Advice for legal problems
Use of a broad range of advisers
The LAW Survey verifies past findings that people who seek advice for their legal problems by no means limit themselves to lawyers or traditional legal services (e.g. 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). Across jurisdictions, no more than one-third (23–33%) of the problems where advice was sought involved consulting a legal professional such as an ALS, CLC, court service, LawAccess NSW, Legal Aid, private lawyer or other legal professional, organisation or telephone line. In Australia as a whole, a legal adviser was consulted for 30 per cent of the problems where advice was sought. Given that respondents did not seek advice for approximately half of all problems, these percentages across jurisdictions translate to respondents seeking advice from a legal professional for less than one-fifth of all problems (12–17%).
There were significant differences between states/territories in the use of legal advisers, with legal advisers being consulted relatively more frequently than average in NSW and Tasmania and relatively less frequently than average in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.(79)
These findings may merely reflect differences in the legal problems experienced but could also reflect other differences, such as in demographic profiles or legal service environments. The lower use of legal advisers in the Northern Territory is consistent with its greater disadvantage given that past studies have found low rates of seeking legal advice among disadvantaged groups (ABA 1994; Fishwick 1992; LSNJ 2009; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c; Schulman 2003; TALS 2004). For example, it may partly reflect the much higher proportion of Indigenous people in this jurisdiction. It has been noted that Indigenous people are less likely to use lawyers for family and civil law problems, due to social pressure to handle problems within Indigenous communities and to a paucity of Indigenous services for family and civil law problems relative to criminal problems (Cunneen & Schwartz 2008; Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) 2005; Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee (SLCRC) 2004).
In Australia as a whole, the non-legal advisers used included government advisers, such as government departments, local councils, the police and members of parliament (39% of problems where advice was sought); health or welfare advisers, such as doctors and psychologists (27%); financial advisers, such as accountants and insurance companies (22%); dispute resolution or complaint-handling bodies (8%); and trade unions or professional associations (8%). Similar proportions of these types of advisers were consulted in each jurisdiction.
Legal and non-legal help
The LAW Survey also found that the type of help received for legal problems from respondents’ main adviser was not always ‘legal’. That is, the help did not always aim to address the legal aspects of problems. Examples of legal help received by respondents included 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, such as mediation or conciliation; negotiation with the other side; and referral to a lawyer or legal service. Across jurisdictions, in the overwhelming majority of cases (86–95%), legal advisers were reported to have provided at least one of these types of legal help. In Australia as a whole, legal advisers provided legal help for 92 per cent of the problems for which they were consulted.
Legal help was by no means the exclusive domain of legal advisers. Non-legal advisers provided some type of legal help in many of the cases where they were the main adviser. Nonetheless, in all jurisdictions, legal advisers had significantly higher rates of providing legal help than average, and, in fact, invariably had the highest rates. The types of non-legal advisers who had high rates of providing legal help were similar across jurisdictions. Typically, following legal advisers, the next highest rates of legal help were provided by trade unions or professional associations (78–91%) and dispute/complaint-handling advisers (66–91%). Next were government advisers (55–69%) and financial advisers (44–65%). In addition, health or welfare advisers provided legal help in a substantial percentage of cases where they were consulted (36–53%). In Australia as a whole, legal help was provided by trade unions or professional associations in 82 per cent of cases, dispute/complaint-handling advisers in 81 per cent, government advisers in 61 per cent, financial advisers in 59 per cent and health or welfare advisers in 46 per cent.(80)
Averaging across both legal and non-legal advisers, some type of legal help was received from the main adviser for roughly two-thirds of legal problems where advice was sought (60–71%) in each jurisdiction. The percentage was 67 per cent for Australia as a whole. The percentage obtained by Coumarelos et al. (2006) for the NSWLNS was substantially lower, at 25 per cent. However, this percentage is likely to be an underestimate. First, whether the help was legal or non-legal was not specified for a large proportion of problems in the NSWLNS (38%), and it is likely that some of these problems involved legal help. Second, the higher percentages in the present study are likely to reflect the improved measurement of help. The NSWLNS used a single open-ended question to capture all types of help, whereas the LAW Survey cued recall of numerous specific types of legal and non-legal help. However, the difference in legal help percentages may also partly reflect real differences between the samples surveyed, such as poorer choice of appropriate advisers in the NSWLNS due to the more disadvantaged nature of the sample.
