Note: the original hard copy of this report is 16 pages .

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NSW Legal Needs Survey in disadvantaged areas: South Sydney, Justice issues paper 8   

, 2008 Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas (2006) is the report of a large-scale quantitative study of the legal needs of disadvantaged people in six local government areas of New South Wales. More than 2400 residents across the regions were interviewed about their legal needs. This report was preceded by an initial study Quantitative legal needs survey: Bega Valley (pilot) (2003). There now follows a series of papers in the Justice Issues imprint. Six individual papers will describe how disadvantaged people deal with legal problems, detailing the responses from one of the regions surveyed: Campbelltown, Fairfield, Nambucca, Newcastle, South Sydney and Walgett....

Survey results

Incidence of legal events13

For the Law and Justice Foundation’s 2003 survey, 406 participants were drawn from the South Sydney LGA, who reported a total of 1203 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 South Sydney
and all regions, 2003
Number of legal events
South Sydney
All regions
3 or more
Note: All regions, n = 2431, and for South Sydney n = 406 participants.

Table 5 shows that less than a quarter of South Sydney participants reported they did not experience any legal events in the past 12 months. Further, the South Sydney subgroup had a slightly different distribution in the frequency of legal events reported in the reference period compared with the overall survey sample. In detail, South Sydney had significantly more participants reporting at least one legal event compared with the total sample (76.4% vs 69.1% respectively).14 Further, South Sydney LGA had similar rates for reporting one or two events compared with the average over all regions (33.0% vs 36.2% respectively),15 but again a significantly greater proportion of respondents from this LGA reported three or more problems (43.4% vs 32.9% respectively) compared with the sample overall.16

In fact, of the six LGAs surveyed, South Sydney LGA had the highest proportion of participants reporting at least one legal event (range 61–72% for other regions) and three or more legal events (range 29–32% for other regions).

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,
South Sydney, 2003

Note: South Sydney, n = 405 participants (of which 310 participants reported
1 or more legal events), data missing for 1 participant for family events.

As Figure 1 shows, the most commonly reported area of law in the past 12 months among participants in South Sydney LGA was civil law (71.2%). This was not surprising given the survey questionnaire predominantly covered civil legal issues. The proportion of the South Sydney sub-sample reporting a civil issue was significantly higher than for the sample overall (62.4%).17 The proportion of South Sydney participants reporting criminal matters (domestic violence, general crime and traffic offences) was also significantly higher (36.5%) compared with all regions (30.2%).18 This is consistent with the finding described above that a greater proportion of this sub-sample reported having a legal problem of any type than in the overall sample (see the section on Incidence of Legal Events). In fact, of the six LGAs surveyed, South Sydney LGA had the highest proportion of participants reporting civil matters (range 56–63% for other regions) and criminal matters (range 23–35% for other regions). Only a small number of South Sydney respondents (6.2%) reported at least one family law issue and this percentage was not significantly different from the percentage for all regions (8.5%).19

Table 6: Incidence of legal events by broad area of law and legal event group,
for South Sydney and all regions, 2003
Area of lawEvent group
South Sydney
All regions
Number of participants
% of participants
% of participants
Human rights
CriminalDomestic violence
General crime
Traffic offences
a 110 South Sydney participants and 562 overall owned a small business. Of these, 32 (29.1%) and 122 (21.7%) respectively reported at least one business event.
b 149 South Sydney participants and 1076 overall were full- or part-time students, or were responsible for a student. Of these, 21 (14.1%) and 181 (16.8%) respectively reported at least one education event.
c 280 South Sydney participants and 1417 overall were employed full- or part-time at some time during the reference period. Of these, 60 (21.4%) and 293 (20.7%) respectively reported at least one employment event.
d 113 South Sydney 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 (9.7%) and 77 (10.0%) respectively reported at least one health event.
Notes: All regions, n = 2431, and for South Sydney n = 406 participants, data missing for 1 participant for family events.
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.

Table 6 shows the proportion of the South Sydney sub-sample and the overall sample reporting at least one of each type of legal event. As may be expected from the data presented earlier, the South Sydney sub-sample reported experiencing events at a statistically significantly higher rate than the general sample within almost every legal event group. Results that were highly statistically significant (i.e. p < .01) were: government legal problems (25.1% vs 19.5%);20 housing (36.0% vs 22.6%);21 wills and estates (20.4% vs 14.6%);22 and general crime (33.5% vs 26.6%).23 Business, consumer and accident/personal injury legal events were also experienced among the South Sydney sub-sample at a significantly higher rate than the average for all regions.24 There was no legal event that South Sydney residents experienced at significantly lower rates than the overall sample.25

Response to legal problems

As noted earlier, respondents in South Sydney reported a total of 1203 legal events (range 1 to 20, 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 591 most recent events for the South Sydney sub-sample.

