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Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas  

, 2006 Six disadvantaged areas were surveyed by telephone interviews: three suburban areas within Sydney (Campbelltown, Fairfield, South Sydney), one major provincial centre (Newcastle) and two rural/remote areas (Nambucca and Walgett)


Executive summary


Aim

The appropriate provision of legal services in any jurisdiction requires a thorough understanding of the legal issues people experience, people’s responses to these issues and the outcome of these issues. The present study provides the most comprehensive assessment of legal needs in New South Wales (NSW) in three decades, with a view to providing valuable empirical data to inform legal service provision. Given the evidence suggesting that disadvantaged groups are particularly vulnerable to legal problems, the present study focused on legal needs in six disadvantaged areas in NSW.

Method

The survey was administered during September and October 2003 via telephone interviews in three suburban areas within Sydney (Campbelltown, Fairfield, South Sydney), one major provincial centre (Newcastle) and two rural/remote areas of NSW (Nambucca, Walgett). The areas were selected on the basis that they had a relatively high risk score for cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage (Vinson 1999), covered geographically diverse areas of NSW, included an area with a relatively high Indigenous population (Walgett), and included an area that is culturally and linguistically diverse (Fairfield).

In total, 2431 residents aged 15 years or over were interviewed. Random sampling was used to draw a pool of potential participants from each area, and quota controls were employed to achieve a gender and age profile that reflected the population profile in each area. The estimated survey response rate was between 24 and 34 per cent.

The survey examined the sample’s experience of a total of 101 different events that have the potential for legal resolution. These legal events included:


The survey measured:
Logistic regression analyses were used to determine the sociodemographic and other factors that were related to each of the above.

Major findings

Some of the main findings of the present study were:


A more detailed description of the study’s findings is presented below.

Incidence of legal events

Over two-thirds of participants reported experiencing one or more legal events in the previous 12 months, suggesting a high level of legal need across the six disadvantaged regions. The 10 most frequent types of legal events were general crime (experienced by 27% of all participants), housing (23%), consumer (22%), government (20%), accident/injury (19%), wills/estates (15%), employment (12%), credit/debt (12%), family (9%) and education (7%) events.

Certain types of legal events tended to recur and to co-occur, suggesting the critical role that could be played by efficient legal services, not only in the immediate resolution of existing legal problems but also in the prevention of problems in the longer term.

Some individuals were particularly vulnerable to legal events. One-third of participants reported at least three legal events, and accounted for the vast majority (79%) of events reported overall. People from certain sociodemographic backgrounds showed increased vulnerability to experiencing particular types of legal events:


Response to legal events

A common response to legal events was to do nothing—respondents took no action in response to about one-third of the legal events they experienced. They sought some sort of help, advice or information for just over half the events they reported, and they handled the remaining 16 per cent of events on their own.

The present high rate of inaction in response to legal events, and the common accompanying belief that taking action would make no difference, suggest a clear a role for improved legal information and education strategies in the disadvantaged communities surveyed.

The type of legal event was a significant predictor of whether or not people sought help. Respondents were more likely than average to seek help for accident/injury, employment and wills/estates events and less likely than average to seek help for consumer and human rights events.

Various sociodemographic factors were also significantly associated with whether or not respondents sought help. The youngest and oldest respondents, Indigenous Australians and people with low levels of education were relatively less likely to seek help, suggesting the potential value of legal information and education strategies to encourage and empower these groups to resolve their legal problems.

Type of legal help, advice and information

Individuals experienced a high volume of legal issues for which the legal system was not utilised. Traditional legal advisers, such as private lawyers, local courts, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, Aboriginal legal services and community legal centres (CLCs), were used very rarely—in only 12 per cent of cases where help was sought. In three-quarters of the cases where help was sought, only non-legal advisers were consulted, including friends and family, and non-legal professionals working in medical, health, counselling, welfare, government, trade union, accounting, insurance, school and policing settings. Furthermore, in at least one-quarter of cases where help was sought for issues that had legal implications, only non-legal forms of help, such as medical assistance or financial advice, was obtained.

The widespread, routine use of non-legal advisers suggests that a comprehensive view of legal services must extend beyond traditional legal services to include all individuals and organisations routinely used for advice in response to issues that have legal implications. The existing informal network of non-legal professionals used in response to legal issues could be harnessed and used as a more formal gateway into available legal services. For example, non-legal professionals could be used more systematically and effectively to provide appropriate referrals to legal service agencies, and to disseminate basic, up-to-date legal information resources.

Barriers to legal advice and assistance

In the present study, some type of barrier to obtaining assistance was reported in relation to almost two-fifths of the events where participants sought help. The most frequent types of barriers identified in obtaining help from all advisers were difficulty getting through on the telephone (18%), delays in getting a response (17%), difficulty getting an appointment (11%), the lack of local or easily accessible services (8%), problems with opening hours (8%) and difficulty affording the assistance (6%). Similar barriers were identified by respondents who only used traditional legal advisers. Respondents in rural or remote areas also had to travel considerable distances in some cases to access services, with one-quarter travelling over 20 kilometres.

Satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events

Almost four-fifths of those who sought help for legal events were satisfied with the assistance they received, and only 13 per cent were dissatisfied. Satisfaction with the assistance received for an event was related to the type of event. Respondents were less likely to be satisfied with the assistance they received for traffic offence events, and more likely to be satisfied with the assistance they received for accident/injury and wills/estates events, when compared with other events. Respondents were also less likely to report being satisfied with the assistance they received for an event if the event was still unresolved. Sociodemographic characteristics were not significant predictors of satisfaction with assistance.

Resolution of legal events

Not all legal events were resolved quickly. According to participants, 39 per cent of legal events were either unresolved or were in the process of being resolved at the time of the survey. The remaining events were resolved through court or tribunal proceedings (5%), by the participants on their own (44%) or in some other way (11%).

Age and disability status were the only sociodemographic characteristics that were significantly associated with resolution. People aged 55 to 64 years had the lowest resolution rates and people aged 15 to 24 years had the highest resolution rates.

People with a chronic illness or disability had lower rates of resolution when compared with other survey participants. This finding, coupled with their increased vulnerability to a wide range of legal problems, emphasises the importance of ensuring that legal services tailored to the needs of this group become a top priority.

Some types of events appeared to be genuinely more difficult to resolve. Accident/injury and wills/estates events had relatively high resolution rates while business, employment, government, health and family events had relatively low resolution rates. These findings suggest that resource allocation for legal service provision needs to take into account the fact that some legal matters may require greater resources, time and expertise to resolve.

Not surprisingly, lower resolution rates were obtained when people did nothing in response to legal issues rather than when they sought help, highlighting the potential benefit of using information and education strategies to mobilise people to take action.3

Satisfaction with the outcome of legal events

Respondents were satisfied with the outcome of almost four-fifths of the legal events that had been resolved at the time of the survey. This relatively high satisfaction rate suggests a vote of public confidence in the avenues currently available for accessing justice. Not surprisingly, there was an appreciably lower rate of satisfaction (21%) with the status of events that were not fully resolved, indicating the value respondents place on timely and effective resolution.

The main reasons provided by respondents who were dissatisfied with the outcome of events that had been resolved related to the negative financial impact of the event (21%), the result being unfair or unsatisfactory (20%), a lack of helpful assistance (15%), the respondent’s objectives not being achieved (8%) and the event being too expensive to resolve (7%). The considerable proportion who perceived the result as unfair or unsatisfactory highlights the importance of legal services ensuring that clients have realistic expectations about the likely outcomes of their legal issues.

The type of legal event was a significant factor in whether respondents were satisfied with the outcome of events, again indicating the benefit of legal services being able to deal effectively with different types of problems. Respondents were more likely to be satisfied with the outcome of accident/injury and wills/estates events, and less likely to be satisfied with the outcome of business, consumer, government and general crime events. This finding may partly reflect that the latter group of events tended to involve matters where the client’s interests clashed with those of another party, and hence, were more difficult to resolve in the client’s favour.

Participants were also more likely to be satisfied with the outcome of events where they sought help than the outcome of events where they did nothing, again suggesting the importance of encouraging and empowering people to deal with their legal issues.4 None of the sociodemographic characteristics was significantly related to satisfaction with outcome.

Conclusions

Civil, criminal and family legal needs were common in the disadvantaged communities surveyed, affecting many aspects of everyday life and relating broadly to social and physical well-being. However, while some people had multiple, complex legal needs, others were more resilient. People chose different means of resolving their legal issues, and achieved varying levels of success in doing so.

This diversity in experience is better suited to a multidimensional rather than a single, broad-brush approach to accessing justice in the disadvantaged areas surveyed. Such an approach would not only include high quality, reactive legal services, but also tailored and proactive strategies, in order to meet the varying needs of different individuals, to maximise prevention and early intervention, and to enhance the appropriate targeting of limited resources. For example, useful roles could be played by:


To ensure that legal services can react quickly and effectively to legal problems, improvements could be made to the accessibility of legal services, such as additional staffing, extension of opening hours and additional legal services in rural and remote areas.

The widespread use of friends and family as advisers when legal issues arise indicates the merit of raising the general level of legal literacy among the community at large. The substantial proportion of people who simply ignore their legal needs also suggests a clear role for proactive information and education strategies in mobilising and empowering people to resolve legal problems. Such strategies could provide the general public with the necessary knowledge base to easily recognise their legal needs and to readily respond to their legal needs through the available pathways for legal resolution. One useful strategy for raising legal literacy about pathways for legal resolution would be to raise public awareness about useful first ports of call for legal information, advice and referral, such as the LawAccess NSW telephone service, which acts as a legal ‘triage’.

The present findings also suggest the particular benefit of tailoring legal education, information, advice and assistance services to meet the specific legal needs of different sociodemographic groups. In particular:


The type of legal issue also needs to be taken into account when setting priorities for legal service provision. The type of legal issue experienced was shown to be a critical factor in whether individuals seek advice, whether they are satisfied with the help they receive, whether they achieve resolution, and whether they are satisfied with the outcome. In particular, legal services need to allocate time and resources appropriately to deal effectively with frequently occurring legal issues and legal issues that tend to be genuinely more difficult to resolve.

However, the present findings also highlight the importance of reconciling the need to provide expert, specialised legal services tailored to different types of legal problems with the need to provide a more client-focused approach for clients with multiple legal needs. Legal problems frequently co-occur, and some people, such as some people with a chronic illness or disability, simultaneously face a number of intertwined but disparate legal problems, including civil, criminal and family law problems.

A feature of current legal service delivery in NSW is that individuals with multiple, disparate legal problems are required to access a variety of legal services, which tend to deal with discrete aspects of the individual’s problems without necessarily coordinating to address the complexity of the situation in a holistic fashion. The overlap between legal needs and other basic human needs associated with physical and social well-being also means that some individuals with complex problems require not only legal services but also non-legal support services, such as housing, financial counselling, social, welfare, family and health services. Thus, the present results indicate the potential benefit of improved cooperation, coordination and integration among different legal services, and also between legal and human services, for individuals with complex and multiple legal problems, such as some people with a chronic illness or disability.

The benefit of coordinated legal and non-legal services was also indicated by the current widespread use of non-legal professionals for advice in response to legal issues. The capacity of non-legal professionals to be used as an effective gateway into available legal services could be enhanced through appropriate training strategies, appropriate networking between legal and non-legal practitioners, and the development of a simple, efficient referral system. Non-legal professionals could be used to disseminate basic legal information resources and refer people to legal service agencies.

In summary, a multidimensional approach to legal service provision, which includes a range of reactive, preventative and proactive strategies, would enable legal services to be more effectively tailored to meet the diverse needs and experiences of different individuals. Such an approach would require appropriate resourcing and quality assurance, and effective coordination by government.



Foreword


The objects of the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales (the Foundation) are to contribute to the development of a fair and equitable justice system which addresses the legal needs of the community, and to improve access to justice by the community (in particular, by economically and socially disadvantaged people).1

In 2002 the Foundation commenced the Access to Justice and Legal Needs (A2JLN) research program. The main purpose of the program is to provide a rigorous and sustained assessment of the legal and access to justice needs of the community, especially disadvantaged people, which will assist government, community and other organisations to develop policy and plan service delivery. The research is a challenging program involving an interconnected set of projects employing a range of qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

A highlight of the program has been the conduct of a legal needs survey in six regions across NSW. The regions were selected to enable the research to examine rural and regional as well as urban communities. All regions chosen had low ratings on ABS socioeconomic indicators. This survey is the most comprehensive quantitative investigation of legal needs conducted in Australia for at least 30 years. It parallels similar quantitative work undertaken in recent years overseas, especially in the United Kingdom. An overview of the international work is contained in the introductory section of this report.

Apart from the comprehensiveness of the research, the results of this survey are particularly important as it examined a wide range of legal needs, including those which have not been expressed through the demand for legal services. As a result of this research, we now have a more informed perspective on questions such as:


The results of this research will provide much information for policy makers, service providers, researchers and the community generally. As often is the case with empirical research, the results do not always conform to what we may anecdotally expect. And the research has, as usual, raised some important questions for further investigation. The Foundation hopes that many of these questions will be addressed in future components of our research program, and by other researchers directing their attention to the important issues associated with improving access to justice, especially for disadvantaged people. To that end, the Foundation is keen to receive comment and other feedback in relation to this and other reports to inform our future research activities.

The value of this research is further enhanced when it is appreciated within the context of the broader A2JLN research program conducted by the Foundation. As one of the main methodological streams within the overall research program, the results in this survey complement:


Therefore, while the report 'stands on its own', it is also important to consider it in the context of the following reports:
Geoff Mulherin
Director
Law and Justice Foundation of NSW
March 2006


Shortened forms


Proper names

ABAAmerican Bar Association
ABA SCDLSAmerican Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services
ABSAustralian Bureau of Statistics
AIHWAustralian Institute of Health and Welfare
CATIComputer Assisted Telephone Interviewing
CLCCommunity legal centre
LGALocal government area
LJFLaw and Justice Foundation of NSW
LSRCLegal Services Research Centre
NCCNational Consumer Council
NSWNew South Wales
RushRush Social Research Agency (and Rush Social Research and John Walker Consulting Services)
SASStatistical Analysis System
SDStatistical division
SPSSStatistical Package for the Social Sciences
Task ForceTask Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding

Statistical and technical terms

AHCAAgglomerative hierarchical cluster analysis
BBeta coefficient
CIConfidence interval
dfDegrees of freedom
INumber of completed interviews
NTotal number
nNumber
NCNumber of non-contacted but eligible units
NENumber of non-eligible units
NINumber of other non-interviewed units
pProbability value
QQuestion
RNumber of refused eligible units
RCResponse category
SEStandard error
ZZ statistic
Chi-square statistic


Ch 1. Introduction


Background


As noted by a number of authors (e.g. Genn 1999; Pleasence, Buck, Balmer, O’Grady, Genn & Smith 2004b), the issues of access to justice and legal need permeate everyday life. They relate to common problems that people face as members of civil society in many aspects of their lives, such as problems with consumer products, debts, education, employment, health, housing, welfare benefits, divorce and child support. It has been argued that such problems should not only be the concern of lawyers but should be of general concern given that they relate broadly to basic physical and social well-being (Pleasence et al. 2004b).

The ubiquitous nature and pervasiveness of legal needs underline the importance of having a legal system that recognises and resolves these issues quickly and effectively. However, in order to evaluate the adequacy of existing legal services or new policies regarding legal services, a thorough understanding of the nature and number of legal problems people experience, and their reactions to these problems, is a prerequisite.

Empirical research concerning access to justice and legal need can be traced back to the 1930s in the United States. Since that time, such research has been conducted in many countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Canada. However, prior to the 1990s, the study of legal needs proceeded largely in the absence of reliable quantitative data about the incidence of different types of legal needs, the strategies employed to address legal needs, the sources approached for assistance in relation to legal needs, and the extent to which legal needs are satisfactorily resolved. Furthermore, earlier quantitative studies tended to employ narrow definitions of legal needs or to focus predominantly on legal issues usually addressed by the formal legal process (Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b).

In the last decade or so, a number of significant large-scale survey studies measuring the incidence of, response to, and outcome of a wide range of legal needs were conducted overseas, notably in the United States (e.g. American Bar Association (ABA) 1994), the United Kingdom (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b) and New Zealand (Maxwell, Smith, Shepherd & Morris 1999). In comparison to overseas, the quantitative study of legal needs in Australia has lagged behind. Although some survey studies into legal issues have been conducted in Australia (e.g. Cass & Sackville 1975; Fishwick 1992; Rush Social Research and John Walker Consulting Services (Rush) 1996; Rush Social Research Agency (Rush) 1999), large-scale surveys focusing on the incidence and response to a wide range of legal needs have not been conducted in recent years.

The broad aim of the present study was to provide a quantitative assessment of the legal needs of disadvantaged communities in New South Wales (NSW). This study was the most comprehensive quantitative investigation of legal needs undertaken in Australia for about 30 years. It involved conducting a legal needs survey of residents in six disadvantaged local government areas (LGAs) across NSW, including urban, provincial and rural/remote areas. Within these disadvantaged communities, the study examined:


It is envisaged that the study will contribute to the factual base necessary to inform debate and policy choices concerning the legal needs of disadvantaged people in NSW. It has the potential not only to provide valuable information about existing legal services, but also to inform decisions about additional legal services that may be beneficial in the six regions examined. As stated by the Honourable Justice Ronald Sackville of the Federal Court of Australia:
The literature review below concentrates on the major quantitative survey studies of legal needs conducted overseas and in Australia. Because these studies not only encompassed different jurisdictions, but also a number of other methodological differences, the review first outlines some of the major methodological differences and their likely impact on the results. The review then highlights the major findings with respect to the incidence of legal needs, the response to legal needs and the outcome of legal needs.


Methodology of legal needs studies


There has been a lack of harmonisation in the survey methodologies employed to measure legal needs around the world. This lack of international harmonisation severely limits the ability to compare the findings from different surveys. For example, it is difficult to reach firm conclusions about the relative incidence and resolution rates of legal issues in different countries, jurisdictions and populations. The types of methodological differences across survey studies of legal needs and their consequences for interpreting survey findings are discussed below.

Jurisdiction

The conduct of legal needs surveys in different countries means that legal needs are being assessed within different systems of law and different networks of legal services. The number and type of legal issues that people typically encounter in a given jurisdiction is likely to be influenced by the adequacy of that jurisdiction’s law in relation to different legal rights.

Similarly, people’s responses to legal issues, and the outcome of legal issues, are likely to be influenced by the mechanisms available for legal resolution. There are differences between jurisdictions in the types of legal services that are available (e.g. legal advice services, legal aid, courts, tribunals, dispute resolution agencies), and in the efficiency and effectiveness with which these services are able to resolve legal issues. There are also differences within jurisdictions in the extent to which effective non-legal resolution mechanisms are available.

The likely impact of jurisdictional differences on the incidence and handling of legal needs highlights the importance of measuring legal need within the context of each jurisdiction of interest—including within the Australian context.

Population type

The study of legal needs in different countries also means that inherent differences between populations may come into play. For example, there may be significant demographic, geographical, cultural and attitudinal differences that reflect different life circumstances and impact on the propensity to experience particular types of legal problems or to respond in particular ways to legal issues. Such differences between the populations studied reduce the comparability of survey findings.

A major difference between survey studies of legal needs is that some assess legal needs in general populations, whereas others address legal needs in disadvantaged populations. As will be detailed later, there is accumulating evidence that socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with an increased vulnerability to legal problems (e.g. Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b), so higher incidence rates might be expected from studies examining disadvantaged rather than general population samples. Furthermore, disadvantage has been argued to affect access to justice once legal problems are experienced, through a variety of mechanisms, including direct exclusion, direct and indirect discrimination, non-equivalent legal rights, inability to enforce legal rights, ignorance of the law and legal processes, lack of communication skills, and lack of appropriate advocacy and support services (Schetzer, Mullins & Buonamano 2002). Thus, differences between general and disadvantaged populations might also be expected in the resolution of legal events.

Definition and measurement of disadvantage

It cannot be assumed that all studies examining the legal needs of disadvantaged populations are assessing similar populations. A variety of sociodemographic groups have been identified in the literature as being relatively more vulnerable to suffering disadvantage. These groups include women, young people, older people, Indigenous people, people from a non-English speaking or different cultural background, people with a disability, people with low or no income, people with a low level of education or literacy, people living in institutions (e.g. prisons, juvenile correction centres, immigration detention centres, nursing homes), and homosexual and transgender individuals (see Schetzer et al. 2002). The type and level of disadvantage experienced by these various sociodemographic groups may be different (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2004c), and legal needs survey studies of disadvantaged populations do not necessarily assess the same mix of these groups.

Furthermore, there is a lack of consensus concerning the definition and measurement of socioeconomic disadvantage (see ABS 2004c; Ainley, Graetz, Long & Batten 1995; Harding, Lloyd & Greenwell 2001; Marks, McMillan, Jones & Ainley 2000). This lack of consensus restricts the comparability of legal needs surveys in different disadvantaged samples. In broad terms, socioeconomic disadvantage is construed as some sort of deprivation, hardship or inequality with regard to a person’s standard of living, well-being or other life opportunities or outcomes, resulting from the person’s social or economic status (ABS 2004c; Ainley et al. 1995; Marks et al. 2000).

Socioeconomic status and socioeconomic disadvantage are usually portrayed as multidimensional concepts. However, there is little consensus about the definitive set of indicators that should be used to measure the different dimensions of socioeconomic status or the various outcomes that indicate some aspect of socioeconomic disadvantage (see ABS 2004c; Ainley et al. 1995; Marks et al. 2000).1 While income, educational attainment and occupational status are usually seen as key components of socioeconomic status, and low levels of these variables are usually viewed as indicating socioeconomic disadvantage, there is little agreement about what other variables should be considered (ABS 2003b; Ainley et al. 1995). A wide range of variables have been inconsistently used across studies to measure socioeconomic disadvantage, including poor language proficiency, belonging to a minority ethnic group, Indigenous background, single-parent or blended family structure, family breakdown, poor health, poor housing, disadvantageous geographical location, residential mobility, crime victimisation and transport difficulties (see ABS 2003b, 2004c; Ainley et al. 1995; Marks et al. 2000; Vinson 1999).

Furthermore, consensus is also lacking about what levels of the key indicators of socioeconomic status constitute disadvantage. In fact, there has even been protracted disagreement about the measurement of the single most widely used indicator of socioeconomic disadvantage, namely poverty (Harding et al. 2001; Saunders 2003). For example, the poverty line has been drawn at varying proportions of average or median incomes (Harding et al. 2001). In addition, poverty measures have been based on different units of income including personal, family and household income, and on different indicators of standard of living, including disposable income and disposable income after housing costs have been met (Harding et al. 2001). It has been readily demonstrated that estimates of the number of people in poverty are notoriously sensitive to the specific index used to measure poverty (Harding et al. 2001; Saunders 2003).

It has also been argued that the concept of poverty is too narrow as a framework for disadvantage, as exemplified by the frequent lack of overlap between measures of income poverty and a range of other indicators of social inequality (Arthurson & Jacobs 2003; Saunders 2003).

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the concept of social exclusion as a broader framework for understanding socioeconomic disadvantage (ABS 2004c; Saunders 2003). In general terms, social exclusion refers to a lack of participation in mainstream societal activities and a lack of access to standards of living, rights, goods and services enjoyed by the majority of society (Arthurson & Jacobs 2003). Although a precise, universally accepted definition of social exclusion has also remained elusive, it has been argued that the concept of social exclusion has considerable theoretical import (Arthurson & Jacobs 2003; Saunders 2003). Social exclusion is purported to highlight the multidimensional nature of disadvantage, including the range of causes of disadvantage, the different dimensions of society where disadvantage is manifest (e.g. social, economic, legal/political and cultural/moral dimensions) and the variety of outcomes that constitute exclusion. Social exclusion is also argued to focus attention on the dynamic nature of disadvantage, suggesting that disadvantage is not a static, permanent nor pervasive condition, but that people can move between inclusion and exclusion at different points in time and with respect to different aspects of their lives (Arthurson & Jacobs 2003; Saunders 2003). Furthermore, the notion of social exclusion has stimulated considerable debate about the extent to which disadvantaged individuals are responsible for their predicament versus the extent to which outside agents or societal structures shape the experience of inequality (Arthurson & Jacobs 2003; Saunders 2003).

Many past legal needs surveys conducted in disadvantaged samples have relied on some type of income-based measure of poverty or financial hardship as the single criterion for selecting interviewees (e.g. ABA 1994; Dale 2000; Rush 1999; Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas Inc. 2003; Spangenberg Group 1989; Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding (Task Force) 2003). However, as already noted, low income does not always correlate highly with other measures of disadvantage. Other studies have used multiple indicators to select disadvantaged areas from which to draw their sample (e.g. Cass & Sackville 1975), while still others have examined specific disadvantaged groups such as the homeless or those in temporary housing accommodation (e.g. Dale 2000; Pleasence et al. 2004b). The differences in the measurement of disadvantage need to be kept in mind when comparing the results of legal needs surveys conducted in different disadvantaged populations.

Measurement of legal needs

Differences in the measurement of legal needs across studies are also likely to influence the types of legal needs identified, the incidence rates obtained, the reported reactions to legal needs and the resolution rates obtained. For example, studies assessing legal needs have measured the incidence of legal events over reference periods of different lengths, used different types of survey methods, used different definitions of legal needs and measured various key variables in different ways. These are discussed in turn below.

Reference period

The reference periods used to measure the incidence and resolution of legal needs have varied from 12 months in some of the recent surveys in the United States (e.g. ABA 1994; Schulman et al. 2003) to five and a half years in the United Kingdom (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001) to the respondent’s lifetime (e.g. Curran 1977). Clearly, the longer the time period, the greater the opportunity for legal events to be experienced, and the greater the opportunity for events that are experienced to be resolved. Thus, other things being equal, longer reference periods tend to result in higher incidence and resolution rates.

It is also worth noting that there are different advantages and disadvantages associated with using reference periods of different lengths. A disadvantage of a short time period is that there is only limited opportunity to detect infrequently or seasonally occurring legal problem types (Pleasence et al. 2004b). However, there are also disadvantages to using long reference periods in retrospective surveys where individuals are asked to recall past events, such as past legal events. For example, longer reference periods for recall are associated with increased risk of inaccurate or decayed memory of events (e.g. Biemer, Groves, Lyberg, Mathiowetz & Sudman 1991; Rubin 1982; Sudman & Bradburn 1973).2

Survey method

The advantage of using the survey method to measure legal events is that it has the potential to measure both expressed and unexpressed legal need. That is, the survey method can be used to provide information not only about legal events that result in the use of legal services (expressed need), but also about legal events that do not result in legal service provision (unexpressed or latent need). For example, surveys can provide information on legal needs that are ignored and legal needs that are resolved outside the traditional sphere of legal services. As a result, compared with data on legal service use (e.g. Scott, Eyland, Gray, Zhou & Coumarelos 2004), survey data have the potential to provide a more comprehensive picture of legal need.

However, it is worth noting that surveys are subject to a variety of measurement errors and limitations which should be kept in mind when considering survey findings. For example, as already mentioned, retrospective surveys are subject to a variety of recall errors (Biemer et al. 1991; Sudman & Bradburn 1973). Surveys are also subject to various forms of response bias, such as the tendency to offer socially desirable answers to threatening or sensitive questions (e.g. Biemer et al. 1991; Oppenheim 1992; Presser, Rothgeb, Couper, Lessler, Martin, Martin & Singer 2004). Furthermore, the usefulness of survey findings depends on the appropriateness of factors such as survey design, sampling strategies and data collection strategies (e.g. Biemer et al. 1991; Oppenheim 1992; Scheaffer, Mendenhall & Ott 1986).

