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Research Report: NSW Legal Needs Survey: Fairfield, Justice issues paper 5
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NSW Legal Needs Survey: Fairfield, Justice issues paper 5  ( 2008 )  Cite this report



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Survey results


Incidence of legal events14

For the Law and Justice Foundation’s 2003 survey, 401 participants were drawn from the Fairfield LGA, who reported a total of 888 legal events. Table 5 displays the number of legal events reported per participant. The corresponding proportions for all regions are also shown.

Table 5: Number of legal events per participant, for Fairfield
and all regions, 2003
Number of legal events
Fairfield
All regions
No.
%
%
0
155
38.7
30.9
1
86
21.4
22.3
2
44
11.0
13.9
3 or more
116
28.9
32.9
Note: All regions, n = 2431, and for Fairfield, n = 401 participants.

Table 5 shows that almost 39 per cent of Fairfield participants reported that they did not experience any legal events in the past 12 months. The remaining 61 per cent reported experiencing at least one legal event. This proportion was significantly lower than the total sample (69.1%).15 In fact, of the six LGAs surveyed, Fairfield LGA had the lowest proportion of participants reporting at least one legal event (range 66 - 76% for other regions). However, it appears that the Fairfield subgroup had a similar distribution to the overall survey sample in the frequency of legal events reported during the reference period. In detail, Fairfield LGA had similar rates for reporting one or two events (32.4% vs 36.2% respectively), and three or more events (28.9% vs 32.9% respectively) compared with the average over all regions.16

Areas of law

Figure 1 displays the broad areas of law in which respondents reported legal issues. The bars show the proportion of respondents who reported at least one of these types of issues (civil, criminal, or family) in the last 12 months.

Figure 1: Incidence of legal events by broad area of law, Fairfield, 2003



Note: Fairfield, n = 401 participants (of which 246 participants reported 1 or more legal events).

As Figure 1 shows, the most commonly reported area of law in the past 12 months among participants in Fairfield LGA was civil law (56.1%). This was not surprising given the survey questionnaire predominantly covered civil legal issues. The proportion of the Fairfield sub-sample reporting a civil issue was significantly lower than the sample overall (62.4%).17 In fact, of the six LGAs surveyed, Fairfield LGA had the lowest proportion of participants reporting civil matters (range 60–71% for other regions). The proportion of Fairfield participants reporting criminal matters (domestic violence, general crime and traffic offences) was also significantly lower (25.9%) compared with all regions (30.2%).18 Only a small proportion of Fairfield respondents (6.7%) reported at least one family law issue, which was not significantly different from the percentage for all regions (8.5%).19 Given the result reported in the previous section (Incidence of Legal Events), where Fairfield participants reported lower rates of experiencing at least one legal event to the overall sample, these results in combination suggest that it is civil and criminal events specifically that are reported at lower rates than average in the Fairfield LGA.

Table 6: Incidence of legal events by broad area of law and legal event group,
for Fairfield and all regions, 2003
Area of lawEvent groupFairfieldAll regions
Number of participants
% of participants
% of participants
CivilAccident/injury
80
20.0
19.2
Businessa
12
3.0
5.0
Consumer
77
19.2
22.0
Credit/debt
45
11.2
12.0
Educationb
22
5.5
7.4
Employmentc
53
13.2
12.1
Government
78
19.5
19.5
Healthd
11
2.7
3.2
Housing
76
19.0
22.6
Human rights
20
5.0
5.8
Wills/estates
38
9.5
14.6
CriminalDomestic violence
15
3.7
3.9
General crime
87
21.7
26.6
Traffic offences
16
4.0
3.2
FamilyFamily
27
6.7
8.5
a 85 Fairfield participants and 562 overall owned a small business. Of these, 12 (14.1%) and 122 (21.7%) respectively reported at least one business event.
b 206 Fairfield participants and 1076 overall were full- or part-time students, or were responsible for a student. Of these, 22 (10.7%) and 181 (16.8%) respectively reported at least one education event.
c 242 Fairfield participants and 1417 overall were employed full- or part-time at some time during the reference period. Of these, 53 (21.9%) and 293 (20.7%) respectively reported at least one employment event.
d 115 Fairfield participants and 768 overall had chronic conditions or mental/physical disabilities or were responsible for a person with a disability or an elderly person. Of these, 11 (9.6%) and 77 (10.0%) respectively reported at least one health event.
Notes: All regions, n = 2431, and for Fairfield, n = 401 participants. Some participants reported multiple legal events (within or across legal event groups). As a result, proportions reporting each event will not total 100 per cent.