Helpfulness of advisers
Past surveys have reported high rates of satisfaction with the help received for legal problems from advisers (Coumarelos et al. 2006; CSRA 2003; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; HKDOJ 2008; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010; Rush 1999; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004). The LAW Survey reinforces these findings. Across all adviser types, about three-quarters (75–79%) were rated as ‘helpful’ (i.e. very helpful or fairly helpful) in each jurisdiction. However, there were some significant differences in helpfulness ratings according to adviser type in all jurisdictions apart from Queensland. Government advisers received the lowest helpfulness ratings in most jurisdictions, although even these advisers tended to be viewed as helpful in the majority of cases.(81)
In each jurisdiction, legal advisers were perceived as helpful in 75–84 per cent of cases. Across jurisdictions, helpfulness ratings for the main adviser for each legal problem were slightly higher (83–89%) in absolute terms than those for all the advisers examined.(82)
Legal advisers who were the main adviser were perceived as helpful in 87–91 per cent of cases across jurisdictions. The variation in helpfulness ratings by adviser type may partly reflect differences in the nature of the legal problems handled by different advisers. The choice of adviser depended on the type of problem, and some types of problems were more likely to be severe and more difficult to resolve in the respondent’s favour.
Advice for different types of legal problems
The type of legal problem was a strong determinant of the type of adviser used(83)
and the type of help obtained.(84)
Across jurisdictions, family problems resulted in significantly higher rates of legal help. In addition, family problems were the most likely to involve legal advisers. These findings are likely to reflect the high level of severity of many family problems. The money problem group, which included wills, estates and power of attorney problems, was the second most likely problem group to result in the use of legal advisers in all jurisdictions. Money problems also had significantly higher rates of legal help in most jurisdictions. Past research has similarly found high rates of legal advice for problems related to family breakdown, wills, estates and advance directives (ABA 1994; Cass & Sackville 1975; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Dale 2005, 2007; Dignan 2006; Fishwick 1992; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; HKDOJ 2008; LASNSC 2005; Pleasence 2006; Rush 1999; Schulman 2003, 2007; Task Force 2003).
In broad terms, the choice of adviser and the type of help obtained appeared to be appropriate to the type of legal problem. For example, across jurisdictions, health and personal injury problems were relatively more likely to involve health or welfare advisers, and medical advice or assistance. In all jurisdictions, accidents problems were relatively more likely to involve financial advisers, such as insurance companies, and money problems resulted in higher rates of financial advice. Thus, again, it appears that respondents were taking into account the nature of the problem when seeking advice.
The LAW Survey examined how respondents sourced their main adviser when this adviser was a legal, dispute/complaint-handling or government adviser. These advisers were sourced through respondents’ own personal resources or networks in most cases across jurisdictions (74–81%). For example, respondents relied on their own knowledge, obtained referrals from relatives, friends or acquaintances, chose an adviser who was a relative or friend or whom they had used before, or used the telephone book or the internet. Sourcing the main adviser via referrals from other legal professionals (3–7%) or non-legal professionals (3–6%) occurred only in a minority of cases in all jurisdictions. However, legal advisers were significantly more likely than the other two adviser types to be sourced via referrals (from legal professionals, non-legal professionals and personal networks). In Australia as a whole, legal advisers were sourced via referrals through personal networks in 22 per cent of cases and via referrals from professionals in 19 per cent of cases.