In terms of sampling strategies, it is worth noting that not all the surveys of legal needs used random probability sampling. The advantage of large-scale random sampling is that the findings obtained for the sample are generalisable to the population from which the sample was drawn. Findings of surveys using non-random sampling techniques should be treated more tentatively. It should be noted, however, that even if a sample is randomly drawn, a poor response rate can result in a biased sample. Some survey studies of legal needs report low response rates of below 50 per cent (e.g. Schulman et al. 2003; Task Force 2003), while others fail to report response rates (e.g. Cass & Sackville 1975; Dale 2000; National Consumer Council (NCC) 1995; Rush 1999; Spangenberg Group 1989). Furthermore, given that there is no standard way of computing response rate (Biemer & Lyberg 2003; Groves 1989), it is sometimes difficult to compare response rates across studies, particularly given that some studies fail to adequately explain how the reported response rates were calculated (e.g. Curran 1977).

In addition, past studies have used different modes of data collection. Some studies used telephone interviews while others used face-to-face interviews. Face-to-face interviews tend to be more conducive to establishing trust and rapport, and tend to provide greater opportunity for longer and more in-depth probing (Biemer et al. 1991). As a result, face-to-face interviews are likely to be more conducive to assessing a large number of legal needs. Telephone interviews have the advantage of being less labour intensive, and hence, less expensive (Biemer et al. 1991). It has also been suggested that the greater anonymity of the telephone interview compared with the face-to-face interview may improve reporting on sensitive topics (Biemer et al. 1991; Oppenheim 1992).

The unit of measurement has also varied across studies, with some studies examining the legal issues of individuals (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b) and other studies examining legal issues within households (e.g. ABA 1994; Schulman et al. 2003). Examining problems faced by all members within a household rather than problems faced only by the individual being surveyed is likely to increase reported incidence rates.

Concept of legal needs

It is worth noting that the study of legal needs has largely been isolated from the study of the broader array of human needs that drive human behaviour. The broader concept of human needs, and the forces affecting the emergence and ultimate satisfaction of human needs, are well charted in other disciplines and guide much of the psychosocial literature on consumer behaviour, consumer satisfaction, services marketing and communications theory (e.g. Hanna 1980; Maslow 1970; Sheth, Mittal & Newman 1999). Although examining the concept of legal needs within the broader psychosocial context has the potential to deepen our understanding of legal needs and legal service provision, such an exercise is beyond the scope of the present study.

Within the socio-legal literature, there appears to be no consensus about the precise meaning of the term ‘legal needs’. This term is often used without explicit definition and is often used interchangeably with the term ‘access to justice’ (Schetzer et al. 2002). However, there is a tendency towards using ‘legal needs’ to refer to rights within the existing legal system, and using ‘access to justice’ more broadly to refer to the mechanisms for obtaining justice, either within the existing legal system or via reform to the existing legal system (Schetzer et al. 2002).

While there is general agreement that actively seeking a legal resolution to a problem reflects the existence of some form of legal need, there is little consensus about what else indicates the existence of legal need. Some of the earlier studies used the narrow approach of focusing on legal problems typically taken to legal practitioners (e.g. Griffiths 1977; Royal Commission on Legal Services 1979). However, such studies have been criticised for being unable to provide information on legal issues that may be dealt with in other ways or that remain unresolved (Genn 1999). Furthermore, such a narrow approach does not acknowledge that, in some instances, failing to seek a legal resolution does not necessarily imply the absence of legal need, but may merely indicate:


Genn (1999) adopts a more sophisticated approach that does not rely on respondents’ legal knowledge for the identification of legal problems. Genn’s (1999) study measures ‘justiciable events’ where a justiciable event is:
The advantage of this approach is that it minimises the under-reporting of legal issues by allowing for the inclusion of legal issues that are handled outside the justice system, legal issues that are not always recognised as such, and legal issues that are ignored or remain unresolved.

Studies have also differed in terms of the number of legal problems they attempt to measure. Some studies assessed fewer than 30 legal needs or events (e.g. Cass & Sackville 1975; Curran 1977; Fishwick 1992), whereas others assessed 60 or more (e.g. ABA 1994; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b). Not only do the number and type of legal issues examined vary, but the definitions of a given legal issue are not always the same. Furthermore, the types of legal issues included under categories with similar names are sometimes different.

Rush (1999) argued that many studies also tend to focus too narrowly on so-called civil legal issues and exclude criminal and family issues. They argue that civil, criminal and family legal issues should be measured and differentiated from one another because they tend to be related to different demographic profiles.

Clearly, the reported incidence and resolution rates are likely to be affected by the number, definition, type and range of legal needs examined. For example, reported incidence rates are likely to be increased by the inclusion of a broad rather than narrow range of legal needs, and by the inclusion of frequently occurring rather than relatively rare legal events. The inclusion of legal problems that are complicated or are difficult or time-consuming to resolve is likely to decrease reported resolution rates.

Measurement of other key variables

There also appears to be little consensus about the definition and measurement of other key variables that are often assessed by survey studies of legal needs, such as the response to legal needs, the outcome of legal needs, satisfaction with legal services and satisfaction with the outcome of legal needs. Again, such differences need to be considered when interpreting the findings of different studies.

While some studies focus on legal issues where individuals consult a legal practitioner or a particular type of legal service agency (e.g. Cass & Sackville 1975; Curran 1977; Dale 2000; Fishwick 1992; Rush 1999; Schulman et al. 2003), other studies more broadly examine both legal and non-legal sources of advice in response to legal issues (e.g. ABA 1994; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Law and Justice Foundation of NSW (LJF) 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b).

Studies also differ in the particular outcomes of legal issues that they measure. For example, resolution via agreement between the parties, adjudication, legal proceedings, or abandonment have been inconsistently assessed across different studies (see ABA 1994; Genn 1999; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; NCC 1995; Pleasence et al. 2004b).

There have also been differences between studies in how they measure individuals’ perceptions of legal assistance and outcomes. For example, while some studies have focused on the perceived satisfaction with the outcome of events (ABA 1994; Dale 2000; LJF 2003; Schulman et al. 2003; Task Force 2003), others have focused on the achievement of various objectives (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b). The concept of satisfaction has been the focus of considerable attention in the psychosocial literature, where a diversity of definitions and measurements of satisfaction have emerged. While there is a lack of consensus about the precise meaning and measurement of satisfaction, there is some agreement that satisfaction is a complex response which is shaped by the fulfillment of individual needs as well as by the fulfillment of expectations about quality and fairness (Oliver 1997). It should be kept in mind that obtained satisfaction rates are likely to be influenced to some extent by the precise definitions and measurements of satisfaction used.

Summary of legal needs survey studies

Table 1.1 summarises the methodological features of the major recent legal needs survey studies, including whether a general or disadvantaged population sample was surveyed, the type of survey used, the number of legal issues assessed and the length of the reference period used. The main findings from these survey studies are reviewed below. The findings on the incidence of legal needs are presented first, followed by the findings on response to legal needs and then the findings on the outcome of legal needs.

Table 1.1: An overview of major legal needs surveys

StudyPlace and time of surveySample descriptionData collection methodLegal issues and categoriesReference period
United States:
Curran (1977)US
1973–1974
w general population random sample
w 2064 adults 18+ years
interviews29 problemslifetime
Spangenberg Group (1989)
(pilot for ABA 1994)
US (except Alaska, Hawaii) 1988w disadvantaged population random sample
w 500 low-income households
telephone interviews34 problems in
10 categories
1 year
American Bar Association
(ABA 1994)
US
1993
w general population random sample and disadvantaged population sample
w 3087 low- and moderate-income households
telephone and
in-person nterviews
67 questions in
17 categories
1 year
Dale (2000)Oregon
1999–2000
w disadvantaged population quota sample
w 1011 low- and moderate-income households
in-person interviews97 questions in
19 categories
1 year
Schulman et al. (2003)Massachusetts
2002
w 2000 low-income householdstelephone interviews104 situations in
14 categories
1 year
Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding (Task Force 2003)Washington state 2002–2003w disadvantaged population quota sample of 1333 low-income households in 15 demographic groups and
w disadvantaged population random sample of 810 low- & moderate-income households
in-person interviews

telephone interviews
56 civil legal issues
in 17 categories
1 year
United Kingdom:
National Consumer Council (NCC 1995)England and Wales
1995
w general population random sample
w 8358 people aged 16+ years
in-person interviews13 types of serious
civil dispute
3 years
Genn (1999)England and Wales
1997–1998
w general population random sample
w 4125 adults 18+ years
in-person interviews60 events in
13 categories
5.5 years
Genn and Paterson (2001)Scotland
1998
w general population random sample
w 2684 adults 18+ years
in-person interviews60 events in
13 categories
5.5 years
Pleasence et al. (2004b)England and Wales
2001
w general population random sample
w 5611 adults 18+ years
in-person interviews78 problems in
18 categories
3.5 years
New Zealand:
Maxwell et al. (1999)New Zealand
1997
w general population multi-stage stratified random probability sample
w 5431 people 15+ years
in-person interviews27 problems3 years
Australia:
Cass and Sackville (1975)Sydney
1973
w disadvantaged sample from 3 Sydney areas with high poverty indicators
w 548 adults 18+ years
in-person interviews24 civil and family issues
in 6 categories
5 years
Fishwick (1992)NSW
1990
w general population random sample
w approx. 0.5% of NSW population 15+ years (0.5% of 4 480 800 persons)
in-person interviews11 legal events1 year
Rush Social Research
Agency (Rush 1999)
Australia
1998
w disadvantaged population quota sample
w 2229 adults 18+ years from low-income households
telephone interviewsCommonwealth law matters2–3 years
Law and Justice Foundation of NSW (LJF 2003)
(pilot for present study)
Bega Valley LGA, NSW 2002w disadvantaged population random sample
w 306 people 15+ years from Bega Valley LGA
in-person and telephone interviews84 events in
17 categories
1 year


Incidence of legal events


United States surveys

The move away from narrowly focusing on issues dealt with by private lawyers began in the 1970s in the United States with Curran’s (1977) monumental study for the American Bar Association (ABA) and American Bar Foundation. The study involved a large-scale survey across the United States of a representative general population sample of 2064 adults. It examined the circumstances under which individuals sought the advice or assistance of lawyers, and attempted to identify the factors associated with seeking such advice or assistance. The survey asked participants whether they had experienced a wide range of legal issues over the course of their lifetime, including real property, employment, consumer matters, as well as problems with governmental agencies. They were also asked what they did about the legal issues they had experienced.

The survey found that the mean number of problems experienced per respondent’s lifetime was 4.8. However, there was wide variation among respondents, with 1 per cent of respondents reporting more than 20 legal problems in their lifetime, and 8 per cent reporting no legal problems in their lifetime (Curran 1977). Curran found that the incidence of problems depended on the type of problem, with issues relating to torts (9%) and real property (9%) having the highest yearly incidence.

The Spangenberg Group (1989) conducted a telephone survey of 500 low-income households across the United States drawn from a list of randomly generated telephone numbers.3 This study was a pilot study for a large-scale survey reported by the ABA in 1994. The Spangenberg Group study examined the incidence of legal need in the preceding year and the extent to which respondents had received legal assistance for their legal needs. The survey was restricted to 10 categories of civil problems, consisting of 34 civil problems in all. The authors found that almost 43 per cent of the 500 households reported at least one civil legal problem during the past year, with each household reporting an average of 3.2 problems during that time.

The ABA (1994) study based on the Spangenberg Group (1989) pilot involved more than 3000 interviews among low- and moderate-income households across the United States.4 The study involved a general population sample randomly drawn from all households with telephones, a sample of additional low-income households and a sample of households without telephones. The study examined the incidence and prevalence of legal needs in the households during the calendar year 1992. The survey covered a broad range of 17 problem categories, including 67 situations in all, and extending to concerns about the community/regional environment and problems connected with small businesses. About half of the households surveyed reported experiencing one or more legal issues during 1992. The most common problems experienced related to housing, real property, personal finance and consumer issues.

Dale (2000) reports on a legal needs survey conducted in Oregon, which used similar questions to the ABA (1994) survey. The study surveyed individuals from 1011 low- and moderate-income households.5 Quota sampling was used to ensure that different sub-sections of the population living near the poverty level were adequately represented. Dale (2000) assessed the incidence of 19 categories of legal needs, comprising 97 different situations.6 The incidence of legal needs in the 12 months prior to the survey varied considerably by category type, with the following incidence rates being reported for each category: housing (32%), all discrimination (32%), public services (31%), family (27%), employment (27%), consumer (25%), health (21%), torts and insurance (20%), public benefits (19%), wills and estates (18%), immigration (10%), farm worker statutes (10%), utilities (9%), education (8%), elder abuse (7%), discrimination (5%), taxes (5%), institutional (5%) and Native American (4%).

More recently Schulman et al. (2003) report on a survey conducted in Massachusetts, which was also modelled on the ABA (1994) survey. The Schulman et al. survey assessed the legal needs of a representative state-wide sample of people eligible for legal aid. It involved telephone interviews with people from 1800 low-income households that were automatically eligible for legal aid and 200 other low-income households that were eligible for legal aid under certain circumstances.7 The survey examined a broad range of civil legal needs experienced by the households in the previous 12 months, assessing 104 specific situations which were collapsed into 30 categories and then further collapsed into 14 categories.8 The study found that, among households that were automatically eligible for legal aid, two in three reported some type of legal need during the previous 12 months, with the average number of legal needs per household being 2.4. The most frequently reported categories of legal problem were housing (26% of all legal problems), health (12%), municipal (12%), consumer (11%), public benefits (10%), employment (9%) and family (6%).

Another recent legal needs study drawing on the ABA (1994) survey was conducted in Washington state by the Task Force (2003). The study involved both a field survey of 1333 low-income households and a telephone survey of 810 low- and moderate-income households.9 While the telephone survey used random sampling, the field survey used quota sampling to survey 15 demographic groups that can be difficult to reach through telephone surveys, such as the homeless, people with a mental or physical disability, domestic abuse survivors, migrants and Native Americans. These demographic groups were identified for in-depth study because it was thought that they may have unique legal and access to justice problems based on their status or identity.

The first section of the field survey used by the Task Force (2003) measured the incidence of 56 different civil legal needs, while a supplementary section obtained in-depth information about the civil legal needs reported, such as actions taken, obstacles faced in accessing the justice system and the effectiveness of outcomes. The telephone survey also measured the incidence of civil legal needs, using virtually identical questions to those used in the field survey, but did not ask the supplementary questions. The field survey found that approximately 87 per cent of low-income households experienced one or more civil legal problems in the previous 12 months, while the corresponding proportion for the telephone survey was around three-quarters. The 56 different legal issues were grouped into 17 legal problem areas, and both the field and telephone surveys found that the most prevalent problem areas related to housing, family, consumer and employment issues (Task Force 2003).

United Kingdom surveys

In England and Wales, the NCC (1995) conducted a random sample survey of 8358 members of the general public aged 16 years or over. It examined the incidence of ‘serious disputes’ involving 13 types of civil problems during the previous three years, as well the use of legal and other services to resolve these disputes and the outcomes of these disputes.10 The NCC study estimated that 13 per cent of the population had suffered a serious dispute in the previous three years in relation to one or more of the 13 types of civil problems, with the most common disputes reported concerning damage to vehicles (18%), divorce (10%), personal injury (10%), unpaid debts (9%) and faulty goods (8%). However, as Genn (1999) notes, the relatively low incidence is likely to reflect the restriction of the inquiry to serious disputes. As a result of the survey’s narrow focus, no information was obtained on more common civil legal problems.

Among the most important of the recent survey studies on legal needs is Genn’s (1999) study conducted in England and Wales, and the parallel study conducted in Scotland (Genn & Paterson 2001). These studies involved

face-to-face screening surveys of random samples of the general population of adults aged 18 years or over (4125 adults in England and Wales, and 2684 adults in Scotland). Using a 5.5 year reference period, the screening surveys measured the incidence of justiciable events as defined earlier.11 Thirteen categories of justiciable events were examined, covering 60 different events.12 Follow-up face-to-face interviews were then conducted with the adults who reported a justiciable event in the screening surveys that they deemed to be ‘non-trivial’, that is, important enough to warrant some form of action. For all non-trivial justiciable events, the follow-up surveys collected details about any advice or assistance obtained, including the use and experience of legal processes, the objectives for taking action, and the outcomes achieved.

Genn (1999) found that about 40 per cent of screened respondents in England and Wales experienced one or more non-trivial justiciable events in the 5.5 year period. As would be expected, this rate was higher than the 13 per cent reported in the NCC (1995) study, which had a narrow focus (on serious disputes) and used a shorter reference period (three years). Genn (1999) also found that the incidence rates varied for the 13 categories of justiciable events examined: faulty goods and services (11%), money (9%), injuries/work-related health problems (8%), owning residential property (8%), living in rented accommodation (7%), employment (6%), relationships and family matters (6%), divorce (4%), children (3%), negligent medical treatment (2%), unfair treatment by police (1%), discrimination (1%) and immigration/nationality (under 1%).

Genn and Paterson (2001) reported that 26 per cent of the Scottish sample reported one or more justiciable events in the 5.5 year reference period. This incidence rate is lower than the 40 per cent reported by Genn (1999) in England and Wales, but still higher than the 13 per cent reported by the more narrowly focused study by the NCC (1995) in England and Wales. The different incidence rates for the linked studies led by Genn cannot be explained by different definitions of legal needs or different reference periods. One possible explanation is a real difference between the populations in their experience of justiciable events, resulting for example, from differences in demographic characteristics or life circumstances (Pleasence et al. 2004b). Another possible explanation is a difference between populations in their rates of reporting events, due for example, to different attitudes about what constitutes a non-trivial event (Genn & Paterson 2001).

Building on the methodology of Genn (1999) and Genn and Paterson (2001), Pleasence et al. (2004b) report on the first national periodic survey conducted by the Legal Services Research Centre (LSRC) in the United Kingdom. This survey adopts the same approach to identifying justiciable, non-trivial problems via a screening face-to-face interview and then following up any such events reported via a second face-to-face interview. However, the LSRC survey shifted the balance of questions away from rare events (such as the use of formal legal process) towards early stage decision making, and reduced the reference period from 5.5 to 3.5 years. The screening survey involved interviews with 5611 adults aged 18 years or over from a random selection of 3348 residential households in England and Wales, and measured 18 justiciable problem categories consisting of 78 different events.

The reported incidence of justiciable, non-trivial problems in the LSRC survey was 36 per cent, similar to Genn’s (1999) 40 per cent. Again, the incidence of different types of problems varied greatly, with consumer problems being reported by 13 per cent of respondents, but some other problems being reported by under 1 per cent of respondents (unfair treatment by police, homelessness, mental health and immigration). The incidence rates for the other problem types were: neighbours (8%), money and debt (8%), employment (6%), personal injury (4%), rented housing (4%), owned housing (2%), welfare benefits (2%), relationship breakdown (2%), divorce (2%), children (2%), clinical negligence (2%), domestic violence (2%) and discrimination (1%).

The lower reporting rates for the United Kingdom studies (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b) than for the United States studies (e.g. ABA 1994; Schulman et al. 2003; Task Force 2003) cannot be due to the reference periods used because the United Kingdom studies used longer, not shorter, reference periods. However, a number of other methodological differences between surveys may have contributed to the different incidence rates. Firstly, some of the United States studies (e.g. ABA 1994; Schulman et al. 2003) included a broader range of problem categories than did the United Kingdom studies. Secondly, the United States studies measured problems faced by any person within a household, as opposed to problems faced only by the individual surveyed (Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b). A third possibility is that the United States studies were based on disadvantaged rather than general population samples.

New Zealand surveys

Maxwell et al. (1999) reported on a national survey conducted in New Zealand in 1997 by the Legal Services Board. Random probability sampling of the general population aged 15 years or over resulted in 5431 people being interviewed. Respondents were asked how often they had experienced 27 different legal problems, over the last three years, and over the last year. They were also asked how they resolved these problems, the barriers to resolution, and their degree of satisfaction with the outcome. This information was subsequently used to model needs profiles for individual districts. The study found that 51 per cent of the sample reported experiencing problems in the previous three years, with 41 per cent of the sample reporting problems in the previous year. Over half of those who reported experiencing a problem over the three years reported more than one problem. The most common problems related to consumer issues (15%), traffic accidents (11%), money owed to the respondent (7%) and disagreements with neighbours (7%). Pleasence et al. (2004b) argue that the higher incidence rate in the New Zealand study compared to their study is likely to be partly due to the broader range of problems included in the New Zealand study. Unlike the Pleasence et al. study, the New Zealand study included problems related to crime, violence, wills and disagreements with public bodies.

Australian surveys

In Australia, only a few relatively large-scale surveys of legal needs have been conducted, and a broadly focused large-scale survey has not been conducted in recent years. The first major legal needs survey was conducted by Cass and Sackville (1975) among disadvantaged communities. The study involved face-to-face interviews with 548 individuals aged 18 years or over in three Sydney LGAs (South Sydney, Botany, and Fairfield), which were identified by census data as areas with a high incidence of poverty indicators.13 The respondents were asked questions concerning 24 situations where legal assistance may have been beneficial. These situations were divided into six problem categories. It was found that 69 per cent of the sample reported experiencing at least one problem situation in the previous five years, with the incidence rates varying considerably for the six problem categories examined: accommodation (44%), accident (35%), consumer (21%), police (13%), money (12%) and family (9%). The overall incidence rate over a five-year period is considerably higher than the incidence rates reported a few decades later in the United Kingdom using similar reference periods (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b). The difference cannot be attributed to the different range of problems covered because the United Kingdom studies covered broader ranges of problems. In part, the difference may be due to the more disadvantaged nature of the Cass and Sackville sample, although jurisdictional differences and time differences may also have contributed to the different incidence rates.

Fishwick (1992) reports on a legal needs survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in association with the Legal Aid Commission of NSW as an adjunct to the October 1990 ABS Labour Force Survey. The legal needs survey was based on a representative sample of the NSW population, resulting in interviews with approximately half a per cent of the NSW population aged 15 years or over.14 However, the survey had a relatively narrow focus, asking respondents whether they had experienced a relatively small number of predefined legal events (11) in the previous year. Fishwick (1992) reported that the majority of people surveyed (81%) had not experienced a legal event in the previous year. The most common event experienced was conveyancing followed by wills, damage and accidents. The relatively low incidence rate is likely to be due in part to the narrow range of legal events examined.

Rush (1996, 1999) conducted a series of studies for the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Legal Aid Branch. Part of this research involved a national telephone survey of the legal assistance needs of 2229 adults from low-income households using quota sampling.15 The survey assessed whether respondents were aware of the existence of legal assistance, their access to such assistance when needed, and the result of attempts to access such assistance. However, the survey had a narrow focus on legal needs for matters arising under Commonwealth law and did not examine legal needs for matters arising under state/territory law.16

Rush (1999) reported that 23 per cent of the low-income people surveyed experienced a need for legal assistance in relation to a Commonwealth matter over the past two to three years. This incidence rate is appreciably lower than Cass and Sackville’s (1975) incidence of 69 per cent over five years, but similar to Fishwick’s (1992) incidence of 19 per cent over one year. Compared with the Cass and Sackville study, the studies reported by both Fishwick and Rush covered a narrower range of legal issues. It should also be remembered that the three studies surveyed different populations. Cass and Sackville surveyed people from disadvantaged areas in Sydney, the study reported by Fishwick surveyed a general NSW sample and Rush surveyed an Australia-wide low-income sample.

In developing the survey reported on in the present monograph, a pilot version of the survey was conducted in 2002 in the Bega Valley LGA. The results of the pilot have been published (LJF 2003). The Bega Valley was in part selected for study because it had a relatively high score on an index of disadvantage (LJF 2003). The pilot survey drew a sample of 306 residents from randomly generated telephone numbers and assessed the incidence of 84 different legal events, which were categorised into 17 legal event groups. The pilot study found that about two-thirds of the respondents reported experiencing one or more legal events in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Incidence of multiple legal events

A reliable finding of large-scale survey studies of legal need is that legal events are not experienced randomly or in equal numbers across individuals. A significant proportion of individuals actually experience numerous legal events. Pleasence et al. (2004b) argue that experiencing justiciable problems has an additive effect, whereby the experience of justiciable problems itself increases the vulnerability to experiencing more such problems.

Another finding emerging from the more recent survey studies is that certain types of legal events tend to co-occur. Pleasence et al. (2004b), using hierarchical cluster and factor analysis, identified four main clusters of events: a family cluster (comprising domestic violence, divorce, relationship breakdown, children problems); a homelessness cluster (comprising rented housing, homelessness, unfair treatment by police, formal action against the respondent); a health and welfare cluster (comprising clinical negligence, mental health, immigration, welfare benefits); and an economic cluster (comprising consumer problems, money/debt, neighbours and employment problems).

Genn (1999) also found that family type problems tended to co-occur, and that some types of economic problems tended to co-occur. She reports associations among divorce, family matters and children problems. She also reports correlations between the following pairs of economic problems: money and employment, money and rented accommodation, consumer and owning property, and employment and owning property.

Pleasence et al. (2004b) argue that a number of factors are likely to contribute to the co-occurrence of particular types of legal events. For example, some legal events may act as triggers for other events, some types of legal events may arise from similar circumstances and some individuals may be vulnerable to experiencing more than one type of legal event.

Factors related to the incidence of legal events

As already noted above, some types of legal events tend to be experienced more frequently than others. A number of the more recent survey studies in the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand (ABA 1994; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Task Force 2003) found consumer problems to be amongst the most frequently experienced problems and immigration problems to be amongst the least frequently experienced. To some extent, the frequencies of different types of events reflect variations in the circumstances required for different types of events to occur (Pleasence et al. 2004b). The relatively high frequency of consumer problems is not surprising given that these problems arise from transactions involving goods and services, and such transactions are routine occurrences for most people. Similarly, the relatively low frequency of immigration problems is not surprising given that most individuals do not change their country of abode or their resident/citizen status.

There is also mounting empirical evidence showing that the experience of legal events is related to a range of social and demographic factors, including age, gender, disability, ethnicity and economic indicators. Some of these relationships suggest that socially or economically disadvantaged groups are particularly prone to experiencing legal events and have a high level of legal need.

Age has been reliably related to the incidence of legal events in a number of countries, including Australia (Fishwick 1992; LJF 2003), the United States (Dale 2000; Schulman et al. 2003) and the United Kingdom (Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b). Typically, younger people (e.g. in their 20s, 30s or 40s) are found to have higher reporting rates than older people (e.g. over 65 years).

Although gender has not been reliably related to the overall incidence of legal events (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; NCC 1995; Pleasence et al. 2004b), gender differences have sometimes been found in the incidence of certain types of legal events. For example, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found higher rates of family and clinical negligence problems for females, and higher rates of unfair treatment by police for males. Fishwick (1992) reported that men were more likely to experience legal events relating to accidents and insurance, while women were more likely to experience family-related problems and disputes concerning housing, loans and government departments. The Task Force (2003) reported that women from low- and moderate-income households experience a disproportionate percentage of legal problems, especially on matters related to family law and domestic violence.