Details of the incidence of the different event types under each of these broad areas of law (civil, criminal and family) for both Fairfield LGA and all regions are shown in Table 6. Civil matters include: accident/injury, business, consumer, credit/debt, education, employment, government, health, housing, human rights, and wills and estates. Within civil law, the legal events reported most often by Fairfield participants were accidents/injury (20.0%), government (19.5%), consumer (19.2%) and housing (19.0%). Although the previous section (Areas of Law) showed that Fairfield LGA had the lowest proportion of participants reporting civil matters, when broken down by legal event type the Fairfield sub-sample generally reported experiencing events within almost every civil law event group at a similar rate to the general sample.20 It was only for wills and estates and education legal events (9.5% vs 14.6% and 5.5% vs 7.4% respectively) that Fairfield residents experienced significantly lower rates than the overall sample.21 For criminal matters, further to the result in the previous section (Areas of Law) that Fairfield participants experienced criminal law events at lower rates than the overall sample, Table 6 suggests that it is events under the general crime group that are significantly lower than the overall sample (21.7% vs 26.6% respectively).22 There was no legal event that Fairfield residents reported experiencing at significantly higher rates than the overall sample.23

Response to legal problems

As noted earlier, respondents in Fairfield reported a total of 888 legal events (range 1 to 33, median = 1 event). Further details about how participants responded to the most recent events (up to a maximum of three) were obtained. The following data are based on the 434 most recent events for the Fairfield sub-sample.

Figure 2: Action taken in response to legal events, Fairfield, 2003



Note: n = 421 events, data missing for 13 events.

Figure 2 shows that help was sought for almost 51 per cent of the ‘most recent’ legal events experienced. In approximately 14 per cent of legal events, the respondents dealt with the issue themselves. A sizeable minority, however, did not take any action (34.9%). These rates were similar to those for the overall sample (51.2%, 16.0% and 32.8% respectively).24

Figure 3: Most important reason for doing nothing in response to legal events, Fairfield, 2003



Notes: Fairfield, n = 138 events, data missing for 9 events.

Those grouped into the 'other' category (n = 15) did not seek help because they were too embarrassed or did not trust anyone, thought the problem was their fault or had no internet access.

When the reasons for ‘doing nothing’ in response to their legal problems among the Fairfield sub-sample were further examined (see Figure 3), two main explanations emerged. In approximately 36 per cent of legal events where the respondent did nothing about their legal problems, it was because the respondent felt that action either would not make any difference or would make things worse. In 29 per cent of legal events, the respondent felt the issue was not serious or did not know how serious the event was. These were also the two most common reasons for taking no action over all regions. The other main reasons for Fairfield residents taking no action were that the respondent had bigger problems, was too busy, or thought the issue would take too long to address (in almost 12% of legal events). Only a small proportion mentioned cost as a reason for not seeking help (6.5%).25

Figure 4: Action taken in response to legal events by broad area of law, Fairfield, 2003



Notes: Fairfield, n = 420 events, data missing for 14 events.

Totals for each broad area of law are total events for which information was provided on action taken in response.

Figure 4 displays what the Fairfield sub-sample did in response to their three most recent legal events, broken down by broad area of law. Help was sought in approximately 49 per cent of civil legal events. This was similar to the average over all regions (51.4%).26 However, help was sought in approximately 53 per cent of criminal matters. This was higher than for all regions (46.7%) but not statistically significant.27 Similarly, a greater proportion of Fairfield respondents reported that they sought help with family matters, compared with respondents over all regions (76.5% vs 55.4% respectively), although this figure is based on a small number of legal events for Fairfield (n = 17).28 Looking at the results overall, there is some suggestion that for criminal matters, compared with family matters, a greater proportion of those who did not seek help did nothing about their matters rather than dealing with it themselves. However, statistical testing showed this difference to be only marginal.29

Type of adviser

Although it appears that there are considerable differences in the types of advisers people go to for different types of events (Coumarelos et al. 2006), it is still useful to look at overall patterns in help seeking.

As previously indicated in Figure 2, help with a legal issue was sought in response to approximately half of the most recent events experienced by the Fairfield sub-sample. In 80 per cent of the cases where help was sought, only one source was approached for help. This figure was 78 per cent for all regions (Coumarelos et al. 2006). The following data relate to the first (or only) adviser consulted for each event.