Mode of communication with advisers
Across jurisdictions, both telephone communication (62–71%) and in-person communication (60–72%) with the main adviser used for legal problems were common. Email (14–23%) and postal communication (11–18%) with the main adviser were used less frequently. In addition, in most jurisdictions, in-person communication was a particularly important form of communication with main advisers who were legal advisers or health or welfare advisers. It was significantly more likely to be used for these types of main advisers than for all advisers on average.(85)
Barriers to obtaining advice
Past surveys have identified various barriers to obtaining legal advice or assistance. Barriers to the accessibility of services have been commonly reported, although other barriers have included inadequate or unclear information, financial barriers and language barriers (ABA 1994; AFLSE 2007; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Dale 2000, 2005, 2007; Dignan 2006; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Ignite Research 2006; LASNSC 2005; LSNJ 2009; Miller & Srivastava 2001; Pleasence 2006; Schulman 2007; Task Force 2003). Similarly, the LAW Survey identified barriers to obtaining advice for legal problems from main advisers who were legal, dispute/complaint-handling or government advisers. At least one barrier was reported across jurisdictions for about two-fifths (37–43%) of problems where these advisers were used. In particular, a range of barriers to the accessibility of these advisers was endorsed by respondents. For example, in Australia as a whole, respondents reported difficulty getting through on the telephone (17%), the adviser taking too long to respond (14%), inconvenient opening hours (8%) and difficulty getting an appointment (7%). Similar percentages were obtained in each jurisdiction.
Another barrier to accessibility related to the physical location of advisers. Australian respondents who consulted their main adviser in person reported travelling more than 20 kilometres in 18 per cent of cases, including more than 40 kilometres in nine per cent of cases. In Tasmania and the ACT, it was not possible to examine whether the distance travelled to consult main advisers in person varied by remoteness, because Tasmania comprises largely regional areas and the ACT consists almost exclusively of major city areas. In all other jurisdictions, however, respondents in less urban areas travelled significantly further to consult their main adviser in person. Australian respondents living in remote areas travelled more than 80 kilometres in 19 per cent of cases. The corresponding percentages for regional areas and major city areas were eight and two per cent, respectively.
The distance to advisers was also explicitly reported as a barrier to obtaining help for some legal problems in all jurisdictions. In Australia as a whole, eight per cent of main advisers who were legal, dispute/complaint-handling or government advisers were reported to be too far away or too hard to get to. In addition, this barrier was significantly more likely than average to be reported for legal advisers in several jurisdictions.(86)
This finding is likely to reflect, at least in part, the relatively greater use of face-to-face consultation with legal advisers.
The LAW Survey findings are also consistent with past findings that the cost of services can be a barrier to obtaining advice for legal problems, particularly from private lawyers (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 all jurisdictions, cost was significantly more likely to be reported as a barrier in relation to legal advisers than to dispute/complaint-handling or government advisers. In fact, cost was the most frequent barrier to obtaining help from main advisers who were legal advisers in all jurisdictions apart from Tasmania, where it fell into a close second place. Cost was cited as a barrier in at least one-fifth of these cases across jurisdictions (20–27%). In contrast, cost was an infrequent barrier to obtaining help from main advisers who were dispute/complaint-handling (0–5%) or government (0–3%) advisers. In Australia as a whole, cost was a barrier for 23 per cent of cases where the main adviser was a legal adviser.
Also consistent with past research, LAW Survey respondents reported failing to obtain adequate, clear information in roughly one-tenth of cases across jurisdictions (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Dignan 2006; Ignite Research 2006; Pleasence 2006). The extent to which this finding reflects inadequacies within legal services rather than limitations in people’s capacity to understand legal information is unclear.
79. x2=53.69, F7,72 123=6.04, p=0.000. See Appendix Figure A9.7.
80. The legal help rates for different advisers are likely to be influenced by the problem types involved. Significance tests were not conducted.
81. Government advisers received the lowest helpfulness ratings in all jurisdictions apart from Queensland and the ACT.
82. A significance test was not conducted on this comparison.
83. See Table 6.3 in each LAW Survey report for descriptive statistics on adviser type by problem group.
84. See Figure 6.7 in each LAW Survey report for chi-square results on legal help from main adviser by problem group.
85. The higher rate of in-person communication with health or welfare advisers was significant in all jurisdictions. The higher rate of in-person communication with legal advisers was significant in all jurisdictions apart from Tasmania and the Northern Territory, although the trend was in the same direction in these two jurisdictions.
86. In Australia as a whole, this barrier was significantly more likely to be reported for legal advisers than for dispute/complaint-handling advisers and government advisers.