In terms of disability, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found higher reporting rates for persons in their general national sample who had a long-standing illness or disability. Dale (2000) found higher reporting rates for people who had a mental disability. The Task Force (2003) found that people with physical disabilities had relatively high rates of legal issues related to consumer, health, estates and trusts matters, while people with mental disabilities had relatively high rates of housing issues and issues related to municipal and public services. The LJF (2003) pilot study also found that people with a chronic illness or disability were relatively more likely than others to report legal events.

Relationships between ethnicity and the incidence of legal events have been reported in a few instances. In Australia, Fishwick (1992) reported that people of English speaking background were more likely than others to experience legal events, while Cass and Sackville (1975) found that Australian-born respondents were more likely than migrants to report multiple legal problems. However, in New Zealand, Maxwell et al. (1999) reported that Maoris had an increased incidence of legal problems compared with other ethnic groups. Although Pleasence et al. (2004b) did not find that the overall incidence of legal events was related to ethnicity, they did find that ethnicity predicted three of the 18 problem types that they examined, namely divorce, discrimination and immigration. The Task Force (2003) found that African Americans had higher than average rates of legal issues related to municipal and public services.

Although past research has reliably shown a relationship between economic indicators and the incidence of legal needs, the relationship appears to be complex and is not always in the same direction. In some studies, economic hardship is related to higher overall rates of legal events. For example, the first national LSRC survey in the United Kingdom found higher reporting rates for unemployed persons, persons on a very low income, lone parents and persons in rented or high-density housing (Buck, Pleasence, Balmer, O’Grady & Genn 2004; Pleasence et al. 2004b). Similarly, in the United States, Dale (2000) found a higher incidence of legal problems for homeless people, including problems with public services, housing, employment, family law, torts and insurance, public benefits, and disability-based discrimination.

In contrast, other studies have found that those with higher incomes or higher levels of education have higher overall incidence rates or have higher incidence rates for some types of legal issues (ABA 1994; Fishwick 1992; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Task Force 2003). For example, the data from Maxwell et al. (1999) in New Zealand show that individuals with higher educational qualifications were more likely to report legal problems in a wide number of areas.17 Furthermore, although Pleasence et al. (2004b) found the highest overall incidence for those on the lowest incomes, they also found that people on very high incomes tended to have high reporting rates for particular types of problems, such as consumer problems, investment problems, owned housing problems and problems with builders and holidays. The Task Force (2003) found that low-income households were more likely to experience family and housing problems, while moderate-income households were more likely to experience problems related to employment and to estates and trusts.

Pleasence et al. (2004b) argue that, despite their findings for high-income earners, their results from the first national LSRC survey of the general population in the United Kingdom generally support the notion that socially excluded or disadvantaged groups are particularly vulnerable to experiencing legal events.

In addition to reporting on the large-scale LSRC survey of the general population in the United Kingdom, Pleasence et al. (2004b) also report on a ‘parallel’, smaller survey of 197 adults living in temporary accommodation in the United Kingdom. The temporary accommodation sample was considerably more disadvantaged than the general population sample on a number of socioeconomic indicators, having a higher rate of lone parents (30% versus 4%), a lower rate of employment (25% versus 60%) and a lower median income (£6000 versus £20 000 per annum). The conduct of this parallel temporary accommodation survey provides a unique opportunity to compare a disadvantaged sample against a general population sample using comparable measurement of legal needs in the same jurisdiction at the same point in time. Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that the temporary accommodation survey resulted in a much higher incidence rate than the general population survey (84% versus 36%), supporting the argument that disadvantaged groups are particularly vulnerable to experiencing legal events.



Response to legal events


A common finding of the major survey studies of legal needs is that a considerable proportion of those who report legal events do not seek any legal advice or assistance in an attempt to resolve these issues. Some attempt to deal with the matter themselves, while still others take no action at all.

In the United States, the Spangenberg Group (1989) found that legal assistance was sought for only about one-fifth of the civil legal problems experienced by low-income households. The ABA (1994) found that nearly three-quarters of the problem situations faced by low-income households, and about two-thirds of the problem situations faced by moderate-income households, did not find their way to the justice system, with the most common course of action for both types of households being to try to deal with the matter on their own. The low-income respondents in the Dale (2000) study did not obtain legal representation for their legal problems about four-fifths of the time: assistance was sought from legal aid attorneys about 10 per cent of the time and from private lawyers about 8 per cent of the time. The Task Force (2003) found that low-income households responding to the field survey faced 88 per cent of their problems without advice or representation from an attorney.

In the United Kingdom, Genn (1999) found that while 60 per cent of those with non-trivial justiciable problems in their general population national sample sought some outside advice, 35 per cent tried to deal with the matter themselves and 5 per cent took no action at all. Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that about half of their general population sample sought formal advice, 30 per cent attempted to handle their problems alone and the remaining 19 per cent did nothing.

In Australia, Cass and Sackville (1975) reported that their respondents from disadvantaged Sydney communities failed to seek legal advice in relation to a considerable number of matters where it was appropriate to seek such advice. For example, lawyers were consulted in only nine of the 43 work accident cases. Fishwick (1992) reported that 43 per cent of those with legal problems in their general NSW sample did not seek legal advice. Rush (1999) reported that about one-quarter of their low-income respondents who experienced a legal need under Commonwealth law in Australia failed to seek legal assistance. The LJF (2003) pilot study found that advice or assistance was sought by their disadvantaged community sample in response to 52 per cent of events, with a further 23 per cent of events being handled by the respondents themselves and the remaining 25 per cent resulting in no action at all.

The finding that people do not always take action for legal problems is in keeping with Felstiner, Abel and Sarat’s (1981) influential model of disputing behaviour. According to this model, before an individual decides to use formal legal dispute resolution in response to a legal event, the individual must first recognise the event as a problem, attribute blame to another person or body, have the consciousness of a legal remedy, and be prepared to seek such a remedy despite any perceived risks or negative consequences in doing so.

The reasons for inaction provided by the Felstiner et al. model are largely consistent with the empirical evidence. For example, common reasons cited in survey studies for not seeking advice include:


A number of authors have noted that, not surprisingly, the seriousness or importance of the problem is related to whether people take action and whether they seek formal legal advice or assistance (e.g. Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b). However, it is worth emphasising that the finding that considerable proportions of people with legal problems do not seek legal advice is not entirely a by-product of individuals ignoring trivial legal problems. For example, even though the Genn studies in the United Kingdom only asked respondents how they handled events that they deemed important enough to warrant action (Genn 1999, p. 13), they still found that significant proportions of people either took no action or attempted to deal with the matter themselves.

It is also worth noting that while the Felstiner et al. model provides a useful starting point for conceptualising responses to legal needs, it simplifies the complex interaction of factors that influence decisions to seek legal advice (Genn & Paterson 2001). One of the subtleties not covered by the model is that even when an individual is prepared to take action to resolve a legal event and is aware that there is a legal remedy, their preferred course of action may be a non-legal remedy, such as a self-help strategy or advice from non-legal sources. In particular, recent studies demonstrate the ‘very limited use made by the public of formal legal proceedings to resolve justiciable problems’ (Genn 1999, p. 177). Instead, individuals use a wide range of advice sources, including non-legal advisers such as family and friends, the local council, the police, trade unions or professional bodies, employers, health and welfare professionals, and insurance companies and claims agencies (Genn 1999; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Scott et al. 2004).

Another subtlety not explicitly addressed by the model is that some types of legal problems are more likely than others to result in action being taken generally, and in a legal remedy being sought more specifically. In particular, a number of studies have found that family-related problems and problems relating to wills, estates, conveyancing and property matters tend to be among the matters that are more likely to result in legal advice.

For example, in the United States, Curran (1977) found that estate planning and marital problems were the problems most frequently taken to lawyers for resolution in their general population sample. The Spangenberg Group (1989) reported that low-income persons were more likely to seek legal assistance for family and consumer problems than for medical, utility and public benefits problems. The ABA (1994) found that, for both low- and moderate-income households, the following types of legal needs were relatively unlikely to be brought into the civil justice system: community/regional, employment, housing/property, personal financial/consumer matters, and personal/economic injury matters.18 Schulman et al. (2003) found that legal experts were most used for assistance with advance directives, family domestic issues, elder abuse and government harassment. The Task Force (2003) found that attorney assistance was most likely to be sought for family, estates and trusts, consumer and public benefits issues.

Genn (1999) reported that, in her United Kingdom national sample, divorce, family and accidental injury matters were most commonly taken directly to solicitors, whereas the Citizens Advice Bureau was used most commonly as an initial advice source for consumer, money and employment problems. The first national LSRC survey (Pleasence et al. 2004b) in the United Kingdom found that in instances where action was taken, individuals were most likely to seek formal advice for divorce, homelessness, domestic violence and relationship breakdown problems, and least likely to seek formal advice for mental health, consumer and money/debt problems. Interestingly, Pleasence et al. (2004b) also found that reasons for inaction varied significantly by problem type.

In Australia, Cass and Sackville (1975) found that their disadvantaged community respondents tended to obtain legal advice in areas traditionally associated with lawyers in private practice, for example in the areas of conveyancing, family breakdown and accidents, but tended not to obtain legal advice for tenancy, consumer or hire-purchase problems. In their general NSW sample, Fishwick (1992) reported that legal advice was sought in the majority of conveyancing, wills and custody matters, but was seen as less appropriate in cases of accidents, insurance, government disputes and discrimination. It is also worth noting that the high rate of obtaining legal advice (i.e. 75%) in the Rush (1999) study, which examined Commonwealth law issues, may be partly related to the high preponderance of family law problems reported.

Barriers to seeking advice and assistance

A few studies have also identified a variety of barriers to obtaining advice, whether from a legal or non-legal source, once individuals have decided to obtain advice. These include seeking advice from a source that is unable to provide assistance, difficulty getting through on the telephone, difficulty getting an appointment or being kept waiting, the lack of local advice services, the cost of advice and psychological barriers (e.g. ABA 1994; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003; MacDonald 2005; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b).

Factors related to response to legal events

Various sociodemographic characteristics have also been associated with seeking advice for legal problems in a number of studies. For example, whether or not advice is sought has been related to gender, age, ethnicity, economic indicators and education.

In the United States, the Task Force’s (2003) field survey of low-income households found that farm workers, the disabled, Native Americans, the institutionalised and the homeless were the demographic groups least likely to seek attorney assistance.

In the United Kingdom, Genn (1999) found that the likelihood of seeking advice for justiciable problems was relatively higher for women, for people aged 45 to 64 years, higher-income earners and persons with higher levels of education. Genn and Paterson (2001) reported that household income, employment status and the type of justiciable problem experienced were significantly associated with whether advice was obtained.

Pleasence et al. (2004b) report that, in their national LSRC sample, gender, ethnicity and economic indicators were related to individuals’ responses to legal events. More specifically, females and white respondents were more likely to take action and more likely to seek advice when action was taken. The relationship with economic indicators was more complex and not always in the same direction. Pleasence et al. (2004b) also found that those with higher academic qualifications were more likely to seek advice when they took action. Interestingly, respondents to the smaller-scale parallel survey of people living in temporary accommodation reported taking no action to deal with justiciable problems far more often than did respondents to the national survey (28% versus 19% of occasions). This difference between the comparable national and temporary accommodation surveys suggests that socioeconomic disadvantage may be associated with an increased tendency to ignore legal problems.

In Australia, Fishwick (1992) reported that males, young people, unemployed people and people living in more socioeconomically disadvantaged areas were least likely to seek advice. Cass and Sackville’s (1975) earlier Australian study found that non-British migrants were less likely to reach the office of a solicitor, and suggested that communication problems and lack of knowledge about legal rights and legal aid schemes may have contributed to this finding.



Resolution of legal events


The duration of legal problems appears to vary considerably. For example, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that, of the concluded problems reported through the LSRC survey, 52 per cent had a duration of three months or less, 21 per cent had a duration of at least a year and 2 per cent had a duration of five years or more. Such a large variation suggests that, other things being equal, the resolution rates reported for legal problems by different studies will depend on the length of the reference period, with longer reference periods presenting greater opportunity for resolution.

However, the length of the reference period is clearly not the only factor affecting resolution rates. Genn (1999), using a 5.5 year reference period, reported that almost half of the reported problems had been resolved, whereas Pleasence et al. (2004b) and the LJF (2003) reported somewhat higher resolution rates (64% and 57%, respectively) despite using shorter reference periods (3.5 years and one year, respectively). Some of the factors associated with resolution rates are discussed below.

Factors related to the resolution of legal events

Not surprisingly, resolution rates have also been found to vary for different types of problems, even though different studies sometimes report different resolution rates for apparently similar problem types. For example, in the United Kingdom, Genn (1999) found that employment, neighbour and landlord problems had relatively low resolution rates while divorce/separation, money and consumer problems had relatively high resolution rates. In their national United Kingdom sample, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that family-related problems (i.e. relationship breakdown, divorce, domestic violence, children), along with immigration and neighbour problems, tended to last longer than other problem types.

In the Bega Valley LGA in NSW, the LJF (2003) reported that personal injury, credit/debt, consumer, government, family, criminal and employment events were least likely to be resolved, while business, wills/estates, housing, domestic violence and motor vehicle events were most likely to be resolved.

In addition to problem type, the Genn (1999) and LJF (2003) studies also examined if other factors were associated with whether or not the event had come to a conclusion of some sort by the end of the reference period. Genn (1999) found that resolution was more likely to be achieved by younger adults (25–34 years) and less likely to be achieved by people aged 65 or over. She also found higher resolution rates for higher-income earners, persons with higher levels of education, persons who sought advice from a lawyer or law centre, defendants rather than plaintiffs, and persons who desired a money/property remedy. The LJF (2003) pilot study found higher resolution rates for non-Indigenous Australians compared with Indigenous Australians.19



Satisfactory outcome of legal events


A few of the more recent studies have examined individuals’ perceptions of the outcome of legal events, including satisfaction, fairness and achievement of objectives. The United Kingdom studies asked respondents to report whether their objectives in taking action to resolve legal problems had been met (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b). These studies found that the objectives varied by problem type, but the most common objective by far, reported for about half the problems, was related to money or property, such as compensation for financial loss or property damage. Other objectives included work-related objectives, achieving divorce/separation, enforcing rights, punishing the other party or achieving a behaviour change/apology, preventing the problem recurring, and sorting out the problem.

Genn (1999) found that 41 per cent had completely achieved their main objective, 15 per cent had partly achieved it and 34 per cent had not achieved it.20 Comparable percentages (38, 15 and 38, respectively) were reported by Genn and Paterson (2001). Pleasence et al. (2004b) reported that almost three-quarters of respondents who took action secured at least some of their objectives, and just over half secured all their objectives.

The LJF (2003) pilot study asked about satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events and with the current status of other events. They found that a little over half were satisfied with the outcome or status of their legal events, a little over one-quarter were dissatisfied, and the remainder were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

Factors related to satisfactory outcome of legal events

A number of factors have been reported to be associated with whether or not the outcome of legal events is viewed as satisfactory, including the type of legal problem, the type of action taken or the type of advice sought, the method of resolution and various demographic characteristics.

In terms of the type of legal event, Genn (1999) found that respondents were more likely to report achieving their main objectives for accidental injury, work-related ill health, consumer and tribunal matters. Genn and Paterson (2001) reported that the main objective was most likely to be achieved for divorce and separation problems. The LJF (2003) pilot study examined satisfaction with the current status of legal events across both events that had been resolved at the time of the survey and those that were ongoing. They found that participants were most satisfied with the status of wills/estates, personal injury and motor vehicle events, and least satisfied with the status of credit/debt, business, consumer, criminal law, employment, government, domestic violence, human rights and health events.

A number of studies have found that taking action, or taking a certain type of action, is associated with higher levels of satisfaction. For example, in the United States, the ABA (1994) found that both low- and moderate-income households were more likely to be satisfied with the ultimate resolution of a matter if they had engaged the civil justice system. Dale (2000) found that about three-quarters of those who did not obtain legal representation were dissatisfied with the outcome, whereas about three-quarters of those who obtained legal representation were satisfied with the outcome. The Task Force (2003) found low-income respondents were satisfied with the outcomes of only 26 per cent of all their legal problems, but were satisfied with the outcomes of 61 per cent of the legal problems where attorney assistance was used. Schulman et al. (2003) similarly reported that using private lawyers or legal aid organisations tended to result in high levels of satisfaction with the eventual outcome.

In the United Kingdom, Genn (1999) found that respondents were more likely to perceive the outcome as fair if they sought advice from a solicitor or law centre. While Pleasence et al. (2004b) did not find a significant difference in the rate at which objectives were met between those who obtained legal advice and those who did not, they note that these two groups were not comparable in terms of the types of problems they faced. However, they did find that respondents whose advice was funded by legal aid were more likely than others who obtained advice to secure some or all of their objectives.

In Australia, the LJF (2003) pilot study examined satisfaction with the current status of legal events at the time of the survey according to whether the respondent took no action to resolve the event, handled the event alone or sought help from a legal or non-legal adviser. They found no significant difference in the rate of satisfaction with the current status of the event for those who took no action and those who sought help from a legal or non-legal adviser. However, compared with participants who sought help (from a legal or non-legal adviser), those who handled the event alone were significantly more likely to be satisfied with the status of their legal events at the time of the survey.21

In terms of manner of resolution, in the United Kingdom, Genn (1999) found that respondents were more likely to report achieving their main objectives for cases finalised by agreement between parties rather than for cases finalised by court or ombudsman’s decision. There was, however, no difference in the ratings of fairness of outcome for these two types of cases. Genn and Paterson (2001), however, found higher rates of perceived fairness for cases finalised by agreement rather than by adjudicated decision.

In terms of sociodemographic characteristics, in the United Kingdom Genn (1999) found gender, age, social class, education, employment status and income were related to whether or not the main objectives were achieved. The most important of these demographic factors was age, with younger respondents being more likely than average to report doing so. Genn also found that gender, employment status and income were associated with whether or not the outcome was perceived as fair. In particular, men were less likely than women to perceive the outcome as fair, as were high-income earners compared with low-income earners.

The ABA (1994) study in the United States reported higher levels of satisfaction with the outcome among moderate-income households (54%) than among low-income households (38%).

In Australia, the LJF (2003) found that rates of satisfaction with the status of legal events at the time of the survey were associated with ethnicity and education. Rates of satisfaction were higher for persons born in an English speaking country compared with those born in a non-English speaking country, and for persons with lower levels of education compared with university graduates.



Summary of research on legal events


Since the 1970s, major quantitative survey studies of legal needs have been conducted in different jurisdictions, both in Australia and overseas, covering both general and disadvantaged populations. These studies have differed in their definition and measurement of legal needs and in the type of survey method they employed. Not surprisingly, these diverse studies have reported varying incidence rates, varying rates of taking action and seeking legal advice, varying resolution rates and varying degrees of satisfaction with the outcome of legal events.

Nonetheless, some common patterns have emerged from these survey studies. Overall incidence rates appear to be affected by the measurement period used, the range of legal issues examined, and the population sampled. The studies consistently show that incidence rates vary for different types of legal issues, and it is argued that, to some extent, this variation reflects variation in the frequency of the circumstances required for different types of events to occur (e.g. Pleasence et al. 2004b). There is also considerable empirical evidence that legal issues are not experienced randomly within populations, but rather are associated with a range of sociodemographic variables including age, disability, economic indicators, gender and ethnicity. It has been argued that such associations indicate that socially disadvantaged groups are among the groups who are particularly vulnerable to experiencing legal events (e.g. Pleasence et al. 2004b).

Another reliable finding of the major survey studies is that considerable proportions of people who experience non-trivial legal issues either take no action to resolve these issues or attempt to deal with the issues on their own, without seeking advice. Furthermore, the more recent studies consistently show that when advice is sought, it is by no means restricted to formal legal advice. A wide range of non-legal advice sources are also used (e.g. Genn 1999; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b). Recent empirical evidence also indicates that responses vary according to the type of legal issue and according to sociodemographic characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, economic indicators and education (ABA 1994; Cass & Sackville 1975; Curran 1977; Fishwick 1992; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Schulman et al. 2003; Spangenberg Group 1989).

Similarly to incidence rates, resolution rates also appear to be particularly affected by the range of legal issues assessed and the measurement period used. Studies again show variation for different types of legal issues, suggesting that some types of legal issues appear to be more difficult to resolve (Genn 1999; LJF 2003; Pleasence et al. 2004b). A few studies also report that sociodemographic characteristics of individuals are associated with the resolution of legal events (Genn 1999; LJF 2003).

Satisfaction with the outcome of legal events also appears be related to the type of legal event experienced (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003). Further, a few studies have reported that the perceived outcome of legal events appears to be associated with the type of action taken or the type of advice sought, the method of resolution and a number of sociodemographic characteristics (ABA 1994; Dale 2000; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003; NCC 1995; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Schulman et al. 2003).



Status of research on legal events in Australia


As detailed earlier, a large-scale survey measuring the incidence of a broad range of legal events has not been conducted in Austraian in recent years. The Cass and Sackville (1975) study was conducted 30 years ago and restricted to Sydney, the study reported by Fishwick (1992) examined a set of only 11 legal events and the Rush (1999) study was narrowly focused on Commonwealth legal issues.

Furthermore, since the Cass and Sackville (1975) study, the legal service provision landscape in Australia has changed quite dramatically, including the development of state-funded legal aid schemes and the establishment of an extensive network of community legal services.22 There have also been significant changes in the law, such as the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975.

The appropriate targeting of legal services in any given jurisdiction requires a comprehensive understanding of the number and type of legal events people experience, what people do when faced with legal events, what legal services are available, how people use the existing legal services and what they think about any assistance they receive. Given the lack of recent comprehensive surveys of legal need and the significant changes in legal service provision over the last few decades, there is clearly a need for an up-to-date assessment of the incidence, handling and outcome of a broad range of legal events in Australian jurisdictions. This need is further underlined by the fact that existing studies demonstrate that the incidence, handling and outcome of legal events are not fixed, but vary across jurisdictions and populations.



Structure of the present report


Chapter 2 outlines the aims and methodology of the present survey study of legal needs.

Chapters 3 to 8 detail the results of the present study. Chapter 3 examines the incidence of legal events, outlining the number and types of legal events experienced, the co-occurrence of legal events, and the sociodemographic factors associated with experiencing different types of legal events. Chapter 4 examines the response to legal events, outlining the reasons why people take no action to deal with some problems, and the factors associated with seeking help. Chapter 5 describes the sources of help that people use for different types of legal events, the type of assistance received and the barriers to receiving assistance. Chapter 6 examines the level of satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events and the factors related to satisfaction with assistance. Chapter 7 examines the outcome of legal events, presenting information on the resolution rates for different types of events and the factors associated with resolution. Chapter 8 presents data on the level of satisfaction with the outcome of different types of legal events and the factors related to satisfaction with outcome.

Chapter 9 examines the implications of the findings in terms of the nature of legal need and access to justice within the disadvantaged communities surveyed, while Chapter 10 discusses the implications of the findings for a multidimensional approach to legal service provision, which includes several concurrent strategies and allows for the tailoring of legal services to the varying needs of different individuals.



Ch 2. The present study


Aims


The present study aimed to address the gap in knowledge about legal issues in NSW by assessing a broad range of legal events in six areas of NSW via a large-scale telephone survey. It was decided to focus on areas of NSW that exhibited relatively high levels of disadvantage given the empirical evidence suggesting that disadvantaged groups are particularly vulnerable to experiencing legal events.1

The more specific aims of the present study were to measure the following, in six disadvantaged areas:

1. the incidence of legal events

2. the response to legal events, including the use of legal services

3. the satisfaction with any assistance received

4. the resolution of legal events

5. the satisfaction with the outcome of legal events

6. the relationship of the above to various sociodemographic characteristics (i.e. gender, age, Indigenous Australian status, country of birth, disability status, personal income and education) and to various characteristics of legal events (e.g. type of event, recency of the event, resolution status of the event).

By addressing the above aims, the main objective of the present study was to provide valuable evidence-based data to inform debate and policy directions concerning legal service provision and access to justice for disadvantaged communities in NSW.

The current report presents the overall findings across the six disadvantaged areas surveyed. Subsequent reports will provide a regional analysis of the survey results and will examine the findings for specific groups of disadvantaged people.



Definitions


Legal events

Following Genn’s (1999) lead, ‘legal events’ in the present study were defined broadly to include all situations where there is the potential for legal resolution, regardless of whether or not a legal resolution is actively sought. Thus, the present study attempted to minimise the under-reporting of legal events by not requiring individuals to be aware of potential legal resolutions.

To obtain a comprehensive picture of the legal events typically faced by disadvantaged communities, the present study examined a broad range of legal events, including civil, criminal and family legal events.

Access to justice

The current study also adopted a broad definition of ‘access to justice’ given the empirical evidence showing that people faced with legal events use a wide range of both legal and non-legal sources of assistance. More specifically, the present study examined the ability of people living within socioeconomically disadvantaged areas to:

1. obtain legal assistance, including

2. participate effectively in the legal system, including being able to access legal assistance without facing major barriers (e.g. high cost, delay, unnecessary complexity, inadequate representation, power imbalances)

3. obtain assistance from non-legal advocacy and support, including family, friends and acquaintances; community-based workers (e.g. social/welfare/health/psychological workers, financial counsellors); government authorities (e.g. government departments, the police, members of parliament); non-government organisations (e.g. trade unions, professional bodies); and complaint-handling bodies (e.g. ombudsman’s offices).2

Disadvantage

Given past findings that measures of income poverty often fail to overlap substantially with other indicators of disadvantage (Arthurson & Jacobs 2003; Saunders 2003), the present study adopted a broad operational definition of disadvantage that was based on multiple economic and social indicators of disadvantage. Furthermore, given that legal services should ideally be able to meet the legal needs of all people living within the immediate local geographic area, it was decided to focus on residents of disadvantaged areas rather than to restrict the sample to individuals who each met particular criteria of disadvantage. As a result, while all of the individuals interviewed for the present study resided in disadvantaged areas, it is possible that some of these individuals may not themselves be disadvantaged.

Vinson’s (1999) composite risk score for cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage was used to select six LGAs in NSW with relatively high levels of disadvantage, and a sample was drawn from these areas.3



Method


Survey design

A copy of the survey instrument is presented in Appendix A.4 The survey was conducted by telephone interviews using a revised version of the survey developed for the Bega Valley pilot study (LJF 2003). In designing the pilot survey, the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW (LJF) drew on some of the recent legal needs surveys conducted in the United Kingdom (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001).

Measurement of legal events

As already noted, legal events were defined as events that have a potential legal resolution, whether or not the individual is aware of the legal consequences. As a result, participants were asked whether or not they had experienced specific events but were not required to determine whether or not these constituted legal needs or legal problems. Furthermore, the events were presented in context and in some detail to assist respondents to identify whether or not they had experienced these events, regardless of their level of legal knowledge. For example, rather than being asked whether they had a family law problem, participants were asked more specific questions, such as whether they had any problems with residence or contact arrangements for their children.

Thus, the term 'legal events' rather than the term 'legal needs' was adopted in the present report. The survey included as legal events:

  1. events that are generally considered to be legal problems (e.g. instances of discrimination, criminal charges)
  2. events that are generally not considered to be legal problems but involve clear legal consequences (e.g. buying or selling a house, making a will)
  3. events that potentially have legal implications or remedies, but may not always be recognised as such (e.g. inadequate medical treatment, dispute with neighbour).

The survey examined legal events that occurred in the 12 months prior to the survey. Although other surveys have sometimes examined longer reference periods (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; NCC 1995; Pleasence et al. 2004b), a shorter time period was adopted in the present study to maximise accurate recall of legal events.