The types of advisers from whom Fairfield participants sought help could be roughly divided into two groups: legal and non-legal. Legal advisers included traditional legal advisers (i.e. a private solicitor or barrister, local court, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess, NSW Aboriginal legal services, a community legal centre) as well as less formal legal advisers, such as a friend or relative who is a lawyer, and published sources (i.e. the internet and self-help sources). Non-legal advisers included a friend or relative who was not a lawyer, a member of parliament, local council, non-legal community group or organisation, library, trade union/professional body, employer, school/school counsellor/teacher, insurance company/broker, industry complaint handling body, police, or other professional (such as doctor) or private agency/organisation. Figure 5 displays the types of adviser approached by the Fairfield LGA sample and across all regions.

Figure 5: Type of (first or sole) adviser used, for Fairfield and all regions, 2003



Note: All regions, n = 1455 events, data missing for 41 events and for Fairfield, n = 208, data missing on 6 events.

For the Fairfield sub-sample, the first (or sole) source of advice was more likely to be to a non-legal source rather than a legal source (82.7% vs 17.3% respectively). This is consistent with the overall sample and statistically comparable.30 Specifically, a non-legal adviser was sought in the first instance in 79.8 per cent of legal events and a legal adviser in only 20.2 per cent over all regions.

Respondents who sought help from more than one adviser for the same event were asked to nominate the adviser they found most useful. The following section relates to the adviser judged to be the most useful (if more than one adviser was used) or their sole adviser if they used only one source.

Pathways to advisers

It is important for practitioners to be aware of the pathways through which people find assistance for their legal problems. Table 7 displays the channels through which people found their sole or most useful adviser (legal or non-legal), for both the Fairfield sub-sample and the overall sample.

Table 7: Source of knowledge about sole or most useful adviser,
for Fairfield and all regions, 2003
Source of knowledge about adviser
Fairfield
All regions
No.
%
%
General knowledge
59
28.6
30.2
Adviser was a friend or relative
33
16.0
16.7
Referral by another agency/persona
32
15.5
14.5
Referral from a friend or relative
32
15.5
8.7
Used the service before
28
13.6
17.7
Telephone book
6
2.9
3.0
Pamphlet/Poster
5
2.4
2.3
Media
4
1.9
1.8
Internet
2
1.0
2.1
Walked in off the street
2
1.0
1.1
Community Legal Centre referral
2
1.0
1.0
Adviser approached them
1
< 1.0
< 1.0
Other
0
< 1.0
Total
206
100.0
100.0
a Referral from another person or agency includes, but is not limited to, referrals by private business, mental health agencies, insurance companies, local council, police, Workcover, Skillshare, doctor, accountant, psychologist, counsellor, financial counsellor, financial adviser, or loan broker.
Note: All regions, n = 1447, data missing for 49 events, and for Fairfield, n = 206, data missing for 8 events for which help was sought.

Table 7 shows that Fairfield participants were generally similar to all participants in terms of the channels they used to source their advisers. Similar to all participants, those from Fairfield frequently found their adviser by using their own personal knowledge and personal networks (e.g. 28.6% used their general knowledge, 13.6% had used the adviser before, in 16.0% of cases the adviser was a friend/relative and in 15.5% of cases the adviser was referred from a friend/relative).

However, when compared with all participants, Fairfield participants were even more likely than average to use an adviser who was referred by a friend or a relative (15.5% vs 8.7% respectively).31 This was the only apparent difference between Fairfield participants and those from all regions in terms of the channels used to source advisers.

As with the overall sample, Fairfield participants were also often referred to their adviser by another agency or someone other than a friend/relative (15.5%). Also similar to the overall sample, Fairfield participants used sources such as the telephone book, a pamphlet/poster, the media and the internet relatively infrequently to source their advisers (1.0% to 2.9%).

Barriers to assistance

When considering the issue of access to legal assistance, it is important to elucidate what may hinder somebody receiving that assistance once they have decided to get help. Table 8 shows the barriers experienced by Fairfield participants when they sought help for their legal problems.

According to Table 8, Fairfield participants experienced barriers to receiving assistance in 47 per cent of legal events where help was sought, higher than for all regions (38.2%). However, the most common types of barriers experienced by the Fairfield participants appear similar to those for the overall sample, but with slightly higher rates. The main barriers reported were difficulty getting through to an adviser on the telephone (25.9%, this was the most common barrier to obtaining assistance over all regions), delay in getting a response back from an adviser (17.3%) and difficulty getting an appointment (15.1%).

In only a small proportion of legal events did people report not being able to afford an adviser (7.6%). In light of this information, services may need to reflect on their communication means and procedures they have in place from when clients make initial contact to when they receive a response to their inquiry. There is evidence that people, especially vulnerable or marginalised groups, may abandon pursuit of legal assistance if such aspects of a legal service break down (Forell, McCarron & Schetzer 2005). For more than half of legal events reported in the current study, however, no problems were reported with the assistance sought.

