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.

Ch 1. The type of legal matter

This chapter examines the types of legal matters for which users contacted services. Trends over time are noted where data availability permitted.

Services include the Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service, Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service, LawAccess NSW, NSW Community Legal Centres (Generalist)11 and Chamber Magistrates.

It should be noted that the proportion of inquiries in particular areas of the law may be influenced by a number of factors. These include whether a service places a priority on providing assistance in particular areas of law or to a particular service group, differences in the awareness of the service, or differences in the needs of service users. For example, a high level of inquiries about domestic violence may be connected to any or all of the following factors: a focus on domestic violence by the service, targeting of a group which has a higher than average rate of domestic violence, a high level of awareness of the service by victims of domestic violence or a high level of domestic violence in the community. Differences in classification schemes will also affect the results. For example, seeking help about how to file an apprehended violence order may be classified as a court process or domestic violence.

Most services collect some form of data about the type of legal matter experienced by service users. There is, however, a wide variation in how services categorise legal matters. Some services, for example, only collect at the broad level of crime, family and civil, while others break down inquiries to a high level of detail, with more than 1000 possible headings.

For more information

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Usage of Legal Services, New South Wales, October 1990, Catalogue No. 4510.1, ABS, Sydney, 1990.

Australian Institute of Criminology, <>.

Family Law Council, The Statistical Snapshot of Family Law 2000-01, 2003, <>.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, <>.

Rush Social Research and John Walker Consulting Services, Legal Assistance Needs Phase II: Summary Report, Family Law and Legal Assistance Division, Legal Aid Branch, Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, Barton ACT, 1999.

Classification of legal matters

Legal matters were classified into two tiers using a classification system developed by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW.12 The major areas of law—Family, Crime and Civil—have been divided into 14 specific categories: 1 for Family,13 3 for Crime and 10 for Civil, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3:  Tiered system for describing legal matters

The matters that make up the specific area of law are presented in Table 9. Housing inquiries, for example, include the following categories: animals, conveyancing, fences, housing, property law, neighbours, noise, nuisance, retirement village, strata title, and tenancy.

Table 9:  Law and Justice Foundation classification for legal matter14
Area of lawTypes of legal matters included in specific area of law
FamilyFamilyAdoptionDe facto relationshipsProperty
Child protectionDivorceResidence/Contact
Child supportFamily law
CrimeGeneral crimeArrestCrimePrisoners
BailFirearmsSexual assault
Child abuseFraudTheft
Coronial inquestsPoliceVictims
Domestic violenceApprehended violence ordersDomestic violence
Traffic offencesTraffic offences
CivilBusiness/MediaBusinessIntellectual propertyMedia Law
ConsumersComplaints about lawyersConsumer protectionInsurance
EmploymentContractsUnfair terminationWorkers compensation
Government/Legal Administrative lawFreedom of informationPensions/Allowances
EnvironmentLegal servicesVeterans
FinesLocal government
Health/Human rightsDiscriminationHealthMental health
Guardianship/IncapacityHuman rights
HousingAnimalsNeighboursRetirement village
ConveyancingNoiseStrata title
HousingProperty law
Motor vehiclesTraffic accident-personal injuryTraffic accident-property damage
Personal injuryAccidentsNegligence/LiabilityPersonal injury
Wills/EstatesFamily provisionProbate
Power of attorneyWills

11  Specialist Community Legal Centres have not been included in this chapter as they do not cover a wide range of areas of law.
12  These are based on a modified version of the Legal Information Access Centre Subject Headings, <>.
13  Family Law inquiries were not divided further due to the likelihood that family law inquiries will involve multiple issues, e.g. divorce and property.
14  A modified form of the Australian Standard Offence Classification was used to categorise the Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service data because of the high proportion of criminal matters.