Classification of legal events

While the survey concentrated on events that would usually be considered civil law issues, it also asked about a number of criminal law and family law issues. The classification of legal events adopted here was developed by the LJF and first reported by Scott et al. (2004).5 The present classification groups legalevents under three broad areas of law—civil, criminal and family law—and within more specific legal event groupings under each of these broad areas of law.

As presented in Table B1 in Appendix B, the survey identified 101 different legal events, which were classified as follows:


The civil law events were categorised into the following 11 legal event groups:
  1. accident/injury (car accidents, work injury, personal injury)
  2. business (problem as a landlord/business owner)
  3. consumer (problem re superannuation, goods/services, financial institutions, insurance or lawyers)
  4. credit/debt (problem re bill/debt, credit rating, money owed or being a guarantor; bankruptcy)
  5. education (unfair exclusion, Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) issue, bullying/harassment)
  6. employment (problem re conditions, termination, harassment/mistreatment or discrimination)
  7. government (problem re pension/benefit, government/disability/community services, taxation/debt, freedom of information, immigration, local council, non-traffic fines, immigration detention or legal system)
  8. health (problem re psychiatric hospitalisation, medical treatment, disability facilities, non-government disability services or mental health care issue)
  9. housing (buying/selling home; neighbour dispute; homelessness; problem re tenancy, home ownership, strata title, caravan/home estate, boarding house/hostel, retirement home/village or nursing home)
  10. human rights (non-employment related discrimination on the basis of marital status, age, gender, religion, sexuality, ethnicity or disability)
  11. wills/estates (making/altering a will, being the executor of a deceased estate, dispute over will/deceased estate, executing a power of attorney).

The criminal law events were categorised into the following three legal event groups:
  1. domestic violence (victim or alleged perpetrator of family or household violence)
  2. general crime (unfair treatment by police, criminal charge, problem re bail/remand, police failing to respond to a crime, victim of assault or stolen/vandalised property, problem in prison/juvenile detention)
  3. traffic offences (loss of driver's licence, other traffic offence).

The family legal events were not grouped further. They included problems regarding residence and contact arrangements for children and grandchildren; problems regarding child support payments; child protection issues; issues involving fostering, adoption and guardianship of children, disabled people and elderly people; divorce/separation; and disputes regarding matrimonial property.

Survey description

The survey instrument was divided into four sections. The first section, entitled Screening and introduction (questions S1 to S6):


The second section, Your problems (questions 1 to 57):
The third section, What you did about your legal issues (questions 58 to 77), concentrated on the responses to, and the outcomes of, the three most recent legal events, identifying:
The fourth section, Background information (questions 78 to 83), examined sociodemographic information including country of birth, Indigenous status, personal income, English language proficiency and language used to conduct the interview.

Sample

A two-stage sample design was used. The first stage involved the selection of disadvantaged areas to be sampled, and the second involved the sampling of individuals from those disadvantaged areas.

Selection of disadvantaged areas

The sample was drawn from six LGAs in NSW.9 Three of the six LGAs, Campbelltown, Fairfield and South Sydney, are suburban areas within Sydney. The other three LGAs, Newcastle, Nambucca and Walgett, are outside Sydney. Newcastle LGA is a large provincial centre within the Hunter Statistical Division (SD). Nambucca LGA is a rural area within the Mid-North Coast SD, surrounding the small town of Nambucca, and including a number of other small towns such as Macksville and Bowraville. Walgett LGA is a remote area within the North Western SD, which includes the small towns of Walgett, Lightning Ridge and Collarenebri.

The total sample size was 2431 with approximately 400 residents aged 15 years or over being surveyed from each LGA. Table 2.1 shows the sample and population numbers for each LGA. On average, the sample drawn from each LGA made up 0.5 per cent of the LGA population aged 15 years or over.

The selection of LGAs was based on the following considerations:

  1. geographic diversity
  2. socioeconomic disadvantage
  3. cultural and linguistic diversity
  4. population size.

Table 2.1: Sample and population size of each LGA, 2003
SDLGA
Population no.
(15+ years)
a
Sample no.
Sample as % of population
SydneyCampbelltown
113 459
402
0.4
SydneyFairfield
147 960
401
0.3
SydneySouth Sydney
55 840
406
0.7
HunterNewcastle
119 481
408
0.3
Mid-North CoastNambucca
14 529
414
2.8
North WesternWalgett
6 477
400
6.2
Total
457 746
2 431
0.5
a Source: ABS estimated resident population data at 30 June 2003.

Geographic diversity

In order to get a picture of legal issues in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas across NSW, the LGAs were selected to include suburban areas within Sydney (Campbelltown, Fairfield and South Sydney), a major provincial centre (Newcastle) and rural/remote areas of NSW (Nambucca and Walgett). The LGAs were also chosen to cover geographically diverse areas of NSW. Given that the pilot testing was conducted in a southern area of NSW (the Bega Valley LGA), other areas of NSW were used for the main survey, including a northern coastal area (Nambucca) and an inland western area (Walgett).

Socioeconomic disadvantage

The risk score for cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage provided by Vinson (1999) was used to select LGAs in NSW that had relatively high levels of disadvantage. Vinson (1999) mapped postcodes in NSW (and Victoria) on the basis of their cumulative disadvantage risk score. This score is a composite score based on a range of socioeconomic indicators including the proportions of unemployed persons, low-income households, low-weight births, confirmed instances of child abuse, people who left school before 15 years of age, households receiving emergency assistance, convicted persons, child injuries, long-term unemployed persons and unskilled workers.10 It is important to note that cultural and linguistic diversity is not one of the indicators used.

The three selected non-Sydney LGAs all featured at least three postcodes among the 50 most disadvantaged postcodes in NSW according to the cumulative disadvantage risk score (five for Newcastle, four for Nambucca and three for Walgett). Of the 45 LGAs within Sydney, Campbelltown and South Sydney were the only two that featured postcodes among the top 50 disadvantaged postcodes for NSW. Fairfield was chosen as the third Sydney LGA because it had a relatively high cumulative disadvantage risk score and it has a culturally and linguistically diverse population (see below).

As already noted, although the present survey was conducted in disadvantaged areas, it should not be assumed that all the residents of those areas are disadvantaged.

Cultural and linguistic diversity

Indigenous status is often positively correlated with indicators of socioeconomic disadvantage (ABS 1995; Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (AIHW) 2005). Thus, it was considered important to include at least one LGA that has a high proportion of Indigenous Australians. According to the 2001 population census (ABS 2002b), Walgett LGA has a relatively large Indigenous population (21.5%) when compared with the NSW average (1.9%). Nambucca LGA also has a somewhat higher proportion of Indigenous Australians (5.4%) compared with the proportion for NSW overall.

Given that NSW also has a sizeable proportion of persons born outside Australia11 and that ethnicity is often correlated with various socioeconomic indicators, it was decided to include at least one LGA that exhibits cultural and linguistic diversity. The Sydney LGA with the highest percentage of persons born outside Australia according to the 2001 population census is Fairfield (ABS 2002a). According to the census, a language other than English is spoken in 70.9 per cent of Fairfield households, with Vietnamese (15.5%), Chinese languages (10.2%) and Spanish (4.9%) being the most common non-English languages.

In order to maximise the opportunity of completing interviews with people from these three non-English language groups, the survey instrument was translated into Vietnamese, Cantonese and Spanish. Interviewers speaking these languages were made available for people who preferred to be interviewed in one of these languages.

Population size

To qualify for inclusion in the study, LGAs in rural or remote areas were also required to have adequate population sizes (at least 5000 persons).

Sampling of participants from disadvantaged areas

Random sampling using the electronic White Pages as at April 2003 was employed to select a pool of potential participants from each of the selected areas. In addition, quota controls were used to fulfil the following criteria:


The objective of the sampling technique was to achieve a final sample that would reflect the demographic profile of the LGA populations.12 Table 2.2 presents the gender and age breakdown for the overall sample and compares it to that for the population of the six LGAs combined. Tables B2a to B2f in Appendix B provide the corresponding tables for each LGA. According to the chi-square tests conducted, the proportions of males and females in the overall sample were not significantly different to those in the population. However, the overall age profile of the sample differed from that of the population, with the sample having a relatively lower proportion of 15 to 24 year olds (see notes for Table 2.2). The chi-square tests for each LGA revealed that there was no significant difference between the sample and population in the overall gender or age profiles. However, for five of the six LGAs, there was a significant difference between the sample and population in the distribution of males and females within age groups (see notes for Tables B2a to B2f in Appendix B).

Table 2.2: Gender and age breakdown in sample and population, all six LGAs, 2003

Age (Years)
15–24
25–34
35–44
45–54
55–64
65+
15–65+
Sample
Males
no.
(%)
258
(10.6)
214
(8.8)
223
(9.2)
203
(8.4)
140
(5.8)
187
(7.7)
1 225
(50.5)
Females
no.
(%)
145
(6)
249
(10.3)
258
(10.6)
247
(10.2)
159
(6.5)
145
(6)
1 203
(49.5)
Males and females
no.
(%)
403
(16.6)
463
(19.1)
481
(19.8)
450
(18.5)
299
(12.3)
332
(13.7)
2 428
(100)
Population
Males
no.
(%)
44 935
(9.8)
46 017
(10.1)
43 961
(9.6)
38 674
(8.4)
26 807
(5.9)
28 128
(6.1)
228 522
(49.9)
Females
no.
(%)
43 864
(9.6)
44 942
(9.8)
42 173
(9.2)
38 001
(8.3)
24 935
(5.4)
35 309
(7.7)
229 224
(50.1)
Males and females
no.
(%)
88 799
(19.4)
90 959
(19.9)
86 134
(18.8)
76 675
(16.8)
51 742
(11.3)
63 437
(13.9)
457 746
(100)
Notes:
1. Population data are estimated resident population as at 30 June 2003 (unpublished ABS data).
2. Each % is based on the cell no. divided by the total sample no. (2428) or the total estimated population (457 746), as appropriate. (Data on age were missing for three survey participants.)
3. Three chi-square tests were conducted comparing sample numbers with the corresponding expected numbers based on the population data. (The expected number for each cell = cell % for the population multiplied by the total sample no., e.g. expected no. of males 15–24 years = 9.8% x 2428 = 238).
a. one-way for gender: =0.25, df=1, p=0.616 (N=2431)
b. one-way for age: =18.75, df=5, p=0.002 (N=2428)
c. two-way for gender by age: =79.37, df=5, p=0.000 (N=2428)

In order to achieve 400 completed interviews for each LGA, a considerably larger pool of randomly selected telephone numbers was drawn from each postcode in the LGA. A larger pool was necessary to allow for inevitable wastage due to factors such as:


The number of randomly selected phone numbers comprising the pool for each LGA is presented in Table B3 in Appendix B. To achieve at least 2400 completed interviews overall (at least 400 from each LGA), calls were made to 24 725 (or 71.4%) of the total phone numbers in the pool (34 643).

Response rate

The minimisation of non-response is a quality control objective in any survey. However, what to report about response rate remains discretionary and there is no standard way of computing response rate (Biemer & Lyberg 2003; Groves 1989). Furthermore, it has been argued (e.g. Groves, Cialdini & Couper 1992) that the response rate is not as critical a measure of survey quality as is an understanding of the sociodemographic and behavioural differences between those who responded and those who refused. Unfortunately, given the voluntary nature of many surveys it is often difficult to obtain demographic and other details about persons who refused to participate or were not contactable, and it was not possible to obtain such details in the present survey.

The measures of survey response provided for the present study are the 'cooperation rate' and the 'response rate' as defined by Groves (Groves 1989; Groves, Biemer, Lyberg, Massey & Nicholls 1988; Groves et al.1992). These are commonly used measures of survey response and are based on the possible outcomes of phone calls from which an attempt was made to secure an interview.

The cooperation rate is I/(I+R) and the response rate is I/(I+R+NC+NI), where:


The cooperation rate describes the success in persuading those who are contacted and eligible to complete an interview, and is based solely on those who are both eligible and contacted for the survey. The response rate also takes into account those from the sample pool who were eligible but not contacted.

The various outcomes of phone calls from which an attempt was made to secure an interview across the six LGAs are shown in Table 2.3. Tables B4a to B4f in Appendix B show the corresponding outcomes of calls for each LGA separately.

Table 2.3: Outcome of attempted phone contact, all six LGAs, 2003

OutcomeGroves's typology
No.
Examples of outcome
Interview completedI
2 431
Refuseda-
7 469
Outright refusal (7097)

Refused monitoring by a survey supervisor (159)

Refused to complete interview (213)

Not eligibleNE
3 250
Failed to meet survey coverage criteria (2527)

Business number (361)

Language barrierb (362)

Not contacted and eligibleNC
847
Unable to determine appointment at call back
Not interviewedNI
2 213
Contacted but surplus to quota needs
Not applicable-
8 515
Phone number no longer exists (4383)

No contact after 5 attemptsc (4132)

Numbers called from pool
24 725
Numbers not called from pool
9 918
Total numbers in pool
34 643
a R, the number of refusals who were eligible to participate, was unknown. There was no information on eligibility to participate for the outright refusals and those who refused monitoring by a survey supervisor.
b Interviewer could not determine the language used by respondent.
c On each attempt, either there was no answer after 10 rings, the phone was engaged, the call was answered by an answering machine or the number was dead.

The information about call outcomes for the present survey can generally be reconciled with Groves's definitions. The main exception is that R, the number of refused eligible units, was not known because eligibility to participate in the survey was unknown for the majority of those who refused. Of those who refused (7469), eligibility is known only for those who commenced but failed to complete an interview (213 or 2.9%). Other refusals occurred at the outset of the survey before screening questions on eligibility were asked.

As a result, the cooperation and response rates for the present survey need to be estimated. Assuming that all the refusals were eligible to participate13 gives a cooperation rate of 24.6 per cent and response rate of 18.8 per cent for the overall sample. However, these calculations are likely to underestimate survey response because some of the refusals are likely to have been ineligible. Excluding the refusals whose eligibility is unknown14 gives a cooperation rate of 91.9 per cent and a response rate of 42.6 per cent, which are likely to overestimate survey response.

It is possible to provide more precise estimates of the cooperation and response rates by estimating R. For example, if it is assumed that the proportion of eligible persons among those who refused is identical to the proportion of eligible persons among those who did not refuse, then R is 7469 x 0.628 = 4691.15 This estimate of R provides a cooperation rate of 34.1 per cent and a response rate of 23.9 per cent for the overall sample. Table B5 in Appendix B presents the estimates for the cooperation and response rates for each LGA.

Procedure

Pilot testing

The current survey was based on a pilot survey conducted in October and November 2002 with 306 residents of the Bega Valley LGA in south-east NSW. The LJF (2003) report provides a full description of the pilot survey, including its development, conduct and findings.

The pilot survey instrument was refined to produce the survey instrument for the present study. A detailed description of the changes to the pilot survey is presented in Table B6 in Appendix B. The main survey remains essentially very similar to the pilot survey. The major differences are that the main survey:


Numerous minor changes were also made to improve clarity and ease of administration, including:
Conduct of main survey

NCS Pearson, a social research firm, was engaged to conduct the interviews.18 To reduce cost and improve efficiency, the interviews were conducted by telephone. The survey was conducted between 23 August and 28 September 2003 by trained interviewers using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) system software.19

Calls to potential participants were made between 5 pm and 9 pm on weekdays, and between 10 am and 6 pm on weekends, to maximise the likelihood of contacting persons across the demographic spectrum (including people who tend to be out during the day such as employed people and students). The call back policy adopted was to make five attempts to get through to an individual phone number, with call back attempts usually spaced out over a number of days and at least four hours apart. Once a given number was answered, if an eligible person was not at home, the policy was to make a further five call back attempts to talk to an eligible person within that household. Once contact was made with an eligible person who agreed to participate, the interview was conducted at that time if convenient. If inconvenient, an attempt was made to secure an agreement to conduct the interview at a specified time (a 'hard' appointment) or an agreement to conduct the interview at a later, unspecified time (a 'soft' appointment).

The average length of each interview was 21 minutes.

Advantages and limitations of the survey technique

Reporting of legal events

An advantage of the present survey is that it was not restricted to the measurement of civil legal events, but included criminal and family legal events.

The present study measured whether each of 101 different legal events was experienced by each individual, but did not measure the number of times each event was experienced by a given individual. For instance, a person who reported experiencing a problem related to renting accommodation may have experienced such a problem more than once during the 12-month reference period. Although this method of measurement would not have affected the estimation of the breadth of legal events experienced by each individual, it may have resulted in an under-counting of the total number of legal events experienced by some individuals and an underestimation of the total incidence rate. This limitation is shared with a number of the recent legal needs surveys.20

As noted earlier, retrospective surveys such as the current one rely on participants' memories. The present study attempted to maximise the accurate recall of legal events through a number of strategies. Firstly, given that longer reference periods for recall are associated with increased risk of inaccurate or decayed memory of events (e.g. Biemer et al. 1991; Rubin 1982; Sudman & Bradburn 1973), the reference period was restricted to 12 months, which is considerably shorter than the reference periods of three to 5.5 years used in some other similar studies (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b).21 Secondly, as already described, legal events were asked about in context and in considerable detail so that participants could readily identify whether they had experienced these events, without necessitating a particular level of legal knowledge.

Surveys are also subject to various forms of response bias, and rely on participants' willingness to reveal sensitive information (e.g. Biemer et al. 1991; Oppenheim 1992; Presser et al. 2004). Survey respondents sometimes provide socially desirable rather than honest answers in relation to highly personal matters, socially taboo issues, and socially disapproved or self-incriminating behaviour (Oppenheim 1992). For example, it has been observed that legal events of a highly personal nature, such as domestic violence, tend to be under-reported (Keys Young 1998). The present survey examined domestic violence as well as other potentially sensitive issues such as, for example, assault, criminal charges, child protection, discrimination and immigration. In order to minimise under-reporting of sensitive information, participants were reassured about the confidentiality and anonymity of the information provided. Furthermore, the use of telephone interviews, which provide greater anonymity than face-to-face interviews, may also have helped to minimise under-reporting of sensitive issues (Biemer et al. 1991; Oppenheim 1992). Nonetheless, the possibility of under-reporting sensitive information should be kept in mind when interpreting the results from the current survey.

Sample representativeness

The representativeness of a survey sample depends on both the sampling process and the survey response rate. The present survey was not strictly speaking a random probability sample of persons aged 15 years or over in the LGAs covered. Although the initial selection of potential participants involved random selection from the telephone directory, quota controls were used to obtain participants from demographic groups that tend to be relatively more difficult to find at home (e.g. younger people, men). These non-random elements of the sampling process reduce the generalisability of the results.

Furthermore, it should be noted that some demographic groups did not have the opportunity to be surveyed or were likely to be under-represented, such as:

  1. persons living at residences without land-line telephones
  2. persons who were homeless
  3. persons who were institutionalised
  4. persons who have difficulty completing long interviews (e.g. some persons with a mental or intellectual disability)
  5. persons with poor English who were not provided with an interpreter (i.e. persons from language groups other than Vietnamese, Cantonese and Spanish).

It should also be remembered that the sample was drawn from six LGAs in NSW that exhibit disadvantage. The extent to which the results are generalisable to other disadvantaged areas of NSW is unclear.22

The relatively low survey response rates (i.e. cooperation and response rates) also reduce the generalisability of the present results.23 The finding of some differences between the gender and age profiles of the sample compared with those of the population also limits the generalisability of the results.

Given these limitations in terms of sample representativeness, the results from the present survey should be considered suggestive rather than conclusive.

Data analysis

NCS Pearson provided all the survey data to the LJF in de-identified form in a Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) data file. Long verbatim responses were also provided in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.24

Given that some participants reported experiencing more than one legal event in the reference period, two distinct units of analysis were used in the present study: a person-based approach and an event-based approach. The unit of analysis used in each case is specified in the tables, figures or the text in the results chapters.

Descriptive statistical analyses

Descriptive analyses, such as frequencies and percentages, were compiled from the survey data to address the first five aims of the study, that is:

  1. the incidence of legal events
  2. the response to legal events, including the use of legal services
  3. the satisfaction with any assistance received
  4. the resolution of legal events
  5. the satisfaction with the outcome of legal events.

As outlined below, various types of inferential statistical analyses were used to address Aim 6, that is, the factors related to incidence, response, satisfaction with assistance, resolution and satisfaction with outcome.

Logistic regression analyses

The main inferential statistical analyses involved 15 logistic regression models, each examining the predictors of a different outcome variable. One model examined the predictors of reporting legal events of any type. A further 10 models examined the predictors of reporting each of the 10 most frequently occurring types of events.25 The last four models examined the predictors of action taken for legal events, satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events, the resolution status of legal events and satisfaction with the outcome of legal events. The potential predictors examined for each outcome variable are detailed in Table B7 in Appendix B, and included various sociodemographic characteristics of the participants and various characteristics of the legal events.

Logistic regression is an appropriate form of multivariate analysis when the outcome variable is discrete rather than continuous. Like other forms of regression, it examines the relationship of an outcome variable to a set of potential predictor variables considered simultaneously. This technique determines the association of each potential predictor to the outcome variable when the effects of the other potential predictors are taken into account. That is, it determines the independent predictors of the outcome variable from the set of potential predictors examined (e.g. Agresti 1996; Hosmer & Lemeshow 2000; Menard 2002).

A separate logistic regression model was fitted for each outcome variable. All of the outcome variables were treated as binary variables, even though these variables are sometimes presented in the results chapters broken down into more than two categories in the corresponding cross-tabulations. In the regression analyses, all of the predictors were treated as categorical variables (i.e. variables with discrete categories). The set of potential predictors examined in each model is presented in Table B7 in Appendix B. The categories used for both the predictor and the outcome variables are also specified in Table B7.

Standard binary logistic regression was used for the first 11 outcome variables listed above. Mixed-effects binary logistic regression (Hedeker 1999, 2002) was used for the last four outcome variables. While standard logistic regression assumes the independence of observations, mixed-effects logistic regression allows for correlated observations. For the first 11 outcome variables, there was only one observation for each participant, so the observations were independent.26 The last four outcome variables involved potentially correlated observations because some participants had multiple legal events. The mixed-effects regression appropriately adjusted for any correlation among events experienced by the same participant.

Significance of predictors

In each model, the overall significance of each potential predictor was examined at the 0.05 level. For significant predictors (e.g. age), further significance testing was conducted, involving comparisons between particular categories of the predictor (e.g. a comparison between 15 to 24 year olds and individuals 65 years or over).

More specifically, with the exception of the legal event group predictor, comparisons were made between one chosen category of each predictor (the reference category) and each other category of that predictor.

Basing comparisons on a single reference category is appropriate for predictors that only have a few categories and for predictors that have ordered categories (e.g. age, personal income, education). However, this method considerably limits the interpretation of nominal (non-ordered categorical) predictors that have numerous categories because many of these categories are not directly compared against each other.

Legal event group was the only nominal predictor with numerous categories in the present study. If the comparisons for legal event group had been based on a single reference category (i.e. a single legal event group), there would have been no comparisons between any of the remaining 14 legal event groups. As a result, comparisons of each legal event group were made against the average effect of all the legal event groups rather than against one specific legal event group (e.g. Menard 2002). Basing comparisons on the average effect allowed conclusions to be drawn about whether each legal event group was more or less likely than average to result in certain outcomes (e.g. seeking help).

For predictors that were significant overall, the significance of each comparison tested was also examined at the 0.05 level. Summary tables of the regression models are provided in the results chapters, while full details of the regressions are provided in Appendix C. The comparisons used for significant predictors are detailed in the summary tables and provided in the notes to the Appendix tables.

The odds ratio for each comparison is presented in the Appendix C tables. The odds ratio is a ratio of two sets of odds. For example, for the association between reporting legal events and gender, the odds ratio compares the odds of a male reporting legal events with the odds of a female reporting legal events.27 An odds ratio that is not significantly different from the value of one (1.0) suggests that there is no real difference between these two sets of odds. An odds ratio that is significantly greater than one suggests that the first set of odds (for males) is higher than the set of odds for the reference category (for females). Conversely, an odds ratio that is significantly less than one suggests that the first set of odds is lower than the set of odds for the reference category. In the case of the legal event group predictor, the odds ratio compares the odds of a particular legal event group against the average odds for all legal event groups.

The 95 per cent confidence interval associated with each odds ratio is also presented in the Appendix C tables. The 95 per cent confidence interval provides, with 95 per cent certainty, the range of values that the odds ratio could take.

Further details about the logistic regression analyses performed are outlined in Appendix B.

Chi-square analyses

In addition to the logistic regression analyses, some chi-square analyses were also conducted to address aspects of Aim 6 that were not examined in the logistic regression analyses. For example, chi-square tests examined the relationship between:


The chi-square test is a non-parametric test that examines whether there is a significant relationship between two or more categorical variables. The test is based on the cross-tabulation of the relevant variables, and compares the observed frequencies in each cell of the cross-tabulation with the frequencies expected if there were no relationship between the variables (e.g. Siegel & Castellan 1988). The chi-square test reveals the straightforward relationship between the two variables, when no other variables are taken into account (i.e. the bivariate relationship). The statistical significance of each chi-square test was examined at the 0.05 level.

Cluster analysis

The incidence patterns of legal events (Aim 1) were further examined via cluster analysis. Cluster analysis is an exploratory data analysis tool that groups observations according to their degree of relatedness (e.g. Aldenderfer & Blashfield 1984; Everitt, Landau & Leese 2001; SAS Institute Inc. 1993). Observations within a cluster are more closely related to one another than they are to observations in other clusters. In the present study, agglomerative hierarchical cluster analysis (AHCA) was used to identify which of the 15 legal event groups tended to be experienced by the same individuals (i.e. tended to co-occur) during the 12-month reference period.

AHCA starts with each observation (i.e. legal event group) in a separate cluster (i.e. 15 clusters). It then proceeds in a series of successive steps, with each step joining together the two clusters that are most similar into one cluster. In this way, legal event groups were combined into an increasingly smaller number of coherent clusters, until eventually, all event groups had been combined into one cluster.

Jaccard scores were used to measure the amount of similarity between legal event groups and centroid linkage was used as the clustering method.29

The results of the AHCA were summarised in a hierarchical tree diagram, or dendrogram. The branches of the dendrogram illustrate which legal event groups were joined together at each step of the analysis. The length of the branches joining two or more legal event groups (as measured by the 'distance' shown on the x-axis of the dendrogram) indicate the degree of similarity between those legal event groups. More specifically, the shorter the length of the branches joining legal event groups, the greater the similarity (or co-occurrence) of those event groups, and the earlier in the analysis that these event groups were combined into one cluster.

The number of clusters formed by a particular stage in the analysis can be made evident graphically by 'cutting' (i.e. drawing a line through) the dendrogram at the distance corresponding to that stage, and noting which clusters were formed below that distance. There is no single established method for deciding the 'best cut' of the dendrogram, that is, for deciding on the optimal number of clusters that best describes the relationships between observations. The various formal tests available for this purpose often provide different results and, consequently, heuristic approaches are commonly used (Aldenderfer & Blashfield 1984; Everitt et al. 2001; SAS Institute Inc. 1993). The most basic heuristic approach is to 'cut' the dendrogram according to the subjective inspection of the different levels of the tree. A common method used to assist in determining the best cut involves examining the distance between the fusion coefficients at each stage, and cutting the dendrogram at a relatively large jump in the value of the coefficient (Aldenderfer & Blashfield 1984; Everitt et al. 2001). In the present case, the optimal number of clusters was determined using a combination of subjective inspection and the change in the fusion coefficient.