Table 8: Barriers to obtaining assistance from any advisers,
for Fairfield and all regions, 2003
Type of Barriers
Fairfield
All regions
No.
%
%
No problem
98
53.0
61.8
Telephone engaged/on hold too long
48
25.9
18.4
Delay in getting response
32
17.3
17.0
Difficulty getting an appointment
28
15.1
11.0
Problem with opening hours
24
13.0
7.6
Difficulty affording it
14
7.6
6.0
Difficulty understanding advice/information
14
7.6
4.7
Lack of local services/couldn't get there
12
6.5
8.1
Other problems
12
6.5
4.8
English language problems
7
3.8
1.5
Embarrassed to be seen using services
4
2.2
1.8
No ability to access the internet
2
1.1
2.4
Notes: All regions, n = 1246, data missing for 250 events, and for Fairfield, n = 185, data missing for 29 events where help was sought.
Percentages do not add to 100 per cent because multiple barriers were sometimes reported for the same event.
The category of 'Other problems' included issues such as receiving inadequate or incorrect advice, refusing to assist or the problem was beyond the area covered by the service contacted.

Distance travelled for assistance

The distance a person has to travel to obtain help may affect their willingness to access legal help. Table 9 shows the distance Fairfield participants travelled to obtain help from the sole or most useful adviser.

Table 9: Distance travelled to obtain assistance from sole
or most useful adviser, for Fairfield and all regions, 2003
Distance travelled (kilometres)
Fairfield
All regions
No.
%
%
Didn’t need to travel
85
46.4
44.0
< 3
41
22.4
19.6
4 - 10
34
18.6
15.8
11 - 20
15
8.2
8.2
21 - 40
5
2.7
4.5
41+
3
1.6
8.0
Total
183
100.0
100.0
Note: All regions, n = 1249, missing data on 247 events, and for Fairfield, n = 183, data missing for 31 events.

Among the Fairfield sub-sample of most recent events, approximately 46 per cent of legal events where help was sought involved no travel to access assistance. In general, Fairfield participants had to travel slightly less to obtain assistance than did participants overall. Indeed, Fairfield participants reported travelling more than 40 kilometres to obtain help in only 1.6 per cent of legal events, compared with 8.0 per cent over all the regions.32 Not surprisingly, those residing in metropolitan areas such as Fairfield interviewed for this survey had, in general, closer access to advice than those in regional and rural or remote areas (Coumarelos et al. 2006).

Type of assistance

It would be reasonable to assume that when people are asked whether they sought assistance for their legal problems, they were seeking legal help. However, it appears that legal advice, information or referral may not be the sole type of assistance they receive for events that have legal implications. Table 10 displays the type of assistance the participants in the current survey said they received as help for their legal event.

Table 10: Type of help from sole or most useful adviser for three most recent events, for Fairfield
and all regions, 2003
Type of advice
Fairfield
All regions
Legal adviser
Non-legal adviser
Legal adviser
Non-legal adviser
No.
%
No.
%
%
%
No help received
2
5.4
19
13.1
5.5
9.1
Legal
27
73.0
17
11.7
63.9
15.0
Non-legal
3
8.1
45
31.0
5.8
34.1
Legal vs non-legal help not specified
7
18.9
64
44.1
29.2
42.2
Notes: All regions, n = 1243, data missing for 253 events, and for Fairfield, n = 182, data missing for 32 events.
The percentages represent the proportion of legal events for which a type of adviser was used where at least one type of legal help, non-legal help, and/or non-specific help was received for sole or most useful adviser.
Multiple types of help could be reported, therefore percentage do not total 100.

In Table 10, it is worth noting how advisers are actually used by people experiencing legal problems. Examples of legal help include assistance with legal documents, preparation for court proceedings or advice about the legal implications of a course of action. Examples of non-legal advice include medical advice, advice about financial options and counselling and support. Unsurprisingly, in the overwhelming majority of legal events where assistance was sought from a legal source, the help received was legal in nature (73.0%). Interestingly, legal help was also received from non-legal advisers in 11.7 per cent of events where a non-legal adviser was consulted. In 31.0 per cent of cases the help was non-legal. This seems to indicate that people’s needs when experiencing a legal event are multiple and include non-legal matters. In some cases, these needs may constitute supporting evidence or assistance with the original problem that gave rise to the legal event (e.g. a medical condition). However, there are also other roles played by advisers such as moral support, housing or financial support (Coumarelos et al. 2006). It is unfortunate that there was also a sizeable minority for whom the type of help was not specified and therefore the issue of type of help received needs to be further clarified in future research.