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

Note: n = 566 events, data missing for 25 events.

Figure 2 shows that help was sought for approximately 53 per cent of the 'most recent' events experienced. In almost 16 per cent of cases, the respondent dealt with the issue themselves. A sizeable minority, however, did not take any action (30.7%). These rates were not statistically different to those for the overall sample (51.2%, 16.0% and 32.8% respectively).26

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

Notes: South Sydney, n = 161 events, data missing for 13 events.

Those grouped into the ‘other’ category (n = 9) did not seek help because they were too embarrassed or did not trust anyone, thought the problem was their faults or had no internet access.

When the reasons for 'doing nothing' among the South Sydney sub-sample were further examined (see Figure 3), three main explanations emerged. In the 34.8 per cent of events where the respondent did nothing, the respondent felt the issue was not serious or did not know how serious the event was. In 21.7 per cent of events where the respondent did nothing, it was because they felt that action either would not make any difference or would make things worse. In almost 16.8 per cent of events, the respondent had bigger problems, was too busy or thought the issue would take too long to address. Only a small proportion mentioned cost as a reason for not seeking help (5.0%).27

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

Notes: South Sydney, n = 565 events, data missing for 26 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 South Sydney sub-sample did in response to their three most recent legal events, broken down by broad area of law. Help was sought for 53.8 per cent of civil matters, and similar proportions were observed for criminal (48.9%) and family events (50.0%). These response patterns were not statistically different to those for all regions (51.4%, 46.7% and 55.4% respectively).28 Thus, there appears to be some consistency in the South Sydney sub-sample in the frequency with which help was sought for legal events, irrespective of whether they are civil, criminal or family type matters. There is, however, some suggestion that for criminal matters, compared with family or civil matters, a greater proportion of those who did not seek help did nothing about their matter rather than dealing with it themselves. However, statistical tests only reached marginal significance for criminal matters compared with civil matters.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 South Sydney sub-sample. In 75 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 South Sydney 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 South Sydney LGA sample and across all regions.

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

Note: All regions, n = 1455 events, data missing for 41 events and for South Sydney, n = 294, data missing on 8 events.

It appears that for the South Sydney LGA sub-sample, the first (or sole) source of advice was more likely to be to a non-legal source rather than a legal source (70.1% vs 29.9% respectively). This is consistent with the overall sample. However, the rate of seeking help from a legal adviser was higher among the South Sydney sub-sample than in the overall sample.30 Indeed, of all the regions, South Sydney had the highest proportion of events for which legal (as opposed to non-legal) sources were approached in the first instance (range 15–22% for the other 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 the sole adviser if the respondent 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 South Sydney sub-sample and the overall sample.

Table 7: Source of knowledge about sole or most useful adviser,
for South Sydney and all regions, 2003
Source of knowledge about adviser
South Sydney
All regions
General knowledge
Adviser was a friend or relative
Referral by other agency/persona
Used the service before
Referral from a friend or relative
Telephone book
Community Legal Centre referral
Adviser approached them
< 1.0
Walked in off the street
< 1.0
< 1.0
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 South Sydney n = 293, data missing for 9 events for which help was sought.

Table 7 shows that South Sydney participants were generally similar to all participants in terms of the channels they used to source their advisers. Similar to all participants, those from South Sydney frequently found their adviser by using their own personal knowledge and personal networks (e.g. 29.7% used their general knowledge, 9.6% had used the adviser before, in 23.9% of cases the adviser was a friend/relative and in 7.2% of cases the adviser was referred from a friend/relative).

However, when compared with all participants, South Sydney participants were even more likely than average to use an adviser who was a friend or a relative (23.9% vs 16.7% respectively),31 but less likely than average to use an adviser they had used before (9.6% vs 17.7% respectively).32 These were the only apparent differences between South Sydney participants and those from all regions in terms of the channels used to source advisers.

As with the overall sample, South Sydney participants were also often referred to their adviser by another agency or someone other than a friend/relative (13.0%). 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 (2.0% to 5.1%).

Barriers to assistance

When considering the issue of access to legal assistance it is important to elucidate what may hinder somebody receiving assistance once they have decided to get help.