Factor analysis

The incidence patterns of legal events (Aim 1) were also examined via factor analysis. Factor analysis is a data reduction technique used to identify underlying dimensions, or factors, that explain the pattern of relationships within a set of observed variables (e.g. Green & Salkind 2003; Tabachnick & Fidell 2001). In this instance, exploratory factor analysis was carried out to examine the relationships between the 15 legal event groups and to identify underlying dimensions. Legal event groups that tend to co-occur will contribute to the same underlying dimension or factor, while unrelated legal event groups will contribute to different factors. Legal event groups are considered to contribute to a particular underlying dimension or factor if they 'load' significantly on that factor.

Factor analysis generally involves two stages: factor extraction and factor rotation (Green & Salkind 2003). Principal component extraction was used and the number of factors extracted was based on an examination of a scree plot displaying eigenvalues. Three factors were identified. Varimax (orthogonal) rotation with Kaiser normalisation was used to maximise the loading of each variable on a single factor, while minimising the loadings of the variable on the other factors. Legal event groups with loadings of 0.320 or higher on a given factor were considered to load significantly on that factor (e.g. Tabachnick & Fidell 2001).

Missing values

The number of missing values for each descriptive and inferential statistical analysis is provided in the table notes. The numbers of participants and/or events included in each logistic regression analysis are also listed in Table B7 in Appendix B. Each analysis was based only on participants and/or events that had data on all the variables of interest used in the analysis (i.e. listwise deletion of missing values was used).



Ch 3. The incidence of legal events


This chapter describes the number and type of legal events reported by survey participants across the six LGAs. It also examines the sociodemographic factors associated with the incidence of different types of legal events.


Number of legal events reported


The participants were asked about legal events they had experienced in the 12 months prior to the survey. Overall, the 2431 participants across the six LGAs reported experiencing a total of 5776 legal events in the 12-month period. The maximum number of legal events reported by any individual was 33.

Almost one-third of participants (752 or 30.9%) reported that they did not experience any legal events during the reference period (see Figure 3.1). The remaining two-thirds (1679 or 69.1%) reported experiencing at least one legal event during the reference period, with approximately one-third of all participants reporting either one or two legal events, and one-third reporting three or more legal events. The average number of legal events reported across all 2431 participants was 2.4, while the median number was 1.0. The average number of legal events reported by the 1679 participants who reported at least one event was 3.4.

Figure 3.1: Number of events reported per participant, all six LGAs, 2003

Note: N=2431 participants.

Table 3.1 presents a cumulative frequency distribution of legal events. It can be seen that a minority of participants accounted for a disproportionate number of the legal events reported. For example, the third of participants who reported three or more legal events accounted for more than three-quarters (79.0%) of the 5776 legal events reported. Less than one-quarter of the sample (23.9%) accounted for two-thirds of the events (67.5%) and about one-sixth of the sample (16.4%) accounted for over half the events (54.9%).

Table 3.1: Cumulative frequency distribution of legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

No. of events
reported per
participant
Participants
Events
No.
Cumulative
%
No.
Cumulative
%
16+
16
0.7
308
5.3
15
6
0.9
90
6.9
14
7
1.2
98
8.6
13
10
1.6
130
10.8
12
14
2.2
168
13.7
11
17
2.9
187
17
10
29
4.1
290
22
9
30
5.3
270
26.7
8
41
7
328
32.4
7
45
8.8
315
37.8
6
71
11.8
426
45.2
5
112
16.4
560
54.9
4
182
23.9
728
67.5
3
221
32.9
663
79
2
337
46.8
674
90.6
1
541
69.1
541
100
0
752
100
0
Total
2431
5776


Types of legal events reported


The survey measured the incidence of 101 different legal events. These events were categorised under three broad areas of law, namely civil, criminal and family law, and then further categorised into 15 legal event groups (see Table B1, Appendix B).1 The categorisation resulted in 76 civil law events, 16 criminal law events and nine family law events.

Table 3.2 presents the reported incidence of legal events during the 12-month reference period, broken down by broad area of law and legal event group. Table C1 in Appendix C presents the reported incidence of each of the 101 different legal events.2

Table 3.2: Incidence of legal events by broad area of law andlegal event group, all six LGAs, 2003

Area of lawLevel event group
Participants
Events
No.
%
No.
%
CivilAccident/injury
466
19.2
554
9.6
Business
122
5.0a
125
2.2
Consumer
536
22
690
11.9
Credit/debt
292
12
384
6.6
Education
181
7.4b
223
3.9
Employment
293
12.1c
426
7.4
Government
474
19.5
631
10.9
Health
77
3.2d
90
1.6
Housing
550
22.6
673
11.7
Human rights
141
5.8
196
3.4
Wills/estates
356
14.6
417
7.2
Total civil
1518
62.4
4409
76.3
CriminalDomestic violence
96
3.9
109
1.9
General crime
646
26.6
872
15.1
Traffic offences
78
3.2
83
1.4
Total crime
733
30.2
1064
18.4
FamilyFamily
206
8.5
292
5.1
Unclassified
11
0.5
11
0.2
Total
1679
69.1
5776
100
a 562 participants owned a small business. Of these, 122 (21.7%) reported at least one business event.
b 1076 participants were full- or part-time students, or were responsible for a student. Of these, 181 (16.8%) reported at least one education event.
c 1417 participants were employed full- or part-time at some time during the reference period. Of these, 293 (20.7%) reported at least one employment event.
d 768 participants had chronic conditions or mental/physical disabilities or were responsible for a person with a disability or an elderly person. Of these, 77 (10.0%) reported at least one health event.

Notes: Participants sometimes reported multiple legal events (within or across legal event groups). ‘Unclassified’ legal events consist of events that were unclearly described by participants.

Table 3.2 shows that 62.4 per cent of participants reported experiencing one or more civil law events during the 12-month period, compared with only 30.2 per cent for criminal law events and 8.5 per cent for family law events. It is worth noting that this distribution may partly reflect the survey’s greater focus on civil law events than on criminal or family law events.

Within civil law, the legal event groups reported by the highest proportions of participants were housing (22.6% of all participants), consumer (22.0%), government (19.5%), accident/injury (19.2%), wills/estates (14.6%), employment (12.1%) and credit/debt (12.0%).

As detailed in Appendix Table C1, the most frequently reported housing events involved buying or selling a home (9.0% of all participants), disputes with neighbours (6.3%), tenancy problems (5.0%) and homelessness (3.9%).

The most common consumer events involved problems related to goods and services (10.6%), disputes with financial institutions (9.8%) and problems with insurance (4.8%). Problems related to goods/services and disputes with financial institutions had the third and fourth highest incidence rates among the 101 different legal events examined.

Relatively frequently reported government events included local council problems (6.5%), non-traffic-related fines (5.0%), problems with pensions or benefits (4.6%), and disputes related to taxation or debt (3.8%).

Eight per cent of respondents reported a car accident involving property damage, 6.5 per cent reported a work injury and 7.2 per cent reported a personal injury not related to work or a car accident.

Making or altering a will had the second highest incidence rate among the 101 legal events examined, with 11.1 per cent of respondents reporting this event.

Respondents reported that employment events included disputes related to employment conditions (7.3%), workplace harassment or mistreatment (5.1%) and workplace discrimination (3.0%).

The most frequently reported credit/debt events involved problems concerning money owed to the respondent (6.2%) and problems paying bills or debts (6.0%).

In terms of the broad area of criminal law, events within the general crime legal event group were reportedly experienced by over one-quarter (26.6%) of all participants, whereas domestic violence events (3.9%) and traffic offence events (3.2%) were only reported by relatively small proportions of participants.

The most commonly reported event within the general crime legal event group was having one’s property stolen or vandalised, with 18.9 per cent of all survey participants reporting being victims of stolen or vandalised property. It is worth noting that stolen/vandalised property was the most frequently reported of all the 101 legal events examined. Nine per cent of participants reported being victims of assault and 4.4 per cent reported that the police failed to investigate a crime. It is also worth noting that only five participants reported being in an adult prison or juvenile detention centre at some time during the reference period, and as a result, only a small number of legal events were related to imprisonment.

Within family law, the most frequently reported events included experiencing divorce or separation (3.3%), problems with child support payments (3.2%), and problems with residence or contact arrangements for children (2.9%).

Reporting multiple legal events

Some participants reported more than one event of a particular type (i.e. within the same legal event group). Table 3.3 presents the number of participants who reported multiple events within a particular legal event group.3 It can be seen that the event groups with the highest percentages of participants reporting multiple events were employment, family, human rights, general crime, credit/debt and government.

Table 3.3: Incidence of multiple legal events by broad area of law and legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003

Area of LawLegal event group
No. of participants with
% of participants with multiple events
1+ events
Multiple events
CivilAccident/injury
466
74
15.9
Business
122
3
2.5
Consumer
536
125
23.3
Credit/debt
292
69
23.6
Education
181
40
22.1
Employment
293
100
34.1
Government
474
112
23.6
Health
77
10
13
Housing
550
107
19.5
Human rights
141
39
27.7
Wills/estates
356
50
14
CriminalDomestic violence
96
12
12.5
General crime
646
161
24.9
Traffic offences
78
5
6.4
FamilyFamily
206
62
30.1
Total
1679
1138
67.8

Some participants reported experiencing events across more than one legal event group during the reference period. To examine whether different types of events tended to co-occur, that is, tended to be experienced by the same participants, a hierarchical cluster analysis and an exploratory factor analysis were conducted on the 15 legal event groups. The cluster analysis placed legal event groups that tended to be experienced together in the same cluster, and event groups that tended to be unrelated in different clusters. The factor analysis also examined the pattern of relationships between legal event groups, with related event groups contributing to, or loading on, the same underlying dimension or factor.4

Figure 3.2 summarises the results of the cluster analysis in the form of a tree diagram or dendrogram. The branches of the dendrogram join together legal event groups that tended to be related (or co-occurred), with shorter branches representing greater similarity (or co-occurrence) between legal event groups than longer branches. The dendrogram reveals three main clusters, with two of these clusters consisting of further, smaller clusters.5

Figure 3.2: Dendrogram of legal event groups

Notes: N=2431 participants.
The centroid method of clustering was used.

The first cluster includes a broad range of legal event groups, comprising general crime, consumer, government, housing, accident/injury, employment and wills/estates events. This broad cluster consists of three more defined sub-clusters, namely (a) general crime and consumer events, (b) government and housing events, and (c) accident/injury and employment events.

The second cluster comprises family, domestic violence, human rights and education events, with family and domestic violence events forming one sub-cluster, and human rights and education events forming a second sub-cluster.

The third cluster is an economic cluster comprising business and credit/debt events. Health and traffic offence events do not fit neatly into any of the main clusters identified.6

The factor analysis revealed a similar pattern, also resulting in three main groupings or factors, with health and traffic offence events again not cohering with any of these groupings (see Table C2 in Appendix C for a summary of the factor solution).7 The first factor was a broad factor which included five of the seven legal event groups evident in the broad grouping according to the cluster analysis—general crime, consumer, government, accident/injury and employment. The factor analysis suggested, however, that housing and wills/estates events did not significantly contribute to this grouping. It also suggested that human rights events formed an additional element of this broad grouping rather than cohering with the family grouping as suggested by the cluster analysis.

The second factor, like the second cluster, was dominated by family and domestic violence events, but human rights and education events did not significantly contribute to this factor.

The factor analysis, like the cluster analysis, also revealed a third grouping dominated by business and credit/debt events. The factor analysis also suggested that consumer events significantly contributed to this grouping, although not as strongly as they contributed to the broad factor.8



Demographic factors related to reporting legal events of any type


A standard binary logistic regression was conducted to examine the relationship between sociodemographic factors and experiencing legal events. The regression compared participants who reported one or more legal events of any type with participants who did not report any legal event on the following sociodemographic characteristics: gender, age, Indigenous Australian status, country of birth, disability status, personal income and education level.9 The regression was used to determine which of the sociodemographic factors were statistically independent predictors of reporting legal events of any type, after taking into account the interrelationships between these factors and their combined effect on reporting legal events.

Table 3.4 provides a summary of the regression results while Table C3 in Appendix C provides the full results. Table 3.5 presents the corresponding descriptive statistics.

The regression revealed that age, country of birth, disability status, personal income and education level were statistically independent predictors of reporting legal events (of any type). Gender and Indigenous status were not significant predictors of reporting legal events (see Table 3.4).

Table 3.4 shows the categories of each predictor that were compared in the regression (see column headed ‘Comparison’). For age, people aged 65 or over were compared with each other age group. Table 3.4 presents the odds ratios for significant comparisons. It can be seen that all the age comparisons tested were significant. As noted in the Method section in Chapter 2, an odds ratio that is significantly greater than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had higher odds than the second, whereas an odds ratio that is significantly less than 1.0 indicates the reverse. Thus, Table 3.4 shows that, compared with participants aged 65 years or over, all other age groups had higher odds of reporting legal events. Interestingly, the likelihood of reporting legal events tended to decrease with increasing age. More specifically, the odds of reporting legal events were approximately:


Table 3.4: Summary of standard binary logistic regression for reporting legal events of any type
SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES
VariableComparison
Odds ratioa
Age (years)15–24 versus 65+
25–34 versus 65+
35–44 versus 65+
45–54 versus 65+
55–64 versus 65+
4.3
4.5
3.6
3.1
2.1
Country of birthEnglish speaking versus non-English speaking
1.5
Disability statusDisability versus no disability
1.7
Personal income
($/week)
0–199 versus 1000+
200–499 versus 1000+
500–999 versus 1000+
0.5
0.6
0.7
Education levelDidn’t finish/at school versus university degree
Year 10/equivalent versus university degree
Year 12/equivalent versus university degree
Certificate/diploma versus university degree
ns
0.7
ns
ns
NON-SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES:   Gender, Indigenous status
a An odds ratio greater than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had higher odds than the second.
An odds ratio less than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had lower odds than the second.
Notes: N=1988 participants. Data on one or more potential predictor variables were missing for 443 participants.
‘ns’ indicates the odds ratio was not statistically significant, that is, the odds for the first category in the comparison were not statistically different from the odds for the second category (even though the overall variable was significant).

Table 3.5 shows that, whereas only 44.6 per cent of the oldest age group reported experiencing one or more legal events, over three-fifths of the other age groups reported experiencing one or more legal events.

Table 3.5: Reporting legal events of any type by each sociodemographic factor, all six LGAs, 2003

Sociodemographic factor
Participants reporting 1+ events
All participants
No.
%
No.
GenderFemale
840
69.7
1205
Male
839
68.4
1226
Total
1679
69.1
2431
Age (years)15–24
295
73.2
403
25–34
364
78.6
463
35–44
362
75.3
481
45–54
322
71.6
450
55–64
187
62.5
299
65+
148
44.6
332
Total
1678
69.1
2428
Indigenous statusIndigenous
59
73.8
80
Non-Indigenous
1444
68.6
2106
Total
1503
68.8
2186
Country of birthEnglish speaking
1448
70.2
2062
Non-English speaking
228
62.3
366
Total
1676
69
2428
Disability statusDisability
370
72.8
508
No disability
1305
68.1
1917
Total
1675
69.1
2425
Personal income0–199
307
62.7
490
($/week)200–499
549
67
820
500–999
511
74.3
688
1000+
190
79.2
240
Total
1557
69.6
2238
Education levelDidn’t finish/at school
164
60.7
270
Year 10/equivalent
421
63.3
665
Year 12/equivalent
340
67.3
505
Certificate/diploma
316
77.3
409
University degree
431
76.1
566
Total
1672
69.2
2415
Note: Where the total for a given sociodemographic factor is less than 2431, data were missing on that factor.

The odds of reporting legal events were 1.5 times higher for participants born in an English speaking country than for participants born in a non-English speaking country (see Table 3.4). Whereas 70.2 per cent of participants born in an English speaking country reported experiencing legal events, only 62.3 per cent of those born in a non-English speaking country reported experiencing legal events (see Table 3.5).

The odds of reporting legal events were 1.7 times higher for people with a chronic illness or disability than for other people (see Table 3.4).

When compared with the highest personal income group ($1000 or more per week), each of the other income groups had lower odds of reporting legal events (see Table 3.4). The likelihood of reporting legal events tended to increase with increasing income, with the lowest income earners (under $200 per week) having the lowest incidence rate (62.7%) and the highest income earners ($1000 or more per week) having the highest incidence rate (79.2%, see Table 3.5).

The odds of reporting legal events were lower for people who had completed schooling only as far as Year 10 than for university graduates (see Table 3.4). Whereas 63.3 per cent of those who had completed schooling only as far as Year 10 reported a legal event, 76.1 per cent of university graduates reported a legal event (see Table 3.5).



Demographic factors related to reporting different types of legal events


To assess whether the types of events experienced were related to the characteristics of participants, a series of standard binary logistic regressions were performed. Each regression examined whether sociodemographic factors were associated with whether or not participants reported experiencing one or more events from a particular legal event group.10 Given that the frequency of reporting some types of events was low, there were insufficient numbers to conduct a separate regression for some legal event groups. As a result, regressions were performed for the 10 most frequently occurring legal event groups. These event groups comprised eight civil legal event groups (i.e. accident/injury, consumer, credit/debt, education, employment, government, housing and will/estates), one criminal legal event group (i.e. general crime) and the family legal event group.

The full results of these 10 logistic regression models are presented in Tables C4 to C13 in Appendix C, and the corresponding descriptive statistics are presented in Tables C14 to C23 in Appendix C. The results of these regressions are discussed in turn below.

Although the relationships of sociodemographic factors with reporting the five least frequent types of legal events11 were not examined via regression analyses, they were examined via chi-square analyses. It is worth noting that, unlike regression analyses, chi-square analyses only examine the bivariate relationship of each sociodemographic factor to reporting each type of event. That is, chi-square analyses do not take into account the interrelationships between sociodemographic factors and their combined effect on reporting each type of event. The chi-square results and the relevant cross-tabulations for the five least frequent legal event groups are presented in Tables C24 to C28 in Appendix C.

Accident/injury events

The logistic regression results revealed that gender, age, country of birth, disability status and personal income were statistically independent predictors of reporting one or more accident/injury legal events. Indigenous status and education were not significant predictors of reporting accident/injury events (see Appendix Table C4).

More specifically the odds of reporting at least one accident/injury event were:


Consumer events

According to the logistic regression model, age, disability status and personal income were statistically independent predictors of reporting at least one consumer event. Gender, Indigenous status, country of birth and education were not significant predictors of reporting consumer events (see Appendix Table C5).

The odds of reporting at least one consumer event were:


Credit/debt events

The logistic regression showed that age, Indigenous status and disability status were statistically significant predictors of reporting credit/debt events. The remaining sociodemographic variables were not significant (see Appendix Table C6).

The odds of reporting at least one credit/debt event were:


Education events

Age and disability status were the only sociodemographic factors that were statistically significant predictors of reporting at least one legal event related to education (see Appendix Table C7).12

Specifically, the odds of reporting at least one education event were:


Employment events

Based on the logistic regression model, age, Indigenous status and disability status were statistically significant predictors of reporting employment events. The remaining sociodemographic variables were not significant (see Appendix Table C8).13

The odds of reporting at least one employment event were:


Although age was also a significant predictor of reporting employment events, none of the specific comparisons tested in the regression were significant.14 The highest incidence of employment events was reported by 45 to 54 year olds (24.9%), followed by 15 to 24 year olds (22.6%) and 25 to 34 year olds (22.2%, see Appendix Table C18).

Government events

Age, disability status and education level were statistically independent predictors in the logistic regression model for reporting government events. The remaining sociodemographic variables examined were not significant (see Appendix Table C9).

More specifically, the odds of reporting at least one government event were:


Housing events

The logistic regression revealed that age, disability status and personal income were statistically independent predictors of reporting housing events (see Appendix Table C10). The odds of reporting at least one housing event were:


Gender, Indigenous status, country of birth, and education level15 were not significant predictors of reporting housing events.

Wills/estates events

Age, Indigenous status, country of birth, personal income and education level were statistically independent predictors in the logistic regression model for reporting wills/estates events. Gender and disability status were not significant predictors (see Appendix Table C11).

More specifically, the odds of reporting at least one wills/estates event were:


General crime events

Age, country of birth, disability status and personal income were statistically independent predictors in the regression model (see Appendix Table C12). The odds of reporting at least one general crime event were:


Gender, Indigenous status and education level were not significant predictors of reporting general crime events.

Family events

Age, Indigenous status, disability status and personal income were statistically independent predictors in the regression model (see Appendix Table C13). The odds of reporting at least one family event were:


Although personal income was a significant predictor of reporting family events, none of the specific comparisons tested, using the highest income bracket as the reference category, were significant. The highest rates of family events were reported by the middle two income groups (9.9% and 9.6%) while the lowest rate was reported by the lowest income group (4.9%). The rate for the highest income group (6.3%) fell in between these other rates (see Appendix Table C23).

Gender, country of birth and education level were not significant predictors of reporting family events.



Summary: the incidence of legal events


This chapter focused on the reported incidence of legal events. Some of the major findings were as follows.

About two-thirds of survey respondents reported experiencing one or more legal events in the 12 months prior to the survey. The average number of legal events reported by each participant was 2.4.

A minority of participants accounted for a disproportionate number of the legal events reported, with the one-third of participants who reported experiencing three or more legal events accounting for over three-quarters of all the legal events reported.

Of the 11 civil legal event groups, the accident/injury, consumer, credit/debt, employment, government, housing and wills/estates groups had the highest incidence. The two most common civil law events fell into the consumer group. These events involved problems with goods or services (reported by 10.6% of participants), and disputes with financial institutions (reported by 9.8% of participants).

Of the three criminal legal event groups, the general crime group had the highest incidence. The most frequent criminal law event was the general crime event involving stolen or vandalised property (reported by 18.9% of participants).

Some types of legal events tended to co-occur. Cluster and factor analyses suggested three main groupings of legal event types: a general, broad grouping; a family grouping; and an economic grouping. More specifically:


Age, country of birth, disability status, personal income and education level were statistically significant independent predictors of reporting any type of legal event according to the logistic regression analysis. The odds of reporting a legal event of any type were higher for:
A series of logistic regressions showed that different sociodemographic characteristics were related to experiencing different types of legal events. Table 3.6 summarises the regression results for the 10 most frequent legal event groups (i.e. accident/injury, consumer, credit/debt, education, employment, government, housing, wills/estates, general crime and family). It was found that:
Table 3.6: Summary of significant sociodemographic predictors in the 11 regression models for reporting legal events
Reporting
Gender
Age
Indigenous status
Country of birth
Disability status
Personal income
Education level
Legal events of any type
x
x
x
x
x
Accident/injury events
x
x
x
x
x
Consumer events
x
x
x
Credit/debt events
x
x
x
Education events
x
x
Employment events
x
x
x
Government events
x
x
x
Housing events
x
x
x
Wills/estates events
x
x
x
x
x
General crime events
x
x
x
x
Family events
x
x
x
x


Ch 4. The response to legal events


As already discussed, 1679 of the 2431 survey participants reported experiencing one or more legal events in the 12 months prior to the survey, with a total of 5776 events being reported. This chapter examines participants’ responses to legal events. Participants were asked about their responses to their three most recent events in the 12-month period, a total of 3024 events.1 Participants provided information on their responses to 2921 of these events. The present chapter is based on these 2921 events.


Type of response to legal events


Survey participants were asked whether or not they had sought any help, advice or information in relation to their three most recent legal events. Figure 4.1 summarises the three main types of action taken by participants in response to these events. Participants sought help for just over half (1496 or 51.2%) of the 2921 legal events, handled the matter alone in response to 467 or 16.0 per cent of events, and took no action in response to the remaining 958 or 32.8 per cent of events.

Figure 4.1: Action taken in response to legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Note: N=2921 events.

Participants who did not seek help in response to legal events were asked to provide the ‘most important’ reason why they did not do so. The participants who handled the matter themselves cited this as the reason why they did not seek help. Table 4.1 presents the most important reason provided for not seeking help in response to the 958 events where participants took no action.2 The two most frequently cited most important reasons for taking no action were that the participant did not perceive the event to be serious or did not realise its seriousness (28.7%), and that the participant thought seeking help would make no difference or make things worse (26.1%). Other reasons for taking no action included the respondent having other priorities (11.1%), and the respondent not knowing how to seek help or not being easily able to get there (9.5%). Not being able to afford help was cited as the most important reason for doing nothing in only 3.9 per cent of events.

Table 4.1: Most important reason for doing nothing in response to legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Most important reasonEvents where participants did nothing
No.
%
Problem not serious enough/didn’t realise how serious it was
253
28.7
Thought it would make no difference/make things worse
230
26.1
Had bigger problems/too busy/thought it would take too long
98
11.1
Didn’t know how to get help/couldn’t get there
84
9.5
Waiting it out/hoping it would resolve itself
67
7.6
Problem resolved before I got around to seeking help
59
6.7
Couldn’t afford it
34
3.9
Thought it was my fault
33
3.7
No internet access
13
1.5
Didn’t trust anyone/embarrassed
11
1.2
Total
882
100
Note: Most important reason was not provided for 76 events.


Factors related to action taken for legal events


A mixed-effects logistic regression was conducted to examine whether or not sociodemographic characteristics and type of legal event were independent predictors of action taken by participants in response to legal events.3 The regression examined which variables predicted whether participants sought help as opposed to whether they either handled the matter on their own or did nothing.4

Table 4.2 provides a summary of the regression results (and Appendix Table C29 provides the full results). The regression identified age, Indigenous status, education level and legal event group as statistically significant independent predictors of action taken in response to legal events. Gender, country of birth, disability status and personal income were not significant predictors of action taken. The regression results are further described below, with reference to the relevant descriptive statistics.

Table 4.2: Summary of mixed-effects binary logistic regression for action taken

SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES
VariableComparison
Odds ratioa
Age (years)15–24 versus 65+
ns
25–34 versus 65+
ns
35–44 versus 65+
1.7
45–54 versus 65+
ns
55–64 versus 65+
ns
Indigenous statusIndigenous versus non-Indigenous
0.6
Education levelDidn’t finish/at school versus university degree
ns
Year 10/equivalent versus university degree
0.7
Year 12/equivalent versus university degree
ns
Certificate/diploma versus university degree
ns
Legal event groupbCivil
Accident/injury versus average
1.7
Business versus average
ns
Consumer versus average
0.5
Credit/debt versus average
ns
Education versus average
ns
Employment versus average
1.6
Government versus average
ns
Health versus average
ns
Housing versus average
ns
Human rights versus average
0.4
Wills/estates versus average
1.9
Criminal
Domestic violence versus average
ns
General crime versus average
ns
Traffic offences versus average
ns
Family
Family versus average
ns
NON-SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES:   Gender, country of birth, disability status, personal income
a An odds ratio greater than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had higher odds than the second.
An odds ratio less than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had lower odds than the second.
b Each legal event group was compared to the average effect for all legal event groups (rather than to any specific legal event group).

Notes: N=2380 events and 1200 participants. Data on one or more potential predictor variables were missing for 541 events where information was provided on action taken.
‘ns’ indicates the odds ratio was not statistically significant, that is, the odds for the first category in the comparison were not statistically different from the odds for the second (even though the overall variable was significant).

Sociodemographic factors

Participants aged 35 to 44 years had odds of seeking help that were 1.7 times higher than those of participants aged 65 years or over (see Table 4.2). As shown in Table 4.3, whereas participants aged 65 years or over sought help for 50.0 per cent of events and handled 25.0 per cent of events on their own, 35 to 44 year olds sought help for 54.5 per cent of events and handled only 14.2 per cent of events on their own. Table 4.3 also shows that 15 to 24 year olds had the lowest rate of seeking help (43.2%), while people aged 65 or over had the second lowest rate of seeking help (50.0%). The youngest age group also had the highest rate of doing nothing (41.0%).5

Table 4.3: Action taken in response to legal events by each sociodemographic factor, all six LGAs, 2003

Sociodemographic factor
Sought help
% of events
Handled alone
% of events
Did nothing
% of events
No. of events
GenderFemale
51.6
16.6
31.8
1467
Male
50.8
15.4
33.8
1454
Total
51.2
16
32.8
2921
Age (years)15–24
43.2
15.8
41
525
25–34
51.3
15.3
33.4
674
35–44
54.5
14.2
31.2
660
45–54
54.9
15.2
29.9
566
55–64
51.4
16.9
31.7
290
65+
50
25
25
204
Total
51.2
16
32.8
2919
Indigenous statusIndigenous
36.8
12.3
50.9
114
Non-Indigenous
52.1
15.9
32
2483
Total
51.4
15.7
32.8
2597
Country of birthEnglish speaking
51.5
16.1
32.4
2565
Non-English speaking
48.4
15.2
36.4
349
Total
51.2
16
32.8
2914
Disability statusDisability
53.9
12.3
33.8
725
No disability
50.4
17.2
32.4
2186
Total
51.3
16
32.8
2911
Personal income ($/week)0–199
49.6
15.5
34.9
490
200–499
50.4
15.1
34.4
938
500–999
51.9
15.5
32.6
950
1000+
56.6
19.6
23.9
327
Total
51.5
15.9
32.6
2705
Education levelDidn’t finish/at school
45
19.6
35.4
271
Year 10/equivalent
47.2
17.5
35.3
714
Year 12/equivalent
51.1
14.4
34.5
589
Certificate/diploma
55.2
13.9
30.9
582
University degree
54.4
15.8
29.8
755
Total
51.3
15.9
32.8
2911
Note: Where the total for a given sociodemographic factor is less than 2921, data were missing on that factor.

The odds of seeking help for Indigenous participants were only about 0.6 times those for non-Indigenous participants (see Table 4.2). Whereas non-Indigenous Australians sought help in response to over half the legal issues they faced, Indigenous Australians sought help in response to only 36.8 per cent of their legal issues (see Table 4.3). Indigenous participants did nothing in response to 50.9 per cent of events whereas non-Indigenous participants did nothing in only 32.0 per cent of events (see Table 4.3).

The odds of seeking help for participants who had completed school only as far as Year 10 were 0.7 times those for university graduates (see Table 4.2). University graduates sought help for 54.4 per cent of events whereas those who completed school only as far as Year 10 sought help for 47.2 per cent of events (see Table 4.3).

Type of legal event

As shown in Table 4.2, compared with the odds of seeking help for all types of events, the odds of seeking help for accident/injury, employment and wills/estates events were higher than average, whereas the odds of seeking help for consumer and human rights events were lower than average. Figure 4.2 shows that help was sought for 57.8 per cent of accident/injury events, 56.6 per cent of employment events and 60.3 per cent of wills/estates event, but for only 37.3 per cent of consumer events and only 27.3 per cent of human rights events. The types of events that participants handled alone at the highest rates were related to consumer (28.2%), traffic offence (25.0%), wills/estates (22.5%) and education (21.5%) issues (see Figure 4.2). The types of events resulting in the highest rates of inaction were human rights (63.6%), traffic offence (50.0%), general crime (44.4%) and credit/debt (42.3%) events (see Figure 4.2).

Table 4.4 summarises the data in Figure 4.2, presenting the action taken in response to legal events broken down by the three broad areas of law, rather than by the 15 legal event groups. A chi-square test was conducted to examine whether the type of action taken was significantly related to whether the event was a civil, criminal or family law event.6 The relationship was significant. Respondents sought help for 55.4 per cent of family law events, but only 46.7 per cent of criminal events and 51.4 per cent of civil law events. Respondents did nothing about 43.3 per cent of criminal events, but only 31.6 per cent of civil events and 32.1 per cent of family events (see Table 4.4).

Figure 4.2: Action taken in response to legal events by legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003


Notes: N=2915 events. Six unclassified events were excluded.

Table 4.4: Action taken in response to legal events by broad area of law, all six LGAs, 2003

Area of law
Sought help
% of events
Handled alone
% of events
Did nothing
% of events
No. of events
Civil
51.4
17
31.6
2456
Criminal
46.7
10
43.3
291
Family
55.4
12.5
32.1
168
Total
51.2
16
32.8
2915
Notes: Six unclassified events were excluded.
x2=21.98, df=4, p=0.000.


Summary: the response to legal events


This chapter examined participants’ responses to their three most recent legal events. Participants provided information on their responses to 2921 events.7 The main findings were as follows.

Participants sought help for a little over half these legal events, dealt with the event themselves in 16.0 per cent of cases and did nothing in the remaining one-third of events.

The most common reasons for taking no action were that the participant did not perceive the event to be serious or did not realise its seriousness (for 253 events), and that the participant thought that seeking help would make no difference or make things worse (for 230 events).

According to the logistic regression analysis, age, Indigenous status, education level and legal event group were independent predictors of whether or not participants sought help in response to the 2921 events. The odds of seeking help were:



Ch 5. Seeking help for legal events


This chapter focuses on the 1496 legal events for which participants sought help, advice or information, and describes the types of advisers used by participants, the types of assistance received and the barriers to accessing assistance.1


Type of adviser


Participants who sought help, advice or information in response to legal events were asked to identify all the advisers they had used in relation to each event. Participants sometimes used more than one adviser in response to a legal event. Figure 5.1 presents a frequency distribution showing the number of advisers that participants reported using in response to the 1496 events where they sought some form of help. For 1167 or over three-quarters (78.4%) of the legal events where help was sought, participants reported using only one adviser.2 Two advisers were used in response to a further 14.8 per cent of the events, and three or more advisers were used in the remaining 6.9 per cent of events. Approaching five or more advisers was quite rare, occurring in response to only 0.5 per cent of all events where participants sought help. When some form of help was sought in response to a legal event, the average number of advisers used was 1.3.

Figure 5.1: Number of advisers used per legal event, all six LGAs, 2003

Notes: N=1488 events. Information on number of advisers was missing for eight events where help was sought.

Participants were asked to identify all the advisers they used in response to legal events from a list comprising a wide range of both legal and non-legal advisers. Legal advisers included traditional legal advisers, such as private solicitors/barristers, local courts, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, Aboriginal legal services, community legal centres (CLCs), as well as less formal legal advisers such as friends or relatives who are lawyers, and published sources (e.g. the internet). Non-legal advisers included friends and relatives who are not lawyers, government sources, police, complaint handling bodies, and other professionals and agencies.3

Figure 5.2 presents the percentage of events where participants who sought help used one or more legal advisers. It can be seen that participants did not limit themselves to legal advisers, but approached a broad range of sources in response to legal events. In fact, one or more legal advisers were used in response to only 25.6 per cent of the events where participants sought help. In the remaining three-quarters of the events where help was sought, participants used only non-legal advisers.

Figure 5.2: Use of legal versus non-legal advisers, all six LGAs, 2003

Notes: N=1495 events. Information on type of adviser was missing for one event where help was sought.
Events where both legal and non-legal advisers were used are included within the ‘legal adviser(s) used’ category.

Table 5.1 presents more detailed information about the types of legal and non-legal advisers used by participants. It presents both the percentage of events where a given adviser was used, and the percentage of events where a given adviser was the first adviser used.4 The table also provides the rankings corresponding to these percentages.

As shown in Table 5.1, traditional legal advisers, namely private lawyers, local courts, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, Aboriginal legal services and CLCs, were used in response to only 12.0 per cent of events where help was sought. Private solicitors/barristers constituted the most commonly used traditional legal adviser, approached in 9.6 per cent of events where participants sought help. Local courts, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, Aboriginal legal services and CLCs were each used in under 2.0 per cent of events where help was sought.

Interestingly, the most commonly approached advisers in response to legal events were non-legal professionals, such as doctors, accountants, psychologists and counsellors. Non-legal professionals (i.e. ‘other professionals’) were approached for help in response to 24.5 per cent of the events where help was sought. The next nine most common advisers were friends or relatives who are not lawyers (15.5%), government organisations (15.3%), private solicitors/barristers (9.6%), the internet (7.4%), friends or relatives who are lawyers (7.0%), trade unions or professional bodies (6.4%), insurance companies/brokers (5.9%), school staff (5.7%) and the police (5.2%). There were only three categories of legal advisers among the 10 most frequently used types of advisers: private lawyers, the internet, and friends or relatives who are lawyers.

Table 5.1: Type of adviser used, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of adviser
Adviser used
Adviser used firste
No. of events
% of events where help sought
Rank
No. of events
% of events where help sought
Rank
LEGAL ADVISER
Traditional legal:
180
12
150
10.3
Private solicitor/barrister
143
9.6
4
119
8.2
4
Local court
21
1.4
16
13
0.9
16
Legal Aid NSW
18
1.2
18
13
0.9
16
LawAccess NSW
3
0.2
24
2
0.1
21
Aboriginal legal services
1
0.1
25
1
0.1
25
CLCs
5
0.3
21
2
0.1
21
Lawyer friend/relative
105
7
6
77
5.3
5
Published:
120
8
67
4.6
Internet
110
7.4
5
59
4.1
10
Self-help source
13
0.9
19
8
0.5
19
NON-LEGAL ADVISER
Other friend/relative
232
15.5
2
168
11.5
3
Government:
294
19.7
233
16
Government organisation
228
15.3
3
172
11.8
2
Local council
68
4.5
12
51
3.5
12
Member of parliament
21
1.4
16
10
0.7
18
Police/complaint handling:
82
5.5
68
4.7
Police
77
5.2
10
65
4.5
9
Industry complaint handling bodya
5
0.3
21
3
0.2
20
Other:
829
55.5
692
47.6
Other professionalb
367
24.5
1
293
20.1
1
School/school counsellor/teacher
85
5.7
9
73
5
6
Non-legal community group
56
3.7
15
29
2
15
Private agency/organisationc
70
4.7
11
51
3.5
12
Company/business/bank
61
4.1
14
46
3.2
14
Insurance company/broker
88
5.9
8
71
4.9
8
Trade union/professional body
96
6.4
7
72
4.9
7
Library
7
0.5
20
2
0.1
21
Employer
63
4.2
13
53
3.6
11
Other tribunal
5
0.3
21
2
0.1
21
Unclassified
3
0.2
-
-
-
Total
1495d
100
1455f
100
a Includes Banking Ombudsman, Insurance Complaints Scheme.
b Includes doctor, accountant, psychologist, counsellor, etc.
c Includes debt collection agency, employment agency, real estate agent.
d Information on adviser was missing for one event where help was sought.
e For 78.4% of events, the first adviser used was the only adviser used.
f Information on the first adviser used was missing for 41 events where help was sought.

Notes: Multiple advisers were sometimes used for the same event. Advisers were classified as legal advisers only if one of their primary roles is to provide legal information, advice, assistance or representation. Individuals and organisations who sometimes provide legal information or advice as a subsidiary activity are classified as non-legal advisers.
Sub-totals show the number of events where at least one of that type of adviser was used. E.g. One or more traditional legal advisers were used in 180 events.

As shown by the ranks in Table 5.1, the 10 types of advisers used most frequently were also the 10 types of advisers that were most often approached first for help. The advisers that were most likely to be consulted first were non-legal professionals (in 20.1% of events where help was sought), government organisations (11.8%), and friends or relatives who are not lawyers (11.5%).

Participants who sought help in response to legal events were also asked whether or not each adviser was ‘useful’. There was considerable variation in the perceived usefulness of different types of advisers (see Table 5.2). The advisers that were most often rated as useful were friends or relatives who are lawyers (90.5%), the internet (89.1%), other friends or relatives (82.8%), non-legal community groups (76.8%) and other non-legal professionals (76.6%). Traditional legal advisers such as private lawyers (65.7%), local courts (76.2%) and Legal Aid NSW (66.7%) were also rated as useful in the majority of cases.5 Advisers who were least frequently perceived as useful were members of parliament (33.3%).

There was also considerable variation in how often each type of adviser was rated as the ‘most useful’ adviser when more than one adviser was used for the same event (see Table 5.2). The advisers that were most often rated as the most useful adviser when they were one of multiple advisers were private lawyers (72.7%).

However, as will be discussed later, different types of advisers tended to be consulted for different types of events. Thus, differences in the perceived usefulness of different advisers may in part reflect differences in the nature of problems handled.

Table 5.2: Usefulness of advisers, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of adviserAdviser usedAdviser was one of multiple advisers
No. of events% of events used where rated as usefuldNo. of events% of events rated as most useful advisere
LEGAL ADVISER
Traditional legal:
180
67.8
41
73.1
Private solicitor/barrister
143
65.7
33
72.7
Local court
21
76.2
8
-
Legal Aid NSW
18
66.7
7
-
LawAccess NSW
3
-
1
-
Aboriginal legal services
1
-
0
-
CLCs
5
-
3
-
Lawyer friend/relative
105
90.5
44
50
Published:
120
87.5
86
33.7
Internet
110
89.1
81
34.6
Self-help source
13
53.8
8
-
NON-LEGAL ADVISER
Other friend/relative
232
82.8
139
33.8
Government:
294
55.4
112
47.3
Government organisation
228
57
84
44
Local council
68
45.6
38
34.2
Member of parliament
21
33.3
13
23.1
Police/complaint handling:
82
51.2
31
29
Police
77
49.4
29
27.6
Industry complaint handling bodya
5
-
2
-
Other:
829
67.4
225
56
Other professionalb
367
76.6
110
53.6
School/school counsellor/teacher
85
55.3
24
20.8
Non-legal community group
56
76.8
28
46.4
Private agency/organisationc
70
71.4
23
30.4
Company/business/bank
61
47.5
21
38.1
Insurance company/broker
88
46.6
25
36
Trade union/professional body
96
57.3
33
54.5
Library
7
-
5
-
Employer
63
63.5
24
25
Other tribunal
5
-
1
-
Unclassified
3
-
0
-
Total
1495
a Includes Banking Ombudsman, Insurance Complaints Scheme.
b Includes doctor, accountant, psychologist, counsellor, etc.
c Includes debt collection agency, employment agency, real estate agent.
d Of the events where this adviser was used, the percentage where the adviser was rated as useful. E.g. Private lawyers were rated as useful in 65.7% of events where they were consulted.
e For the events where an adviser was not the only adviser consulted, the percentage of times this adviser was rated the most useful of those consulted. E.g. In 33 events, a private lawyer was one of two or more advisers consulted. In 72.7% of these 33 events, the private lawyer was rated as the most useful of the advisers consulted.

Notes: Information on adviser was missing for one event where help was sought. Due to their unreliability, percentages are not provided for advisers used in response to fewer than 10 events. Multiple advisers were sometimes used for the same event.
Sub-totals show the number of events where at least one of that type of adviser was used or was one of multiple advisers used. Respondents sometimes used more than one of a particular type of adviser (e.g. more than one type of traditional legal adviser). E.g. One or more traditional legal advisers were rated as useful in 67.8% of the 180 events where they were consulted.

Table 5.3 shows how participants found out about the particular advisers they used in response to the legal events they experienced in the 12 months prior to the survey. Where participants approached more than one adviser in response to a legal event, they were only asked how they found out about the adviser they judged to be the most useful.6

Table 5.3: Source of knowledge about sole or most useful adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

How found out about adviser
Events where help sought
No.
%
General knowledge
436
30.2
Used the adviser/service before
256
17.7
Adviser was a friend or relative
241
16.7
Other agency/person
210
14.5
From a friend or relative
126
8.7
Telephone book
44
3
Pamphlet/poster
33
2.3
Internet
30
2.1
Media
26
1.8
Walked in off the street
16
1.1
CLC
14
1
Adviser approached them
6
0.4
Other
8
0.6
Total
1446
100
Note: Information on source of knowledge about sole or most useful adviser was missing for 50 events where help was sought.

Participants found out about their sole or most useful adviser from a variety of sources. In almost one-third of cases, participants relied on their own general knowledge, in 17.7 per cent of cases the participant had used the adviser before and in a further 16.7 per cent of cases the adviser was a friend or relative. Participants also found out about the sole or most useful adviser from friends or relatives (8.7%), or from another person or agency (14.5%). Less often, participants found out about the adviser from the telephone book, pamphlets/posters, the internet, the media or CLCs. Participants reported that they found out about the adviser from a CLC in only 1.0 per cent of cases.

Type of adviser for different types of legal events

Table 5.4 shows the types of advisers used for different types of legal events. The table presents this information for the 10 types of adviser used most frequently overall. In some cases, participants used more than one adviser for the same event. The descriptive statistics suggest that the type of legal event experienced to some extent guided participants’ choice of adviser, with the choice of adviser generally appearing to be appropriate.7 For instance, in response to education events, the advisers most commonly approached for help were school staff such as teachers or school counsellors. School staff were used in response to 82.9 per cent of education events where some form of help was sought. Non-legal professionals such as doctors, psychologists and counsellors were the advisers most commonly approached in response to health events (54.5%) and in response to accident/injury events (53.6%). The most common advisers were government organisations for government events (41.3%), trade unions for employment events (40.5%), private lawyers for wills/estates events (33.5%) and police for general crime events (27.1%).



Type of assistance


Participants were asked in a closed-ended question whether they obtained written information from any of the advisers they used in relation to a given legal event. Written information was obtained in response to 416 or 27.8 per cent of the 1496 legal events where participants sought help. Written information included information from books or leaflets (10.6% of events), websites (6.1%) and do-it-yourself kits (1.2%).

In addition, participants were also asked in an open-ended question to identify all the different types of help they received from their sole or most useful adviser.8 The type of help received was provided for only 1272 of the events where help was sought. Figure 5.3 presents a summary of whether the type of help was of a legal or non-legal nature. More than one type of help was sometimes received for the same event. For 8.5 per cent of these events, participants reported that their adviser did not actually provide any useful help. For 38.2 per cent of these events, respondents did not specify whether or not the help was of a legal or non-legal nature. However, for at least 323 (25.4%) of these events, the help received included information, advice or assistance that was of a legal nature.9 In the remaining 27.9 per cent of events, only non-legal information, advice or assistance was received.10 Thus, in a considerable proportion of cases where participants sought help for events that had legal consequences, they only received non-legal help. This finding is not surprising given the earlier reported finding that in the majority of cases where help was sought, only a non-legal adviser was consulted.

Figure 5.3: Legal versus non-legal help from sole or most useful adviser, all six LGAs, 2003


a Legal help includes two events where legal help was received together with non-legal help and 10 events where legal help was received together with an unspecified form of help.
b Non-legal help includes three events where non-legal help was received together with an unspecified form of help.
Notes: N=1272 events. Type of help was missing for 224 events where help was sought.

Table 5.4: Ten most frequently used advisers by legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003
Legal Event Group
% of events of each type where help sought
No. of events
LEGAL ADVISER
NON-LEGAL ADVISER
Traditional legal:
Lawyer friend/ relative
Published:
Other friend/ relative
Government:
Police/complaint handling:
Other:
Private solicitor/barrister
Internet
Government organisation
Police
Other professionala
School/school counsellor/
teacher
Insurance company/
broker
Trade union/professional body
Civil
Accident/injury
2.9
2.5
3.3
7.9
3.8
9.2
53.6
0.4
24.7
2.9
239
Business
8.5
6.8
6.8
13.6
18.6
3.4
27.1
1.7
3.4
3.4
59
Consumer
8.1
8.7
9.3
19.9
9.9
0.6
14.9
0
13
1.9
161
Credit/debt
0
18.2
9.1
9.1
36.4
0
18.2
0
9.1
0
11
Education
1.3
1.3
5.3
10.5
6.6
2.6
11.8
82.9
0
0
76
Employment
6.5
6.5
12.5
14.9
11.9
0
10.1
3
0
40.5
168
Government
3.9
5.6
6.1
15.1
41.3
0.6
22.3
1.7
0.6
2.2
179
Health
0
4.5
9.1
15.9
15.9
0
54.5
0
0
6.8
44
Housing
5
8.4
10.1
23.5
15.1
9.2
7.6
0
0.8
3.4
119
Human rights
12.5
4.2
4.2
12.5
16.7
8.3
16.7
16.7
0
0
24
Wills/estates
33.5
15.4
7.1
14.8
4.9
0
25.3
0
1.1
0.5
182
Criminal
Domestic violence
2.9
2.9
5.9
23.5
26.5
23.5
26.5
5.9
0
2.9
34
General crime
6.3
5.2
2.1
17.7
18.8
27.1
20.8
6.3
1
2.1
96
Traffic offences
33.3
0
0
16.7
0
0
33.3
0
0
0
6
Family
20.4
10.8
12.9
21.5
24.7
2.2
17.2
0
0
0
93
a Includes doctor, accountant, psychologist, counsellor, etc.
Notes: N=1491 events. Four unclassified events were excluded, and information on type of adviser was missing for one event where help was sought. Multiple advisers were sometimes used for the same event. A significance test was not conducted.

Table 5.5 details the types of legal and non-legal information, advice and assistance that participants reported receiving from their sole or most useful adviser. The most frequent type of legal help received from the sole or most useful adviser was specific legal advice, which was received in response to 20.0 per cent of events where help was sought.11 Other types of legal help included assistance with legal paperwork such as legal documents or letters (2.2%), general information about the law or legal rights (1.7%) and legal representation in court or tribunal proceedings (1.3%).12 The most frequent types of non-legal help included medical advice, assistance or referral (8.9%), financial or insurance advice or assistance (4.4%), and non-legal counselling or support (4.2%).13

Table 5.5: Type of help from sole or most useful adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of help
Events where help sought
No.
%
No help received
108
8.5
Legal
Specific legal advice
254
20
Information re legal services
4
0.3
General information re law/legal rights
22
1.7
Legal representation in court/tribunal
16
1.3
Legal paperwork
28
2.2
Other legala
28
2.2
Non-legal
Medical advice/assistance
113
8.9
Financial/insurance advice/assistance
56
4.4
Information re non-legal services
7
0.6
General non-legal information
15
1.2
Non-legal counselling/supportb
54
4.2
Non-legal paperwork
3
0.2
Other non-legalc
112
8.8
Legal versus non-legal not specified
Specific advice
325
25.6
Information re services
2
0.2
General informationd
110
8.6
Paperwork
29
2.3
Other
85
6.7
a e.g. initial legal assistance such as legal advocacy, negotiation or mediation; legal settlement; law reform.
b e.g. psychological counselling; moral support; housing/financial support.
c e.g. non-legal advice on other issues (e.g. council, employment, engineering, real estate); non-legal advocacy.
d e.g. information published via the internet, books, pamphlets.
Notes: N=1272 events. Information on type of help was missing for 224 events where help was sought. Multiple types of help were sometimes obtained from the sole or most useful adviser.

Table 5.6 breaks down the type of help received from the sole or most useful adviser according to the type of adviser used. Not surprisingly, the descriptive statistics suggest that the type of help received appeared to depend on the type of adviser consulted, with legal advisers tending to provide legal forms of help more often than non-legal advisers.14 Legal advisers provided some form of legal help in at least three-fifths of events, with traditional legal advisers (i.e. private lawyers, local courts, legal service agencies) providing legal help in over four-fifths of cases. In comparison, non-legal advisers (i.e. non-lawyer friends and family, government sources, police, complaint handling bodies and other advisers) may have provided legal information, advice or assistance in no more than 14.8 per cent of cases.15 Advice or assistance of a medical, financial or insurance nature tended to be provided more frequently by non-legal rather than legal advisers.16 One of the main uses of published sources was to obtain general information, either of a legal or non-legal nature.

Table 5.7 (a and b) breaks down the types of help received from the sole or most useful adviser by legal event group. Table 5.7a provides this breakdown for civil legal event groups while Table 5.7b provides the breakdown for criminal and family legal event groups. The descriptive data suggest that type of help appeared to depend on the type of legal event.17 For example, as would be expected, medical advice or assistance tended to be most commonly received for accident/injury (47.8%) and health events (31.4%) rather than other types of events. Specific legal advice was received in over one-third of family (34.2%) and wills/estates (52.3%) events, but in less than 10 per cent of accident/injury, education, government and health events. Non-legal counselling or support was received most commonly for domestic violence events (40.7%).

Table 5.6: Type of help from sole or most useful adviser by type of adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of help
% of events where adviser used
Traditional legale
Lawyer friend/ relative
Publishedf
LEGAL
ADVISERg
Other friend/ relative
Governmenth
Police/ complaint handing
Otheri
NON-LEGAL
ADVISERj
No help received
6.9
6.3
1.6
5.5
4.9
14.1
17.1
8.1
9.3
Legal
85.4
52.5
34.9
64.1
16.4
15
14.3
14.5
14.8
Specific legal advice
70.8
43.8
17.5
50.5
13.1
11.7
11.4
11.3
11.6
Information re legal services
0.8
1.3
1.6
1.1
0
0
0
0.2
0.1
General information re law/legal rights
2.3
3.8
17.5
6.2
1.6
0.5
0
0.3
0.5
Legal representation in court/tribunal
5.4
1.3
0
2.9
0
0
0
1.3
0.8
Legal paperwork
6.9
6.3
0
5.1
0.8
0
0
2.1
1.4
Other legala
6.9
2.5
0
4
0.8
2.8
2.9
1.4
1.7
Non-legal
3.1
6.3
9.5
5.5
28.7
22.1
14.3
40.2
34
Medical advice/assistance
0
1.3
1.6
0.7
0
1.4
2.9
17
11.1
Financial/insurance advice/assistance
0.8
2.5
1.6
1.5
4.1
4.7
5.7
5.6
5.2
Information re non-legal services
0
0
0
0
0
1.4
0
0.6
0.7
General non-legal information
0
0
6.3
1.5
2.5
0.9
2.9
0.8
1.1
Non-legal counselling/supportb
0
1.3
1.6
0.7
10.7
2.8
0
5.2
5.2
Non-legal paperwork
0.8
0
0
0.4
0
0.5
0
0.2
0.2
Other non-legalc
1.5
1.3
0
1.1
11.5
10.3
2.9
11.4
10.9
Legal versus non-legal not specified
4.6
35
54
24.9
50
48.8
54.3
37.2
41.8
Specific advice
0
26.3
20.6
12.5
33.6
33.3
42.9
26.1
29.1
Information re services
0
0
1.6
0.4
0
0.5
0
0
0.1
General informationd
5.4
6.3
39.7
13.6
6.6
8.9
8.6
6.8
7.3
Paperwork
5.4
2.5
0
3.3
0.8
2.8
0
2.1
2
Other
0
3.8
3.2
1.8
10.7
8.5
5.7
7.5
8
No. of events
130
80
63
273
122
213
35
629
999
a e.g. initial legal assistance such as legal advocacy, negotiation or mediation; legal settlement; law reform.
b e.g. psychological counselling; moral support; housing/financial support.
c e.g. non-legal advice on other issues (e.g. council, employment, engineering, real estate); non-legal advocacy.
d e.g. information published via the internet, books, pamphlets.
e Includes private solicitor/barrister, local court, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, Aboriginal legal services and CLCs.
f Includes the internet and self-help source.
g Includes the categories of traditional legal adviser, lawyer friend/relative and published source.
h Includes government organisation, local council and member of parliament.
i Includes other professional, school/school counsellor/teacher, non-legal community group, private agency/organisation, company/business/bank, insurance company/broker, trade union/professional body, library, employer and other tribunal.
j Includes the categories of other (non-lawyer) friend/relative, government source, police/complaint handling body and other adviser.