Satisfaction with assistance

The moderate rate at which barriers were encountered when obtaining assistance described in Table 8 may have contributed to the high levels of satisfaction that Fairfield respondents felt with their sole or most useful adviser. Figure 6 shows the rate of satisfaction, broken down by type of adviser.

Figure 6: Satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser by type of adviser, Fairfield, 2003



Notes: Fairfield, n = 180 events, missing data for 34 events for which help was sought.
The 'not satisfied' category includes those who reported being dissatisfied with help received as well as those who were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with help received.

It appears from Figure 6 that in the majority of legal events, respondents were satisfied with the assistance they received from their sole or most useful adviser, with satisfaction expressed in greater than 70 per cent of legal events. There was no statistical difference between the levels of satisfaction with legal or non-legal advisers (81.1% vs 73.4% respectively), even though non-legal advisers were more commonly approached by Fairfield participants.33 Fairfield participants had a slightly lower level of satisfaction than the overall sample (81.1% vs 85.8% respectively) for legal advisers, although the small number of events where legal advisers were used did not allow for this difference to be statistically tested (n = 34). For non-legal advisers, Fairfield had a comparable level of satisfaction to the overall sample (73.4% vs 76.3% respectively).34

All statistical comparisons between individual LGAs and the overall sample were performed by logistic regression using deviation contrast (see Appendix 2).
OR = 0.70, p < .001.
No comparisons are statistically significant at p = .05.
OR = 0.77, p < .01.
OR = 0.82, p = .05.
Not statistically significant at p = .05.
p > .05.
Wills and estates: OR = 0.64, p < .01
Education: OR = 0.61, p < .05.
OR = 0.78, p < .05.
p > .05.
Logistic regression adjusted for clustering: sought help vs did nothing/handled alone, p > .05, did nothing vs handled alone/sought help, p > .05.
Note that it is possible that those who dealt with the problem themselves could have done so because of cost (or level of seriousness, or they did not know where to go for help). However, data was only collected on why respondents chose not to seek any help, not why they chose to deal with it themselves.
Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p >.05.
Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
The number of family events was too small for mixed effects analysis.
Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, marginal result for did nothing vs handled alone and sought help combined for criminal matters vs family, p > .05.
Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, Fairfield vs average of all regions, p > .05.
Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 2.07, p < .01.
Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 0.133, p < .01. Note that South Sydney was removed from this analysis as there were no events for which the respondent travelled over 40km to obtain help.
The sample size was too small to conduct a mixed effects analysis. However, a standard logistic regression showed that the difference was not significant at p = .05, but this type of analysis does not take into account the effects of the clustering of events within respondents and therefore should be viewed with caution.

14  All statistical comparisons between individual LGAs and the overall sample were performed by logistic regression using deviation contrast (see Appendix 2).
15  OR = 0.70, p < .001.
16  No comparisons are statistically significant at p = .05.
17  OR = 0.77, p < .01.
18  OR = 0.82, p = .05.
19  Not statistically significant at p = .05.
20  p > .05.
21  Wills and estates: OR = 0.64, p < .01
22  Education: OR = 0.61, p < .05.
23  OR = 0.78, p < .05.
24  p > .05.
25  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering: sought help vs did nothing/handled alone, p > .05, did nothing vs handled alone/sought help, p > .05.
26  Note that it is possible that those who dealt with the problem themselves could have done so because of cost (or level of seriousness, or they did not know where to go for help). However, data was only collected on why respondents chose not to seek any help, not why they chose to deal with it themselves.
27  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p >.05.
28  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
29  The number of family events was too small for mixed effects analysis.
30  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, marginal result for did nothing vs handled alone and sought help combined for criminal matters vs family, p > .05.
31  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, Fairfield vs average of all regions, p > .05.
32  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 2.07, p < .01.
33  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 0.133, p < .01. Note that South Sydney was removed from this analysis as there were no events for which the respondent travelled over 40km to obtain help.
34  The sample size was too small to conduct a mixed effects analysis. However, a standard logistic regression showed that the difference was not significant at p = .05, but this type of analysis does not take into account the effects of the clustering of events within respondents and therefore should be viewed with caution.


CLOSE
Grunseit, A,, Iriana, R, Coumarelos, C & Wei, Z 2008, NSW Legal Needs Survey in disadvantaged areas: Fairfield, Justice issues paper 5, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney