. Currie (2007b) reported that foreign-born Canadians and members of visible minorities had higher rates of inaction. Pleasence et al. (2004c) found that Black and minority ethnic groups in the UK were less likely to take action. Studies using other analyses have also indicated that people with low levels of education and/or ethnic minorities are more likely to do nothing in response to their legal problems (Cass & Sackville 1975; Task Force 2003).

A few studies using regression analysis have found a link between employment status and response to legal problems. Genn and Paterson (2001) found that managers were more likely than others to seek advice. Pleasence et al. (2004c) found that the employed and self-employed were less likely to take action, but, when they did act, full-time employees were less likely to seek advice and the self-employed were most likely to seek advice. Currie (2007b) found that the employed and self-employed had higher rates of non-legal assistance, and that the unemployed had higher rates of inaction.

While other indicators of disadvantage have sometimes been linked to inaction or failure to seek advice for legal problems, these links have been less consistent. For example, the link between taking action and income has been inconsistent. Based on regression analyses, while Genn and Paterson (2001) found low rates of seeking advice among high-income earners and Pleasence (2006) found high rates of taking action among welfare recipients, others have found high rates of taking action or seeking advice among high-income earners (Genn 1999; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004).

Regression and other analyses on CSJS data have also provided evidence that, when action is taken in response to legal problems, disadvantage influences the type of action taken. Disadvantaged groups are less likely to handle their problems alone and more likely to seek advice. Temporary accommodation residents, people with no academic qualifications, lone parents, public renters, people with a disability, people with a mental illness and people on welfare benefits were all found to have lower rates of handling their problems alone and higher rates of obtaining advice (Balmer et al. 2010; Pleasence 2006). Currie’s (2007b) regression results similarly indicated that people with a disability and welfare recipients were more likely than other respondents to seek legal advice.

Response, legal capability and disadvantage

Legal knowledge appears to be an important determinant of whether action is taken to resolve legal problems. For example, Pleasence (2006) found higher rates of taking action among people who were aware of local advisers. Balmer et al. (2010) found that people who sought advice for legal problems were more likely to successfully obtain relevant advice if they had some knowledge of their legal rights.

People also appear to be predisposed to take certain types of action, and legal capability seems to be linked to these predispositions. For example, Genn and Paterson (2001) argued that people’s capacity to tackle legal problems on their own varies considerably. Some people have the knowledge and self-confidence required to take action and solve their problems, while others are so traumatised by their problems that they are ‘paralysed’. They noted that the people who were unable to take action had ‘low levels of capability in terms of education, income, confidence, verbal skill, literacy skill and emotional fortitude’ (p. 260). They suggested that such people can require considerable assistance to solve their problems.

Disadvantaged groups, in particular, appear to lack legal knowledge and have difficulty solving their legal problems without assistance. Balmer et al. (2010) showed that disadvantaged people who took action tended to seek advice. They argued that this tendency was due to a lack of capacity to solve legal problems without assistance, and they demonstrated that disadvantaged groups were underrepresented among those who had knowledge of their legal rights and handled their problems alone. They noted, however, that the greater number of severe problems faced by disadvantaged people may also contribute to their difficulty in solving problems alone.

There is evidence that unsuccessful strategies in response to legal problems can become entrenched, and that this entrenchment may be linked to poor legal capability. CSJS respondents tended to use the same strategies that they had used in the past — those who took no action for one legal problem had an increased probability of taking no action for subsequent legal problems, while those who handled a legal problem alone were more likely to do so again (Buck et al. 2008; Pleasence 2006). The persistent use of a specific strategy is not problematic if good outcomes are achieved. Entrenched inaction, however, is of particular concern, as people may flounder with each new legal problem they encounter.

A focus group study suggested that entrenched inaction in low-income participants often resulted from a lack of psychological readiness to resolve legal problems. These respondents tended to explain their inaction in terms of shame and embarrassment, insufficient power, fear, gratitude and frustrated resignation (Sandefur 2007). These psychological barriers are similar to those identified by other qualitative studies with disadvantaged groups (Forell et al. 2005; Grunseit et al. 2008; Karras et al. 2006; Nheu & McDonald 2010). Sandefur (2007) noted that such obstacles can undermine the ability to confront the other party or seek assistance from a third party. In addition, failure to solve legal problems because of these obstacles tended to create pervasive, entrenched inaction for subsequent problems. For example, some people had learnt that trying to resolve legal problems is frustrating and, thus, were resigned to tolerating rather than solving new problems.