Table 8: Barriers to obtaining assistance from any advisers,
for South Sydney and all regions, 2003
Type of Barriers
South Sydney
All regions
No problem
Delay in getting response
Telephone engaged/on hold too long
Difficulty getting an appointment
Problem with opening hours
Difficulty affording it
Lack of local services/couldn't get there
Difficulty understanding advice/information
Embarrassed to be seen using services
No ability to access the internet
< 1.0
English language problems
< 1.0
Other problems
Notes: All regions, n = 1246, data missing for 250 events, and for South Sydney n = 267, data missing for 35 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.

Table 8 shows the barriers South Sydney participants reported experiencing when they sought help for their legal problems.

South Sydney participants experienced barriers to receiving assistance in approximately one-third of events where help was sought. The types of barriers experienced by the South Sydney participants appear similar to those for the overall sample, despite the differences in the type of adviser used noted in Figure 5. The main barriers reported were associated with attending or speaking with a service (either in person or by telephone) or a delay getting a response back from an adviser. In only a small proportion of events did people report not being able to afford an adviser (5.6%). In light of this information, services may need to reflect on their communication means and the 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 the events reported in the current study, however, no problems were reported with the assistance sought.

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 South Sydney participants travelled to obtain help from the sole or most useful adviser.

In the majority of events reported in the South Sydney sub-sample (54.3%), people did not have to travel to access assistance. Of the six regions surveyed, South Sydney LGA had a higher proportion of events than the average across all regions where obtaining assistance involved no travel (range 35–46% for other regions).33 From the data displayed in Table 9, it appears that when South Sydney participants did have to travel to obtain assistance, they travelled smaller distances than participants overall. Indeed, no South Sydney participants reported travelling more than 40 kilometres to obtain help for any event, compared with 8 per cent of all the regions. Not surprisingly, those interviewed for this study who resided in metropolitan areas such as South Sydney had, in general, closer access to advice than those in regional and rural or remote areas (Coumarelos et al. 2006).

Table 9: Distance travelled to obtain assistance from sole
or most useful adviser, for South Sydney and all regions, 2003
Distance travelled (kilometres)
South Sydney
All regions
Didn’t need to travel
< 3
Note: All regions, n = 1249, missing data on 247 events, and for South Sydney n = 258, data missing for 44 events.

Type of assistance

It would be reasonable to assume that when people are asked whether they sought assistance for their legal problem, 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.

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 majority of events where assistance was sought from a legal source, the help received was legal in nature (54.4%). In 17.9 per cent of events where a non-legal adviser was consulted, help of a legal nature was received and in 30.1 per cent, 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 South Sydney survey participants 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, South Sydney, 2003

Notes: South Sydney, n = 261 events, missing data for 41 events for which help was sought.

The 'not satisfied' category includes those who reported being dissatisfied with help received as well as those that were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with help received.

It appears from Figure 6 that in the majority of events, respondents were satisfied with the assistance they received from their sole or most useful adviser, with satisfaction expressed in greater than 75 per cent of events. There was no statistical difference between the levels of satisfaction with legal or non-legal advisers (86.5% vs 79.1% respectively), even though non-legal advisers were more commonly approached by South Sydney participants.34 Finally, South Sydney participants had similar levels of satisfaction to the overall sample (86.5% vs 85.8% respectively for legal advisers35 and 79.1% vs 76.3% respectively for non-legal advisers).36

13  All statistical comparisons between individual LGAs and the overall sample were performed by logistic regression using deviation contrast (see Appendix 2).
14  OR = 1.43, p = .001.
15  p > .05.
16  OR = 1.57, p < .001.
17  OR = 1.48, p < .001.
18  OR = 1.34, p = .004.
19  p > .05.
20  OR = 1.40, p = .002.
21  OR = 1.98, p < .001.
22  OR = 1.57, p < .001.
23  OR = 1.41, p < .001.
24  Business: OR = 1.57, p < .05
25  Consumer: OR = 1.26, p < .05
26  Accident/Injury: OR = 1.3, p < .05.
27  p > .05.
28  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.
29  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.
30  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p >.05 for civil and criminal matters. The number of family events (n = 14) was too small for mixed effects analysis.
31  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, marginal result for did nothing vs handled alone and sought help combined for criminal matters vs civil, p > .05.
32  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 2.03, p < .001.
33  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 2.01, p = .001.
34  Logistic regression adjusted fir clustering, OR = 0.39, p < .001.
35  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, OR = 0.428, p < .001.
36  Logistic regression adjusted for clustering, p > .05.