Notes: N=1272. Type of help was missing for 224 events where help was sought. Multiple types of help were sometimes obtained from the sole or most useful adviser. A significance test was not conducted.

Table 5.7a: Type of help from sole or most useful adviser by each civil legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003
Type of help
% of events of each type where help sought
Accident/injury
Business
Consumer
Education
Employment
Government
Health
Housing
Wills/estates
No help received
5
5.7
16.7
10.6
6.8
12.4
5.7
7.3
2.6
Legal
8.3
39.6
22.9
4.5
20.9
10.6
5.7
25.5
62.9
Specific legal advice
6.7
28.3
19.4
4.5
17.6
8.7
0
18.2
52.3
Information re legal services
0
0
0
0
0
0.6
0
0.9
0
General information re law/legal rights
0.6
1.9
1.4
0
2
1.2
2.9
3.6
2.6
Legal representation in court/tribunal
1.1
1.9
0.7
0
0
0
0
0
0.7
Legal paperwork
0
5.7
0.7
0
0
0.6
0
3.6
12.6
Other legala
0
7.5
2.8
0
1.4
0
2.9
3.6
3.3
Non-legal
62.2
13.2
23.6
40.9
22.3
27.3
45.7
23.6
4.6
Medical advice/assistance
47.8
0
0
1.5
2.7
2.5
31.4
0
0
Financial/insurance advice/assistance
6.1
7.5
11.8
0
3.4
8.1
0
0
1.3
Information re non-legal services
0
0
0
0
2
0.6
0
0.9
0
General non-legal information
0
0
0.7
1.5
2.7
1.2
5.7
3.6
0
Non-legal counselling/supportb
0.6
0
0.7
12.1
3.4
1.2
5.7
4.5
1.3
Non-legal paperwork
0
0
0
0
0.7
1.2
0
0
0
Other non-legalc
7.8
5.7
10.4
25.8
8.1
12.4
8.6
14.5
2
Legal versus non-legal not specified
24.4
41.5
36.8
43.9
50
49.7
42.9
43.6
29.8
Specific advice
17.2
32.1
26.4
30.3
32.4
32.9
28.6
29.1
17.2
Information re services
0
0
0
0
0
0.6
0
0.9
0
General informationd
3.9
15.1
7.6
4.5
12.8
12.4
11.4
10.9
7.9
Paperwork
1.1
5.7
3.5
0
0.7
3.1
0
1.8
5.3
Other
4.4
0
6.3
12.1
10.1
8.7
8.6
5.5
4
No. of events
180
53
144
66
148
161
35
110
151
a e.g. initial legal assistance such as legal advocacy, negotiation or mediation; legal settlement; law reform.
b e.g. psychological counselling; moral support; housing/financial support.
c e.g. non-legal advice on other issues (e.g. council, employment, engineering, real estate); non-legal advocacy.
d e.g. information published via the internet, books, pamphlets.

Notes: N=1233 for Tables 5.7a and 5.7b. Type of help was missing for 224 events where help was sought. Four unclassified events were excluded. Credit/debt (n=11), human rights (n=18) and traffic offence (n=6) events were excluded because there were insufficient numbers for reliable results. Multiple types of help were sometimes obtained from the sole or most useful adviser. A significance test was not conducted.

Table 5.7b: Type of help from sole or most useful adviser by each criminal and family legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of help
% of events of each type where help sought
Domestic violence
General crime
Family
No help received
0
12.7
8.9
Legal
14.8
32.9
44.3
Specific legal advice
14.8
21.5
34.2
Information re legal services
0
0
2.5
General information re law/legal rights
0
1.3
1.3
Legal representation in court/tribunal
0
5.1
5.1
Legal paperwork
0
0
0
Other legala
0
5.1
3.8
Non-legal
44.4
22.8
11.4
Medical advice/assistance
0
7.6
0
Financial/insurance advice/assistance
0
0
2.5
Information re non-legal services
3.7
0
1.3
General non-legal information
0
0
0
Non-legal counselling/supportb
40.7
11.4
6.3
Non-legal paperwork
0
0
0
Other non-legalc
0
5.1
1.3
Legal versus non-legal not specified
40.7
31.6
35.4
Specific advice
18.5
22.8
25.3
Information re services
0
0
0
General informationd
3.7
8.9
7.6
Paperwork
0
0
2.5
Other
22.2
5.1
3.8
No. of events
27
79
79
a e.g. initial legal assistance such as legal advocacy, negotiation or mediation; legal settlement; law reform.
b e.g. psychological counselling; moral support; housing/financial support.
c e.g. non-legal advice on other issues (e.g. council, employment, engineering, real estate); non-legal advocacy.
d e.g. information published via the internet, books, pamphlets.

Notes: N=1233 for Tables 5.7a and 5.7b. Type of help was missing for 224 events where help was sought. Four unclassified events were excluded. Credit/debt (n=11), human rights (n=18) and traffic offence (n=6) events were excluded because there were insufficient numbers for reliable results. Multiple types of help were sometimes obtained from the sole or most useful adviser.
A significance test was not conducted.


Barriers to assistance


Participants who sought help were asked whether they had experienced any barriers in trying to obtain help from any adviser. As shown in Table 5.8, participants reported that they did not experience any barriers in attempting to obtain help in relation to approximately three-fifths of legal events.18 However, one or more barriers were reported for 38.2 per cent of the legal events where participants sought help. The three most commonly reported barriers to obtaining help were difficulty getting through on the telephone (experienced in 18.4% of events where help was sought), delay in getting a response (17.0%) and difficulty getting an appointment (11.0%). Other barriers to obtaining help were the lack of local services (8.1%), problems with opening hours (7.6%), difficulty affording the assistance (6.0%), and difficulty understanding the advice or information given (4.7%).

Table 5.8: Barriers to obtaining assistance from any adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of barrier
Events where help sought
No.
%
No problem
770
61.8
Telephone engaged/on hold too long
229
18.4
Delay in getting response
212
17
Difficulty getting an appointment
137
11
Lack of local services/couldn’t get there
101
8.1
Problem with opening hours
95
7.6
Difficulty affording it
75
6
Difficulty understanding advice/information
58
4.7
No ability to access the internet
30
2.4
Embarrassed to be seen using services
22
1.8
English language problems
19
1.5
Inadequate/incorrect information/advice
17
1.4
Adviser reluctant/refused to help
13
1
Adviser/service had limited power to help
11
0.9
Other
19
1.5
Notes: N=1246 events. Information on barriers was missing for 250 events where help was sought. Multiple barriers were sometimes reported for the same event.

Table 5.9 presents the barriers to obtaining assistance according to the type of adviser used. This table is based on the 929 events where only one adviser was used.19 No barriers were reported in approximately four-fifths or more of the events where participants sought help from friends or relatives, but in approximately two-thirds or less of the events where they sought help from other advisers. The barriers reported in obtaining assistance from a traditional legal adviser were not strikingly different from those reported in relation to other advisers. However, there was a tendency for slightly higher percentages of respondents using a traditional legal adviser to report difficulty affording the advice (10.1% for traditional legal advisers compared with 3.7–6.9% for other advisers) and a lack of locally available services (10.1% for traditional legal advisers compared with 1.7–8.1% for other advisers).

Table 5.9: Barriers to obtaining assistance from sole adviser by type of adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of barrier
% of events where adviser used
Traditional legala
Lawyer friend/relative
Publishedb
LEGAL ADVISERc
Other friend/ relative
Governmentd
Police/complaint handing
Othere
NON-LEGAL ADVISERf
No problem
69.7
87.9
69.7
75.3
79.2
60.6
50
69.4
67.8
Telephone engaged/on hold too long
12.1
5.2
18.2
11.1
8.3
24.4
26.9
11.9
14.7
Delay in getting response
10.1
3.4
6.1
7.4
11.1
19.4
23.1
12.9
14.5
Difficulty getting an appointment
9.1
3.4
3
6.3
4.2
12.5
7.7
7.7
8.4
Lack of local services/couldn’t get there
10.1
1.7
3
6.3
4.2
8.1
3.8
5
5.5
Problem with opening hours
5.1
3.4
0
3.7
4.2
8.8
7.7
5.6
6.2
Difficulty affording it
10.1
5.2
6.1
7.9
6.9
3.8
3.8
3.7
4.1
Difficulty understanding advice/information
3
0
6.1
2.6
4.2
5.6
3.8
1.9
3
No ability to access the internet
2
0
6.1
2.1
0
3.1
0
1.9
1.9
Embarrassed to be seen using services
0
1.7
0
0.5
1.4
1.3
0
0.6
0.8
English language problems
0
1.7
0
0.5
0
1.3
0
1.7
1.4
Inadequate/incorrect information/advice
1
0
0
0.5
0
1.3
3.8
0.8
0.9
Adviser reluctant/refused to help
0
0
0
0
0
1.3
0
1.2
1.1
Adviser/service had limited power to help
0
0
0
0
0
2.5
0
0.6
0.9
Other
0
1.7
0
0.5
1.4
0.6
7.7
1.2
1.4
No. of events
99
58
33
190
72
160
26
481
739
a Includes private solicitor/barrister, local court, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, Aboriginal legal services and CLCs.
b Includes the internet and self-help source.
c Includes the categories of traditional legal adviser, lawyer friend/relative and published source.
d Includes government organisation, local council and member of parliament.
e Includes other professional, school/school counsellor/teacher, non-legal community group, private agency/organisation, company/business/bank, insurance company/broker, trade union/professional body, library, employer and other tribunal.
f Includes the categories of other (non-lawyer) friend/relative, government source, police/complaint handling body and other adviser.

Notes: N=929 events where only one adviser was used. Multiple barriers were sometimes reported in obtaining help from the sole adviser. A significance test was not conducted.

Distance

Table 5.10 shows the distance participants travelled to obtain help from the sole or most useful adviser, by type of region. Overall, participants obtained help without travelling for 44.0 per cent of the legal events where help was sought.20 In many cases, this finding reflects events where help was sought from friends, relatives or the internet, and in other cases is likely to reflect instances where participants obtained information, advice or assistance via the telephone.21 However, in 4.9 per cent of events where help was sought, participants travelled more than 80 kilometres.

A chi-square test was conducted to test whether the distance travelled to obtain assistance depended on whether participants lived in Sydney, the provincial LGA of Newcastle or one of the rural/remote LGAs surveyed. Not surprisingly, the chi-square was significant. Whereas Sydney and Newcastle residents were required to travel over 20 kilometres in response to only 6.5 per cent of the events where they sought help, residents of the rural/remote areas were required to travel over 20 kilometres in response to one-quarter of the events where they sought help. In 12.1 per cent of cases where residents of the rural/remote areas sought help, they travelled over 80 kilometres.

Table 5.10: Distance travelled to obtain assistance from sole or most useful adviser by type of region, all six LGAs, 2003

Distance travelled (kilometres)
Sydney (Campbelltown, Fairfield & South Sydney LGAs)
Provincial (Newcastle LGA)
Rural/remote (Nambucca and Walgett LGAs)
All six LGAs
No. of events
% of events
No. of events
% of events
No. of events
% of events
No. of events
% of events
Didn’t need to travel
309
48.1
71
35.5
169
41.6
549
44
< 3
137
21.3
41
20.5
67
16.5
245
19.6
4–10
112
17.4
51
25.5
34
8.4
197
15.8
11–20
42
6.5
24
12
36
8.9
102
8.2
21–80
38
5.9
5
2.5
51
12.6
94
7.5
81+
4
0.6
8
4
49
12.1
61
4.9
Total
642
100
200
100
406
100
1248
100
Notes: Distance travelled was missing for 248 events where help was sought. ?2=132.09, df=10, p=0.000.

Special services

Participants were also asked whether they needed access to any special services in order to obtain assistance from any adviser they used (see Table 5.11). Special services were required in order to obtain assistance in response to 4.8 per cent (59) of the events where participants sought help.22 The special services that participants reported requiring included medical or counselling help or assistance, home visits or special transport, financial help or assistance, help reading or understanding complex information, wheelchair access, an interpreter, a place for children to play and access to an outreach service.

Participants who reported requiring special services were asked whether they managed to obtain these services. These services were obtained for 71.2 per cent (42) of the 59 events where participants required special services.

Table 5.11: Special services required to obtain assistance from any adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of special serviceEvents where help sought
No.
%
No special service required
1161
95.2
Medical/counselling help/assistance
16
1.3
Home visit or special transport
8
0.7
Financial help/assistance
8
0.7
Help reading/understanding complex information
6
0.5
Wheelchair access
4
0.3
An interpreter
4
0.3
Place for children to play
3
0.2
Outreach service
2
0.2
Othera
15
1.2
a Includes access to parking, access to disability facilities, use of human resources, special consideration for deferring university study, attending a debriefing and services that were insufficiently described by participants.
Notes: N=1220 events. Information on special services was missing for 276 events where help was sought. Multiple special services were sometimes required for the same event.


Summary: seeking help for legal events


This chapter examined the 1496 legal events where participants sought help, detailing the advisers used, the type of assistance received and the barriers to accessing assistance.

For over three-quarters (78.4% or 1167) of the legal events where help was sought, participants only used one adviser.

Participants did not limit themselves to traditional legal advisers, using a broad range of advisers in response to legal events. Traditional legal advisers, such as private lawyers, local courts, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, Aboriginal legal services and CLCs were used in only 12.0 per cent of events where participants sought help. In almost three-quarters of cases, the advisers used were neither traditional legal advisers nor less formal legal advisers, such as friends or relatives who are lawyers, and published sources. The most commonly used advisers were non-legal professionals such as doctors, accountants, psychologists and counsellors (24.5% of events); friends or relatives who are not lawyers (15.5%); government organisations (15.3%); private solicitors/barristers (9.6%); the internet (7.4%); friends or relatives who are lawyers (7.0%); trade unions or professional bodies (6.4%); insurance companies/brokers (5.9%); school staff (5.7%); and the police (5.2%).

The type of adviser used tended to vary appropriately according to the type of legal event experienced.23

For at least one-quarter of the events where help was sought, only non-legal help was sought or provided. The type of help received appeared to depend on the type of adviser.24 For example, traditional legal advisers tended to be more likely than other advisers to provide some form of legal information, advice or assistance. Advice or assistance of a medical, financial or insurance nature tended to be provided more commonly by non-legal rather than legal advisers. The type of help received also appeared to vary with the type of legal event.25 For example, specific legal advice was provided for relatively high proportions of wills/estates (52.3%) and family (34.2%) events. Medical advice or assistance was provided for relatively high proportions of accident/injury (47.8%) and health (31.4%) events. Non-legal counselling or support was provided for relatively high proportions of domestic violence events (40.7%).

Barriers to obtaining assistance were reported for almost two-fifths of the legal events where participants sought help. The most commonly reported barriers to accessing assistance were difficulty getting through on the telephone (18.4%), delay in getting a response (17.0%), difficulty getting an appointment (11.0%), the lack of local services (8.1%), problems with opening hours (7.6%), difficulty affording the assistance (6.0%), and difficulty understanding the advice or information given (4.7%).

The types of barriers reported in obtaining assistance from traditional legal advisers were largely similar to those for other advisers.

Participants did not need to travel to access assistance for 44.0 per cent of the legal events where they sought help. However, participants travelled more than 20 kilometres in response to 12.4 per cent of the events where help was sought and over 80 kilometres in response to 4.9 per cent of events. The distance travelled significantly depended on participants’ region of residence. Whereas approximately one-quarter of participants living in a rural/remote area travelled over 20 kilometres, only 6.5 per cent of Sydney and Newcastle respondents travelled this distance.



Ch 6. Satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events


Chapter 5 focused on the 1496 events where participants sought help, describing the advisers approached for assistance, the type of assistance received and the barriers to accessing assistance.

The present chapter also focuses on those events where participants sought help, but focuses on the level of satisfaction with the assistance received and the factors related to satisfaction with this assistance. Where participants had approached more than one adviser for help in relation to a given legal event, they were asked about their satisfaction with the assistance they received from the adviser they judged to be the ‘most useful’. Although participants used only one adviser in relation to the majority of legal events where they sought help, more than one adviser was used in response to 21.6 per cent of these events (see Chapter 5).

Valid information on satisfaction with assistance from the sole or most useful adviser was obtained for 1307 of the 1496 events where help was sought. The present chapter is based on these 1307 events.



Level of satisfaction with assistance


As noted in Chapter 1, there is no consensus about the definition or measurement of the concept of satisfaction. In the present study, participants were simply asked to report their level of satisfaction with the assistance they received from their sole or most useful adviser by choosing between three alternatives: ‘satisfied’, ‘neither satisfied nor dissatisfied’ and ‘dissatisfied’.

As shown in Figure 6.1, participants reported being satisfied with the assistance they received from their sole or most useful adviser in over three-quarters (78.7%) of the legal events where help was sought. They reported being dissatisfied with the assistance they received from the sole or most useful adviser in 13.4 per cent of the events.

Figure 6.1: Satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

Notes: N=1307 events. Information on satisfaction with the assistance received from the sole or most useful adviser was missing for 189 of the 1496 events where help was sought.

Table 6.1 presents the level of satisfaction with the assistance received from the sole or most useful adviser broken down by the type of adviser. A chi-square test was conducted to examine whether this relationship was significant.1 Satisfaction with the assistance received varied significantly according to the type of adviser used. The highest rates of satisfaction with the assistance received were reported by participants whose sole or most useful adviser was a personal contact who was a lawyer (92.6%) or another personal contact (92.2%). The lowest rates were reported for government sources (61.4%) and for some types of advisers falling within the ‘other’ category, namely companies/businesses/banks (55.3%) and employers (60.0%). Participants reported that they were satisfied with the help they received for four-fifths of the events where their sole or most useful adviser was a traditional legal adviser such as a private lawyer or a local court.2

It is important to note, however, that participants tended to choose different types of advisers for different types of events (see Table 5.4), and that some events are apparently slower or more difficult to resolve (see Figure 7.2). Thus, the apparent greater satisfaction with the assistance received from some types of advisers may reflect the nature of the legal events for which they provided assistance.

Table 6.1: Satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser by type of adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of adviser
Satisfied
% of events
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
% of events
Dissatisfied
% of events
No. of
% of events
  LEGAL ADVISER
Traditional legal:
80.7
7.4
11.9
135
Private solicitor/barrister
82.4
6.9
10.8
102
Local courta
81.3
6.3
12.5
16
Legal Aid NSWa
63.6
9.1
27.3
11
LawAccess NSW
-
-
-
2
Aboriginal legal services
-
-
-
1
CLCs
-
-
-
3
Laywer friend/relative
92.6
6.2
1.2
81
Published:
88.9
4.8
6.3
63
Internet
87.7
5.3
7
57
Self-help source
-
-
-
6
  NON-LEGAL ADVISER
Other friend/relative
92.2
6.3
1.6
128
Government:
61.4
13.5
25.1
215
Government organisation
61.3
13.7
25
168
Local council
57.9
15.8
26.3
38
Member of parliament
-
-
-
9
Police/complaint handling:
76.3
5.3
18.4
38
Police
76.5
5.9
17.6
34
Industry complaint handling bodyb
-
-
-
4
Other:
78.9
7.2
13.9
639
Other professionalc
84.6
6.6
8.8
272
School/school counsellor/teacher
70.7
8.6
20.7
58
Non-legal community group
82.1
12.8
5.1
39
Private agency/organisationd
78.7
8.5
12.8
47
Company/business/bank
55.3
2.1
42.6
47
Insurance company/broker
89.8
0
10.2
59
Trade union/professional body
80.9
11.8
7.4
68
Library
-
-
-
2
Employer
60
11.1
28.9
45
Other tribunal
-
-
-
2
Total
78.8
7.9
13.3
1299
a Due to small numbers, the percentages may be unreliable.
b Includes Banking Ombudsman, Insurance Complaints Scheme.
c Includes doctor, accountant, psychologist, counsellor, etc.
d Includes debt collection agency, employment agency, real estate agent.

Notes: The type of adviser used was not specified or was unclassified for eight of the 1307 events where participants provided information on satisfaction with assistance. Percentages have been omitted where the number of events for a given adviser is 10 or fewer because they may be unreliable.

x2=72.88, df=12, p=0.000. So that there were sufficient numbers in each cell for the chi-square test, the test was based on the grouped categories of adviser (i.e. traditional legal, lawyer friend/relative, published, other friend/relative, government, police/complaint handling, other) rather than on individual types of adviser (i.e. private solicitor/barrister, local court, Legal Aid NSW, etc).



Factors related to satisfaction with assistance


A mixed-effects logistic regression was conducted to determine the significant, independent predictors of reporting satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events. This regression was based on events where participants provided information on their satisfaction with the assistance from the sole or most useful adviser.3 In the regression, satisfaction with the assistance received was a binary variable such that events where the individual was satisfied were contrasted with all other events.4 Potential predictor variables examined in the regression were the sociodemographic variables, the type of legal event, the recency of the legal event and whether the event had been resolved.5

A summary of the regression results is provided in Table 6.2, while the full results are presented in Appendix Table C30. Only two of the variables examined, namely the type of legal event and the resolution status of the event, were significant predictors of satisfaction with the assistance received from the sole or most useful adviser. The results of the regression are described more fully below, with reference to the relevant descriptive statistics.

Table 6.2: Summary of mixed-effects binary logistic regression for satisfaction with assistance

SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES
VariableComparison
Odds ratioa
Legal event groupbCivil
Accident/injury versus average
2
Business versus average
ns
Consumer versus average
ns
Credit/debt versus average
ns
Education versus average
ns
Employment versus average
ns
Government versus average
ns
Health versus average
ns
Housing versus average
ns
Human rights versus average
ns
Wills/estates versus average
5.4
Criminal
Domestic violence versus average
ns
General crime versus average
ns
Traffic offences versus average
0.1
Family
Family versus average
ns
Resolution statusBeing resolved versus resolved
ns
Unresolved versus resolved
0.2
NON-SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES:Gender, age, Indigenous status, country of birth, disability status, personal income, education level, recency of event
a An odds ratio greater than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had higher odds than the second.
An odds ratio less than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison hadlower odds than the second.
b Each legal event group was compared to the average effect for all legal eventgroups (rather than to any specific legal event group).

Notes: N=1033 events and 698 participants. Data on one or more potential predictor variables were missing for 274 events where information was provided on satisfaction with assistance.
‘ns’ indicates the odds ratio was not statistically significant, that is, the odds for the first category in the comparison were not statistically different from the odds for the second (even though the overall variable was significant).

Sociodemographic factors

Table 6.3 presents the percentage of participants who were satisfied with the assistance they received from the sole or most useful adviser broken down by each sociodemographic characteristic. According to the regression, satisfaction with the assistance received was not significantly related to any of the sociodemographic characteristics of participants that were examined (see Table 6.2).

Table 6.3: Satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser by each sociodemographic factor, all six LGAs, 2003

Sociodemographic factor
Satisfied % of events
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied % of events
Dissatisfied % of events
No. of events
GenderFemale
77.7
9
13.3
656
Male
79.7
6.8
13.5
651
Total
78.7
7.9
13.4
1307
Age (years)15–24
83.3
6.7
10
209
25–34
79
9.5
11.4
315
35–44
76.1
8.1
15.9
309
45–54
74.5
7.6
17.9
263
55–64
84
6.7
9.2
119
65+
82.4
6.6
11
91
Total
78.8
7.9
13.3
1306
Indigenous statusIndigenous
58.1
16.1
25.8
31
Non-Indigenous
79.8
7.6
12.6
1142
Total
79.2
7.8
13
1173
Country of birthEnglish speaking
78.2
8.3
13.5
1148
Non-English speaking
82.6
5.2
12.3
155
Total
78.7
7.9
13.4
1303
Disability statusDisability
74.3
8.4
17.3
335
No disability
80.4
7.6
12
969
Total
78.8
7.8
13.3
1304
Personal income0–199
74.6
9.9
15.5
213
($/week)200–499
79.8
7.2
13
401
500–999
77.9
8.7
13.4
448
1000+
83.6
5
11.3
159
Total
78.7
7.9
13.3
1221
Education levelDidn’t finish/at school
78.2
6.9
14.9
101
Year 10/equivalent
76
7.3
16.7
288
Year 12/equivalent
80.5
8.1
11.4
272
Certificate/diploma
77.4
7.9
14.7
279
University degree
80.7
8.5
10.7
363
Total
78.7
7.9
13.4
1303
Note: Where the total for a given sociodemographic factor is less than 1307, data were missing on that factor.

Type of legal event

According to the regression, satisfaction with the assistance received for an event was related to the type of legal event. In particular, the odds of satisfaction with assistance were higher than average for accident/injury and wills/estates events, but lower than average for events related to traffic offences (see Table 6.2). Figure 6.2 shows that participants were satisfied with the assistance received from the sole or most useful adviser for 94.2 per cent of wills/estates events and 88.5 per cent of accident/injury events, but only half of the events related to traffic offences.6

Figure 6.2: Satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser by legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003


Notes: N=1304 events. Three unclassified events were excluded.

Recency of legal event

Table 6.4 presents the percentage of participants who were satisfied with the assistance received for their legal events from the sole or most useful adviser cross-tabulated by the recency of events. This relationship was not significant in the regression (see Table 6.2).

Table 6.4: Satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser by recency of legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Recency of event: no. of months prior to survey
Satisfaction with assistance
No. of events
Satisfied % of events
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied % of events
Dissatisfied % of events
0–3
78.8
9
12.2
491
4–6
82.6
6.8
10.6
310
7–9
76
6.8
17.2
279
10–12
76
7
17
171
Total
78.7
7.7
13.6
1251
Note: 56 of the 1307 events with information on satisfaction with assistance had missing information on recency.

Resolution of legal event

Participants were asked if the legal events they had experienced over the previous 12 months had been resolved.7 The odds of satisfaction with the assistance received for a legal event were significantly lower for unresolved events than for resolved events (see Table 6.2). Figure 6.3 shows that participants were satisfied with the assistance received for 86.3 per cent of resolved events, 80.2 per cent of events that were in the process of being resolved, but only 61.6 per cent of unresolved events.

Figure 6.3: Satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser by resolution status of legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Notes: N=1291 events. Information on resolution status was missing for 16 of the 1307 legal events where participants provided information on satisfaction with assistance.



Summary: satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events


This chapter examined the 1307 legal events where participants who sought help provided information on their satisfaction with the assistance received from the sole or most useful adviser.8 The chapter focused on the level of satisfaction with the assistance received and the factors related to satisfaction with assistance.

Participants were satisfied with the assistance received in 78.7 per cent of the legal events, but dissatisfied with the assistance received in 13.4 per cent of events.

According to the regression analysis, the sociodemographic characteristics of participants and the recency of the legal event were not significantly related to satisfaction with the assistance received for the legal event from the sole or most useful adviser. However, the type of legal event and whether or not the event was resolved were significant, independent predictors of satisfaction with assistance. In particular the odds of satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events were:



Ch 7. The outcome of legal events


This chapter deals with the outcome of legal events, including whether or not they were resolved, how they were resolved and the factors associated with resolution. Information about resolution was sought in relation to the three most recent legal events reported—a total of 3024 events.1 Participants provided information on the resolution status of 2873 of these 3024 events. The present chapter is based on these 2873 events.