Sandefur (2007) and Balmer et al. (2010) have propounded that the demographic groups that repeatedly adopt poor strategies in response to legal problems must be empowered to adopt better strategies in the future. Balmer et al. proposed that public legal education initiatives have the potential to break entrenched maladaptive responses. They noted, however, that such initiatives must address the wider legal capabilities necessary for people to resolve legal problems, including basic literacy skills and other vulnerabilities.

Barriers to obtaining advice

Not everyone who seeks advice for a legal problem is successful in obtaining the advice they need. In the UK, one in seven or eight people who sought advice were not successful in obtaining it (Pleasence 2006). Furthermore, those who manage to obtain advice sometimes experience difficulties in doing so. Legal needs surveys have identified various types of barriers to obtaining advice or assistance. The precise barriers experienced are likely to be influenced by jurisdictional and populational factors, such as the available systems for legal redress and the capabilities of specific populations. Nonetheless, common barriers have related to the accessibility of legal services, the adequacy of the information obtained and the cost of legal services.

In particular, barriers to the accessibility of legal services have been widely reported. These have included difficulties related to getting though on the telephone, obtaining a suitable appointment, inconvenient opening hours, advisers taking too long to respond, a lack of local services and language barriers (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Ignite Research 2006; Pleasence 2006).

The mode of service delivery can also be an important determinant of the accessibility of legal services, particularly for socially excluded groups. It has been argued that groups with low legal capability, such as those with complex problems or with language or communication difficulties, may require face-to-face advice, because they may have greater difficulty understanding phone advice and using the internet (Buck, Day, Collard, Smith & Patel 2009; Buck et al. 2007, 2008; Forell et al. 2005; Forell & Gray 2009; Genn & Paterson 2001; Giddings & Robertson 2001; Grunseit et al. 2008; Hunter, Banks & Giddings 2007; Karras et al. 2006; Moorhead, Sefton & Douglas 2004; Pearson & Davis 2002; Pleasence 2006; Scott & Sage 2001).

In addition, failing to obtain useful information has been commonly reported, such as the adviser being unable to provide any help or the information being insufficient, irrelevant, unclear or difficult to understand (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Dignan 2006; Ignite Research 2006; Pleasence 2006). In some cases, this finding may reflect inadequacies within certain legal services. However, it may also reflect limitations in people’s legal capability, such as in their ability to understand advice, due to literacy, language or communication problems, or in their ability to choose an appropriate adviser for the problem at hand (Pleasence 2006). Analyses by Pleasence (2006), for example, indicated some difficulty in choosing an appropriate first adviser.

The cost of services has also been cited as a barrier to obtaining advice, specifically from private lawyers rather than other advisers (ABA 1994; AFLSE 2007; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Dale 2000, 2005, 2007; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LASNSC 2005; LSNJ 2009; Miller & Srivastava 2001; Schulman 2007; Task Force 2003). In addition, there has been some indication that cost may especially be a barrier to obtaining legal assistance for people in the middle-income range — that is, people who are neither eligible for legal aid nor able to afford costly legal fees. For example, the availability of free or low-cost public legal services has been found to increase the use of lawyers among people who are eligible for these services (see Currie 2007b; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001). However, low-income earners who fall outside the eligibility criteria are significantly less likely to use lawyers for the types of problems covered by legal aid (Pleasence 2011).

Thus, the barriers to obtaining advice for legal problems appear to reflect not only limitations in people’s capability to handle legal problems, but also various structural limitations within legal services that restrict effective resolution.

Response and policy

The low level of legal knowledge within the general community demonstrates the vital need for improved public information and education about legal rights and redress (Balmer et al. 2010; Buck et al. 2008; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence 2006). Poor legal knowledge often seems to constrain people from acting to resolve their legal problems. Genn (1999, p. 70), for example, noted that the reasons for failure to take action conveyed, on the whole, ‘a rather negative and powerless quality’. Information and education are therefore necessary to motivate and empower people to take effective action to resolve legal problems (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Macdonald 2005; Pleasence 2006). Given that psychological factors such as fear, anxiety, stress, embarrassment and lack of confidence can constrain action, some people may require broader, non-legal support in order to resolve their legal problems (Buck et al. 2005, 2008; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Pleasence 2006; Sandefur 2007).

