Note: the original hard copy of this report is 164 pages .

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Data digest: a compendium of service usage data from NSW legal assistance and dispute resolution services, 1999-2002   

, 2004 Analyses data collected by the main publicly funded NSW legal service providers on the nature of inquiries received, the demographic characteristics of inquirers and the pathways they took to resolve their issues.

Executive summary

The Data Digest forms part of Stage 1 of the Access to Justice and Legal Needs Research Program, the goal of which is to identify the particular legal and access to justice needs of economically and socially disadvantaged people in New South Wales. The Digest contributes to Stage 1 of the broader program by providing a snapshot of expressed legal need in the community. In particular, the Digest describes the type of legal matter, the demographic characteristics of those who seek assistance from services and the pathways they take to resolve their problems, over the period 1999 to 2002.

The Digest has two sections. The first section presents data from the following legal assistance services in NSW: Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service2, Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service, LawAccess NSW, NSW Community Legal Centres and the Chamber Magistrate Service. The second section presents an overview of published demographic data on the service users of dispute resolution agencies in NSW.

Legal Assistance Services

Data are presented on the type of legal matter, and the demographics and pathways of service users. The ‘inquiry’ was the unit of measure for all data analyses. Chi-squared tests were used to examine whether the type of legal matter and the profile of service users changed over time, whether the demographic characteristics of service users were related to the type of legal matter, and whether the legal matter was related to how the user found out about the service or where they were subsequently referred.

The type of legal matter

Figure 1:  Percentage of inquiries in Family, Civil and Criminal law, by service

Table 1:  Top five categories of Civil Law inquiries, by service
Legal Aid NSW Info/Advice 1999-2002% of totalLawAccess NSW% of totalNSW Community Legal Centres (Generalist) 1999-2002% of total
Government/Legal system 7.4Housing 7.8Housing 11
Credit/Debt5Wills/Estates6.4Government/Legal system10.3
Housing 3.2Credit/Debt 7.1Credit/Debt 6.7
Employment 2.7Employment 5.8Employment 6.4
Wills/Estates2.7Consumers 5.6Consumers 4.1
Note: The Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service was not included as the proportion of Civil Law inquiries was too small for analysis.

Demographics of service users


Table 2 shows for men and women separately the top 5 specific areas of law (ranked in order of frequency) for the Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service and NSW Community Legal Centres, with areas in common shaded. Although both men and women had a high proportion of family law inquiries, women were significantly more likely than men to inquire about family law.

Table 2:  Top 5 specific areas of law by gender and service

GenderLegal Aid NSW Information/Advice%NSW Community Legal Centres%
MaleGeneral crime 27.9Government/Legal system28.9
Government/Legal system10.1Housing10.2
Traffic offences5.4Credit/Debt6.9
Credit/Debt5General crime6.6
General crime9.1Government/Legal system17.9
Government/Legal system5.3Housing9.1
Credit/Debt5Domestic violence7.5
Note:  Specific areas of law in common for both services are shaded.


Table 3:  Broad area of law about which each age group was more likely to inquire, by servicea
Age (years)Legal Aid NSW AdviceLawAccess NSWNSW Community Legal Centresb
0 to 14CrimeCrimeCrime
15 to 17CrimeCrime
18 to 24CrimeCrimeCrime
25 to 34FamilyCrime
35 to 44FamilyFamilyFamily
45 to 54FamilyFamily
55 to 64CivilCivilCivil
65 to 74CivilCivilCivil
75 and overCivilCivil
a  The Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service was not included in the analysis of age by legal matter due to the high proportion of inquiries about Criminal Law (87%).

b  CLC age groups are slightly different to the other services. See Table 22 for more details.

Country of birth

Table 4:  Highest 3 proportion of inquiries from service users born in non-English speaking countries relative to share of the population, by service
Legal Aid NSW AdviceLegal Aid NSW Duty SolicitorNSW Community Legal Centres
North Africa/Middle EastPacific IslandsSouth/Central America
South/Central AmericaNorth Africa/Middle EastNorth Africa/Middle East
Pacific IslandsSouth/Central AmericaPacific Islands

Indigenous Australian status
Table 5:  Five most frequent specific areas of law inquired about by Indigenous Australians by service
Legal Aid NSW Advice 2000-2002%NSW Community Legal Centres 1999-2002%
General crime36.1Family36.7
Family30.9General crime11.8
Government/Legal system8.4Domestic violence11.4
Credit/Debt2.7Government/Legal system9.6
Personal injury2.6Credit/Debt6.2

There were significant differences in the specific areas of law that Indigenous Australians inquired about compared with non-Indigenous Australians:

Source of income
Region of residence

Postcodes were mapped to Australian Bureau of Statistics regions. See Appendix 3 for more details.

Table 6:  Rates of inquiries per 1000 population by region of residence of inquirer and service
ServiceAnnual rate

per 1000

Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice16.816.6
Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor14.49.4
LawAccess NSW7.88.7
NSW Community Legal Centres14.59.6
Chamber Magistrate14.937.4


Source of inquiry

Referral destination

Data on referral destination were available for the Legal Aid NSW Information Service, LawAccess NSW and NSW Community Legal Centres.

Table 7:  Top four referral destinations, by service
Legal Aid NSW Information% of totalLawAccess NSW% of totalNSW Community Legal Centres% of total
Community legal centre25.7Legal Aid NSW26.5Private solicitor23.4
Private solicitor19.5Court16.2Court15.9
Court18.4Private solicitor15.6Community organisation14.6
Government11.7Dispute resolution12.5Community legal centre13.8

Dispute resolution agencies

The examination of Annual Reports of dispute resolution agencies in NSW revealed many gaps in the availability of relevant data. As a result, a reliable demographic profile of the service users of these agencies could not be compiled. Nonetheless, the compilation of these data in the Digest provides a useful starting point for a more detailed analysis of this nature.

 Where data is only collected for either information or advice inquiries, Legal Aid NSW Information Service or Legal Aid NSW Advice Service is used.