The evidence that disadvantaged groups are especially likely to lack legal capability stresses the potential benefits of targeting information, education and advice strategies to meet their specific legal needs (Balmer et al. 2010; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Pleasence 2006). Disadvantaged groups tend to have less legal knowledge, be more likely to ignore their legal problems and be less able to handle their problems without expert advice. Thus, disadvantaged groups are likely to benefit from legal information and education strategies that are specifically designed to direct them to appropriate legal advice services (Balmer et al. 2010). In addition, disadvantaged individuals who have multiple, complex legal problems and lack legal capability may require broader non-legal support services in order to achieve legal resolution successfully (Buck et al. 2005; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Forell et al. 2005; Pleasence 2006).

The widespread use of advisers outside the traditional legal sphere by people with legal problems has a number of major policy implications. First, a comprehensive view of legal resolution must extend beyond traditional legal remedies to include all advisers routinely consulted about legal problems. Thus, public legal information and education programs should stress the many avenues that can be used to obtain justice, and that the use of lawyers and formal legal proceedings is often only a rare and last resort (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Macdonald 2005; Pleasence 2006).

Second, the routine use of non-legal professionals for legal problems indicates that they are ideally placed to notice or ‘signpost’ legal problems and to act as ‘gateways’ to legal services (Pleasence et al. 2004c). Non-legal professionals would not be expected to take on the role of lawyers. However, they could be better equipped to identify people who have legal problems and also to refer them to legal professionals or to provide them with basic legal information packages.

Third, the frequent use of non-legal advisers further strengthens the case for better coordinating legal services with other human services. Non-legal professionals are often the first and only professionals consulted by people with legal problems. Thus, the value of quick and effective referrals between legal and non-legal services has been emphasised (Clarke & Forell 2007; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c). Inappropriate referrals can result in ‘referral fatigue’, where people become increasingly more likely to ignore new referrals and to abandon the matter (Pleasence 2006). In addition, the use of clear, simple gateways to quality legal advice has been advocated (Clarke & Forell 2007; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Pleasence 2006). For example, Coumarelos et al. (2006) advocated raising awareness about useful first ports of call for legal advice, such as legal ‘triage’ services that provide an initial legal ‘diagnosis’ and appropriate referrals to specialist legal services.

The widely reported barriers to the accessibility of legal services indicate that expanding legal services to ‘mirror’ the behaviour of those who wish to use them is a continuing need (Pleasence 2006). Extension of operating hours, telephone, internet and outreach services, and services in appropriate languages have all been suggested (Buck et al. 2007, 2008; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Pleasence 2006). In addition, the indication that some disadvantaged groups may benefit more from face-to-face advice than from telephone advice or internet information needs to be considered when expanding services. Expansion of face-to-face services, such as physically locating services within easy reach or providing outreach services, may be critical for some disadvantaged groups (Buck et al. 2007, 2008; Forell et al. 2005; Forell & Gray 2009; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence 2006).

25. As already noted, methodological factors (e.g. coverage of legal problems, triviality threshold and level of disadvantage in the sample) may have influenced the levels of inaction obtained. Note also that some US surveys reported the proportion of problems where a lawyer was not used but not the proportion of problems where no action at all was taken.

26. For example, in Scotland, Genn and Paterson (2001) found that a little over one-quarter of problems resulted in consulting a solicitor and represented almost one-half of problems involving some type of advice. In England and Wales, Pleasence (2006) found that 30 per cent of respondents who obtained advice consulted a solicitor. Dignan (2006) found that lawyers were used for 29 per cent of problems involving advice in Northern Ireland, which represented 17 per cent of all problems. In Australia, legal advisers were used for 26 per cent of the problems where respondents sought help (Coumarelos et al. 2006).

27. Using bivariate analyses, Coumarelos et al. (2006) found higher rates of seeking help for family than for civil and criminal law problems. However, using regression analyses, family problems did not result in significantly higher rates of seeking help.

28. Pleasence (2006) found that personal injury problems resulted in high rates of inaction but, when action was taken, they resulted in higher rates of seeking advice than handling problems alone.

  


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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