Resolution of legal events


Participants who reported experiencing legal events in the 12 months prior to the survey were asked whether their three most recent events had been resolved. As noted in the introduction, the concept of the resolution of a legal event is to some extent subjective and has been measured inconsistently across different studies. In the present survey, participants’ perceptions about the resolution of their legal events were measured without any explicit definition of resolution being provided. The advantage of this approach is that it allows participants to report whether or not they feel that a given legal event has concluded and is no longer an issue for them. Participants were asked to choose between the following alternatives:
Note that the last category, pertaining to events perceived as unresolved, could have included events where no action was taken towards resolution, events where attempts at resolution were abandoned for whatever reason (e.g. due to legal advice, cost, difficulty) and events that were in fact concluded in some way but were not resolved in the respondent’s favour.

Figure 7.1 presents participants’ perceptions about whether the legal events they reported experiencing in the reference period had been resolved and, if resolved, the method of resolution. Participants reported that 60.6 per cent or 1741 of the 2873 legal events had been resolved. Forty-four per cent of the 2873 events had been resolved by the participant, 4.8 per cent had been resolved through legal proceedings in a court or tribunal, and 11.5 per cent had been resolved some other way. A further 11.1 per cent of legal events were in the process of being resolved and the remaining 28.3 per cent had not been resolved at the time of the survey.

Figure 7.1: Resolution status and method of resolution of legal events, all six LGAs, 2003


Notes: N=2873 events. Information on resolution of legal events was missing for 151 of the 3024 events constituting participants’ three most recent events.


Factors related to the resolution of legal events


A mixed-effects logistic regression model was used to examine whether the various sociodemographic variables, the type of legal event, the recency of the event and the action taken in response to the event were independent predictors of the resolution status of legal events.2 In the regression analysis, two categories of resolution status were used: resolved events3 were compared with the remaining events that were not fully resolved (i.e. events that were either unresolved or were in the process of being resolved).

Table 7.1 provides a summary of the regression results. The regression revealed that age, disability status, legal event group, the recency of the event and the action taken in response to the event were statistically significant independent predictors of whether or not the event had been resolved at the time of the survey. Gender, Indigenous status, country of birth, personal income and education level were not significant independent predictors. The full results of the regression analysis are presented in Appendix Table C31. The results of the regression are further detailed below, with reference to the relevant descriptive statistics.

Table 7.1: Summary of mixed-effects binary logistic regression for resolution status

SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES
VariableComparison
Odds ratioa
Age (years)b15–24 versus 65+
ns
25–34 versus 65+
ns
35–44 versus 65+
ns
45–54 versus 65+
ns
55–64 versus 65+
ns
Disability statusDisability versus no disability
0.6
Legal event groupcCivil
Accident/injury versus average
2.5
Business versus average
0.4
Consumer versus average
ns
Credit/debt versus average
ns
Education versus average
ns
Employment versus average
0.6
Government versus average
0.6
Health versus average
0.5
Housing versus average
ns
Human rights versus average
ns
Wills/estates versus average
2.1
Criminal
Domestic violence versus average
ns
General crime versus average
ns
Traffic offences versus average
ns
Family
Family versus average
0.6
Recency of event7–12 months ago versus 0–6 months ago
1.9
Action takenHandled alone versus sought help
2.4
Did nothing versus sought help
0.7
NON-SIGNIFICANT VARIABLESGender, Indigenous status, country of birth, personal income, education level
a An odds ratio greater than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had higher odds than the second.
An odds ratio less than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had lower odds than the second.
b Although age was a significant predictor in the regression, none of the specific comparisons tested were significant.
c Each legal event group was compared to the average effect for all legal event groups (rather than to any specific legal event group).

Notes: N=2211 events and 1142 participants. Data on one or more potential predictor variables were missing for 662 events where information was provided on resolution status.
‘ns’ indicates the odds ratio was not statistically significant, that is, the odds for the first category in the comparison were not statistically different from the odds for the second (even though the overall variable was significant).

Sociodemographic factors

As already noted, the regression revealed that whether or not events were resolved significantly depended on age. Although age was a significant predictor overall, none of the comparisons tested between the oldest age group (the reference category) and each other age group was significant (see Table 7.1). However, the comparison between the age group with the highest resolution rate and the age group with the lowest resolution rate was not tested in the regression. As shown in Table 7.2, the youngest age group had the highest resolution rate (71.1%), while the 55 to 64 year group had the lowest resolution rate (54.0%). The oldest age group (65 years or over) had the second highest resolution rate (67.2%). The 45 to 54 year age group had the second lowest resolution rate (56.0%).

According to the regression, people with a chronic illness or disability had lower odds of resolution compared with other people (see Table 7.1). This relationship was independent of any effect due to the recency of legal events. Only 51.3 per cent of the events experienced by participants with a chronic illness or disability were reported to be resolved, compared with 63.7 per cent for other participants (see Table 7.2).

Table 7.2: Resolution status of legal events by each sociodemographic factor, all six LGAs, 2003

Sociodemographic factor
Resolution status
No. of events
Resolved
% of events
Being resolved % of events
Unresolved
% of events
GenderFemale
58.1
10.8
31.1
1445
Male
63.2
11.4
25.4
1428
Total
60.6
11.1
28.3
2873
Age (years)15–24
71.1
7.5
21.4
523
25–34
58.7
12.8
28.5
666
35–44
58.8
11.9
29.3
639
45–54
56
12.9
31.1
557
55–64
54
10.9
35.1
285
65+
67.2
8
24.9
201
Total
60.6
11.1
28.3
2871
Indigenous statusIndigenous
47.7
11.7
40.5
111
Non-Indigenous
61.1
10.8
28.1
2447
Total
60.5
10.8
28.7
2558
Country of birthEnglish speaking
60.8
11.3
27.8
2526
Non-English speaking
59.1
9.4
31.5
340
Total
60.6
11.1
28.3
2866
Disability statusDisability
51.3
10.8
37.9
710
No disability
63.7
11.1
25.2
2154
Total
60.6
11.1
28.3
2864
Personal income0–199
59.7
12.3
28
479
($/week)200–499
58.3
9.2
32.4
919
500–999
62.3
10.8
27
938
1000+
65.5
16
18.5
325
Total
60.8
11.2
28
2661
Education levelDidn’t finish/at school
61
7.8
31.2
269
Year 10/equivalent
61.1
12
26.9
700
Year 12/equivalent
65.3
7.5
27.2
577
Certificate/diploma
58.2
11.4
30.4
572
University degree
58.3
14.1
27.7
745
Total
60.6
11.1
28.3
2863
Note: Where the total for a given sociodemographic factor is less than 2873, data were missing on that factor.

Type of legal event

Legal event group was a significant predictor in the regression, indicating that some types of legal events were more likely than others to be resolved by the end of the reference period. As shown in Table 7.1, the odds of resolution for business, employment, government, health and family events were lower than average. Figure 7.2 shows that the resolution rates for these event groups ranged from 39.1 to 49.5 per cent. According to the regression, accident/injury and wills/estates events were significantly more likely than average to be resolved (see Table 7.1). The resolution rates for these event groups were 79.7 and 73.2 per cent, respectively (see Figure 7.2).

Figure 7.2: Resolution status of legal events by legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003


Notes: N=2868 events. Five unclassified events were excluded.

Chi-square analyses were conducted on the 1741 events that participants reported had been resolved to examine the relationship between the method used for resolution and the type of legal event.4 Table 7.3 presents the method of resolution used for resolved events broken down by broad area of law. The chi-square test revealed that the method of resolution was significantly related to broad area of law. Whereas only 4.8 per cent of civil events were resolved through legal proceedings in a court or tribunal, over one-quarter of criminal and family events were resolved through legal proceedings. Participants resolved three-quarters of civil events on their own, but they only resolved about three-fifths of criminal and family events on their own.

Table 7.3: Method of resolution for resolved legal events by broad area of law, all six LGAs, 2003

Area of law
Method of resolution
No. of events
On own
% of events
Through legal proceedings % of events
Some other way
% of events
Civil
75.6
4.8
19.6
1493
Criminal
57.9
25.7
16.4
171
Family
61.3
28
10.7
75
Total
73.3
7.8
18.9
1739
Notes: Two unclassified events were excluded.
x2=138.91, df=4, p=0.000.

Also based on resolved events, Figure 7.3 presents a breakdown of the method of resolution by legal event group.5 Although civil law events tended to be resolved less frequently through legal proceedings in a court or tribunal when compared with both criminal and family events, a few of the civil event groups also showed sizeable percentages being resolved through legal proceedings. In particular, 16.3 per cent of business events, 8.2 per cent of wills/estates events and 7.8 per cent of employment events were resolved through legal proceedings. In contrast, none of the credit/debt, education, health or human rights events were resolved through legal proceedings.

Figure 7.3: Method of resolution for resolved events by legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003


Notes: N=1739 events. Two unclassified events were excluded.
A significance test was not conducted due to small numbers in some cells.

Recency of legal event

It would be expected that legal events that occurred some time ago would have more chance of being resolved than events that occurred more recently. As a result, participants were asked to report the number of months that had elapsed since their legal events had occurred.6

According to the regression, events that occurred seven to 12 months prior to the survey had odds of being resolved that were almost twice as high as those for more recent events (see Table 7.1). As shown in Table 7.4, whereas 70.8 per cent of the 346 events that occurred 10 to 12 months prior to the survey were resolved, only 50.7 per cent of the 1124 events that occurred no more than three months prior to the survey were resolved.

Table 7.4: Resolution status of legal events by recency of legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Recency of event: no. of months prior to survey
Resolution status
No. of events
Resolved
% of events
Being resolved
% of events
Unresolved
% of events
0–3
50.7
14.9
34.3
1124
4–6
68.1
8.7
23.2
655
7–9
69.1
7.6
23.3
576
10–12
70.8
8.7
20.5
346
Total
61.4
11.1
27.5
2701
Note: Information on the recency of legal events was missing for 172 events where information was provided on resolution status.

Action taken

As discussed in Chapter 4, participants took three main types of action in response to the 2921 legal events where they provided information on their responses. Participants sought help in response to 1496 events (51.2%), handled the event themselves in 467 cases (16.0%) and did nothing in response to the remaining 958 events (32.8%).

According to the regression, the odds of resolution were lower if participants took no action rather than if they sought help (see Table 7.1). Interestingly, the odds of resolution were more than twice as high for legal events that participants handled on their own than for events where participants sought help.7 Table 7.5 shows that the highest resolution rate (75.8%) was reported by participants who dealt with the event on their own, while the lowest resolution rate (53.5%) was reported by participants who did nothing. Those who sought help reported a resolution rate of 60.1 per cent.

Table 7.5: Resolution status of legal events by action taken in response to legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Action taken
Resolution status
No. of events
Resolved % of events
Being resolved % of events
Unresolved % of events
Sought help
60.1
12.9
27
1476
Handled alone
75.8
10.4
13.9
462
Did nothing
53.5
8.5
37.9
925
Total
60.5
11.1
28.4
2863
Note: Information on action taken was missing for 10 events where information was provided on resolution status.

Chi-square analyses were conducted on the 1741 events that participants reported had been resolved to examine the relationship between the method used to resolve the event and the action taken in response to the legal event.8 The chi-square was significant. Not surprisingly, the large majority of those who handled the matter on their own (87.1%) thought that they were responsible for the resolution of the event, whereas only 61.1 per cent of those who sought help thought they were responsible for resolution (see Table 7.6). Eleven per cent of those who sought help reported that the event had been resolved through legal proceedings in a court or tribunal, but only 3.7 per cent of those who dealt with the matter themselves reported that the event had been resolved through legal proceedings (see Table 7.6).

Table 7.6: Method of resolution for resolved legal events by action taken in response to legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Action taken
Method of resolution
No. of events
On own
% of events
Through legal proceedings % of events
Some other way
% of events
Sought help
61.1
10.8
28.1
887
Handled alone
87.1
3.7
9.1
350
Did nothing
84.6
5.9
9.5
495
Total
73.1
8
18.9
1732
Notes: Information on action taken was missing for nine resolved events.
x2=135.84, df=4, p=0.000.

An interesting question for the sub-group of participants who sought help in response to their legal events is whether the resolution status of events was related to the particular adviser used. Table 7.7 is based on the 1496 events where help was sought and presents data on the resolution status of events broken down by the 10 most frequently used types of advisers. The descriptive statistics suggest that the rate of resolution apparently varied with the type of adviser used.9 Resolution rates of under 50 per cent were reported for events where trade unions/professional bodies (40.4%) or government organisations (49.6%) had been approached for assistance, but resolution rates of more than 60 per cent were reported where insurance companies/brokers (72.7%), school staff (67.5%), private solicitors/barristers (61.5%) or non-legal professionals such as doctors, accountants, psychologists and counsellors (61.5%) had been approached.

Table 7.7: Resolution status of legal events by 10 most frequently used advisers, all six LGAs, 2003

Type of adviser
Resolution status
No. of events
Resolved % of events
Being resolved % of events
Unresolved % of events
LEGAL ADVISERTraditional legal:
Private solicitor/barrister
61.5
9.8
28.7
143
Lawyer friend/relative
51
13.5
35.6
104
Published:
Internet
52.7
11.8
35.5
110
NON-LEGAL ADVISEROther friend/relative
57.4
12.2
30.4
230
Government:
Government organisation
49.6
16.1
34.4
224
Police/complaint handling:
Police
56
14.7
29.3
75
Other:
Other professionala
61.5
14.3
24.2
364
School/school counsellor/teacher
67.5
8.4
24.1
83
Insurance company/broker
72.7
10.2
17
88
Trade union/professional body
40.4
18.1
41.5
94
Total
60.1
12.9
27
1475
a Includes doctor, accountant, psychologist, counsellor, etc.
Notes: Information on resolution status was missing for 21 events where help was sought. Multiple advisers were sometimes used for the same event. A significance test was not conducted.

It is worth remembering, however, that participants tended to use different types of advisers for different types of legal events (see Table 5.4). Thus, the fact that some advisers apparently seemed to be more successful than others may simply reflect that they tended to deal with events that are generally easier to resolve. Consistent with this argument, the relationship between resolution status and type of adviser (see Table 7.7) was generally consistent with the relationship between resolution status and type of legal event (see Figure 7.2). For example, there were similar resolution rates for events where school staff were used (67.5%) and education events (67.1%, see Table 7.7 and Figure 7.2, respectively). This finding is consistent with school staff being the advisers most frequently consulted for education events (see Table 5.4). Similarly, given that trade unions/professional bodies were the most common advisers for employment events (see Table 5.4), it is not surprising that there were similar (relatively low) resolution rates for events where trade unions/professional bodies were used (40.4%) and employment events (48.3%, see Table 7.7 and Figure 7.2, respectively).


Summary: the outcome of legal events


This chapter examined the outcome of legal events, including whether or not they were resolved, how they were resolved and the factors associated with resolution. The main findings were as follows.

Of 2873 legal events that occurred in the 12 months prior to the survey,10 participants reported that 1741 or 60.6 per cent had been resolved at the time of the survey, 11.1 per cent were in the process of being resolved and the remaining 28.3 per cent had not been resolved.

The most common method of resolution reported for the 1741 resolved events involved the participant resolving the event on his or her own (1274 events). Only 138 events were resolved through legal proceedings in a court or tribunal.

The logistic regression analysis revealed that the following variables were significant independent predictors of resolution status: age, disability status, legal event group, the recency of the event and the action taken in response to the event. The odds of events being resolved were:



Ch 8. Satisfaction with the outcome of legal events


The previous chapter examined whether the events that participants experienced in the 12 months prior to the survey had been resolved by the time the survey was conducted. The present chapter describes participants’ level of satisfaction with the status of their legal events at the time of the survey. It also examines the factors related to participants reporting satisfaction with the outcome of legal events that had been resolved. Information on satisfaction with the status of legal events at the time of the survey was sought in relation to participants’ three most recent legal events, that is, in relation to 3024 events. This information was obtained for 1735 resolved events and for 1109 events that were either unresolved or in the process of being resolved.


Level of satisfaction with the status of legal events


As already noted, there is no consensus about the definition and measurement of satisfaction. The present participants were asked to choose between the following three options regarding their level of satisfaction with the outcome of events that they reported had been resolved at the time of the survey: ‘satisfied’, ‘neither satisfied nor dissatisfied’ and ‘dissatisfied’. In the case of events that were either unresolved or in the process of being resolved at the time of the survey, participants were asked about their satisfaction with this situation. It is worth noting that these questions concerning satisfaction with the outcome or lack of outcome of legal events were asked in addition to, and separately from, a question concerning satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events.1

Figure 8.1 presents participants’ level of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events, while Figure 8.2 presents participants’ level of satisfaction with the status of other legal events at the time of the survey. Figure 8.1 shows that participants reported satisfaction with the outcome of more than three-quarters of the events that had been resolved at the time of the survey. In contrast, Figure 8.2 shows that participants reported being satisfied with the status of only about one-fifth of the legal events that were either unresolved or in the process of being resolved at the time of the survey.

Figure 8.1: Satisfaction with the outcome of resolved legal events, all six LGAs, 2003


Notes: N=1735 events. Information on satisfaction with outcome was missing for six of the 1741 resolved events.

Figure 8.2: Satisfaction with legal events that were not resolved,a all six LGAs, 2003


a Includes unresolved events and events in the process of being resolved at the time of the survey.
Notes: N=1109 events. Information on satisfaction with the status of legal events that were unresolved or in the process of being resolved was missing for 23 events.

Where participants reported dissatisfaction with the status of their legal events at the time of the survey, they were asked to provide the reason for their dissatisfaction. Table 8.1 presents the reasons for dissatisfaction with the outcome of resolved events, while Table 8.2 presents the reasons for dissatisfaction with the status of other events.

Table 8.1: Reasons for dissatisfaction with outcome of resolved legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Reason
Resolved events where dissatisfied with outcome
No.
%
Negative financial impact
45
20.9
Unfair/unsatisfactory result
43
20
Lack of helpful assistance/poor services
33
15.3
Objective not achieved
18
8.4
Too expensive to resolve
15
7
Negative impact on life/family
9
4.2
Took too long to resolve
8
3.7
Difficult/upsetting/stressful situation
7
3.3
Treated badly/discriminated against
6
2.8
Didn’t get a say
4
1.9
Could happen again to me or others
4
1.9
Other
23
10.7
Total
215
100
Notes: For four of the 219 resolved events where participants reported dissatisfaction with the outcome, the reason for this dissatisfaction was missing.

Table 8.2: Reasons for dissatisfaction with status of events that were not resolved,a all six LGAs, 2003

Reason
Events that were not resolveda where dissatisfied with status
No.
%
Matter not resolved/ongoing
244
36.5
Lack of helpful assistance/poor services
117
17.5
Unfair/unsatisfactory situation
81
12.1
Negative financial impact
58
8.7
Would take too long to resolve
31
4.6
Too expensive to resolve
31
4.6
Difficult/upsetting/stressful situation
31
4.6
Negative impact on life/family/health
30
4.5
Treated badly/discriminated against
23
3.4
Didn’t get a say
4
0.6
Objective not achieved
2
0.3
Could happen again to me or others
1
0.1
Other
15
2.2
Total
668
100
a Includes unresolved events and events in the process of being resolved at the time of the survey.
Notes: For 16 of the 684 events where participants reported dissatisfaction with the current status of events that were not resolved, the reason for this dissatisfaction was missing.

As shown in Table 8.1, the two most common reasons for dissatisfaction with the outcome of resolved events were that the event had a negative financial impact (20.9%) and that the participant felt the result was unfair or unsatisfactory (20.0%). Participants also expressed dissatisfaction with a lack of helpful assistance (15.3%), their objectives not being achieved (8.4%) and the issue being too expensive to resolve (7.0%).

As evident in Table 8.2, the most common reason for dissatisfaction with events that had not been resolved was precisely that the matter was still ongoing (36.5%). The second and fourth most common reasons for dissatisfaction with events that had not been resolved related to a lack of helpful assistance (17.5%) and the negative financial impact of the event (8.7%). These two reasons were also among the most frequently reported reasons for dissatisfaction with the outcome of resolved events. The third most common reason for dissatisfaction with events that had not been resolved was that the participant felt the current situation was unfair or unsatisfactory (12.1%).



Factors related to satisfaction with the outcome of legal events


A mixed-effects logistic regression was conducted to determine the significant, independent predictors of satisfaction with the outcome of legal events that participants reported had been resolved.2 In the regression, satisfaction with outcome was a binary variable such that resolved events where the individual was satisfied with the outcome were contrasted with all other resolved events.3 Potential predictor variables were the sociodemographic variables, the type of legal event, the recency of the legal event, the action taken in response to the legal event and the method used to resolve the legal event.

Table 8.3 provides a summary of the regression results and Appendix Table C32 presents the full results of the regression. As can be seen from Table 8.3, the type of legal event, the recency of the event and the action taken in response to the event were significant, independent predictors of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events. The results of the regression are further discussed below, with reference to the relevant descriptive statistics.

Table 8.3: Summary of mixed-effects binary logistic regression for satisfaction with outcome of resolved legal events

SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES
VariableComparison
Odds ratioa
Legal event groupbCivil
Accident/injury versus average
3.4
Business versus average
0.3
Consumer versus average
0.6
Credit/debt versus average
ns
Education versus average
ns
Employment versus average
ns
Government versus average
0.3
Health versus average
ns
Housing versus average
ns
Human rights versus average
ns
Wills/estates versus average
9.4
Criminal
Domestic violence versus average
ns
General crime versus average
0.4
Traffic offences versus average
ns
Family
Family versus average
ns
Recency of event7–12 months ago versus 0–6 months ago
0.7
Action takenHandled alone versus sought help
1.7
Did nothing versus sought help
0.5
NON-SIGNIFICANT VARIABLESGender, age, Indigenous status, country of birth, disability status, personal income, education level, method of resolution
a An odds ratio greater than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had higher odds than the second.
An odds ratio less than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had lower odds than the second.
b Each legal event group was compared to the average effect for all legal event groups (rather than to any specific legal event group).
Notes: N=1357 events and 879 participants. Data on one or more potential predictor variables were missing for 378 events where information was provided on satisfaction with outcome of resolved events.
‘ns’ indicates the odds ratio was not statistically significant, that is, the odds for the first category in the comparison were not statistically different from the odds for the second (even though the overall variable was significant).

Sociodemographic factors

Table 8.4 presents the percentage of participants who were satisfied with the outcome of their resolved events broken down by each sociodemographic characteristic. According to the regression, satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events was not significantly related to any of the sociodemographic characteristics examined (see Table 8.3).

Table 8.4: Satisfaction with outcome of resolved legal events by each sociodemographic factor, all six LGAs, 2003

Sociodemographic factor
Satisfaction with outcome
No. of events
Satisfied % of events
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied % of events
Dissatisfied % of events
GenderFemale
76.3
9.9
13.7
837
Male
80.6
7.8
11.6
898
Total
78.6
8.8
12.6
1735
Age (years)15–24
75.7
10.3
14.1
370
25–34
78
11
11
391
35–44
77.5
7.5
15
374
45–54
78.5
9.3
12.2
311
55–64
82.5
4.5
13
154
65+
86.6
6
7.5
134
Total
78.5
8.8
12.6
1734
Indigenous statusIndigenous
76.5
5.9
17.6
51
Non-Indigenous
77.9
9.1
13
1491
Total
77.9
8.9
13.2
1542
Country of birthEnglish speaking
78.6
9.1
12.3
1533
Non-English speaking
78.4
6.5
15.1
199
Total
78.6
8.8
12.6
1732
Disability statusDisability
80.3
7.5
12.2
361
No disability
78.1
9.1
12.8
1369
Total
78.6
8.8
12.7
1730
Personal income ($/week)0–199
77.8
10.9
11.3
284
200–499
79.5
7.1
13.3
533
500–999
77.9
9.1
13
584
1000+
80.8
8.9
10.3
213
Total
78.8
8.7
12.5
1614
Education levelDidn’t finish/at school
83.3
5.6
11.1
162
Year 10/equivalent
82.2
7
10.7
428
Year 12/equivalent
76.6
9.6
13.8
376
Certificate/diploma
74.3
10.3
15.4
331
University degree
78.3
9.9
11.8
433
Total
78.6
8.8
12.6
1730
Notes: Information on satisfaction with outcome was provided for 1735 resolved events. Where the total for a given sociodemographic factor is less than 1735, data were missing on that factor.

Type of legal event

According to the regression, the type of legal event was a significant predictor of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events. The odds of satisfaction with the outcome of events were about three times higher than average for accident/injury events and about nine times higher than average for wills/estates events (see Table 8.3). Resolved business, consumer, government and general crime events all had lower odds of satisfaction with the outcome when compared with the average for all resolved events (see Table 8.3). Figure 8.3 shows that participants were satisfied with the outcome of 96.8 per cent of resolved wills/estates events and 88.8 per cent of resolved accident/injury events, but only around two-thirds of resolved business, consumer, government and general crime events.

Figure 8.3: Satisfaction with the outcome of resolved legal events by legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003


Notes: N=1733 events. Two unclassified events were excluded.

Recency of legal event

The odds of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events were lower for events that occurred seven to 12 months prior to the survey than for more recent events (see Table 8.3). Table 8.5 shows that participants reported being dissatisfied with the outcome of approximately 12 per cent of the resolved events that occurred in the six months prior to the survey, but with 13.1 to 15.5 per cent of the resolved events that occurred seven to 12 months prior to the survey.

Table 8.5: Satisfaction with outcome of resolved legal events by recency of legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Recency of event: no. of months prior to survey
Satisfaction with outcome
No. of events
Satisfied % of events
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied % of events
Dissatisfied % of events
0–3
78.8
9.2
12
567
4–6
80
8.1
11.9
445
7–9
77.6
9.3
13.1
397
10–12
75.5
9
15.5
245
Total
78.4
8.9
12.8
1654
Note: Information on recency was missing for 81 of the 1735 resolved events that had information on satisfaction with outcome.

Action taken

According to the regression, the odds of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved legal events were lower for events where participants did nothing than for events where participants sought help (see Table 8.3). In addition, the odds of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events were higher for events that participants handled alone than for events where participants sought help (see Table 8.3). Table 8.6 shows that participants reported being satisfied with the outcome of 85.1 per cent of the resolved events that they handled alone, 81.0 per cent of the resolved events for which they sought help, but only 69.4 per cent of the resolved events for which they took no action.

Table 8.6: Satisfaction with outcome of resolved legal events by action taken in response to legal events, all six LGAs, 2003

Action taken
Satisfaction with outcome
No. of events
Satisfied % of events
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied % of events
Dissatisfied % of events
Sought help
81
7.1
11.9
886
Handled alone
85.1
7.4
7.4
350
Did nothing
69.4
13.1
17.6
490
Total
78.6
8.9
12.6
1726
Note: Information on action taken was missing for nine of the 1735 resolved legal events that had information on satisfaction with outcome.

Method of resolution

Table 8.7 shows the percentage of resolved events where participants were satisfied with the outcome broken down by the method used for resolution. According to the regression, the method used for resolution was not a significant independent predictor of whether or not participants were satisfied with the outcome of resolved events (see Table 8.3).

Table 8.7: Satisfaction with outcome of resolved legal events by method of resolution, all six LGAs, 2003

Method of resolution
Satisfaction with outcome
No. of events
Satisfied % of events
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied % of events
Dissatisfied % of events
On own
78.4
9.3
12.3
1268
Through legal proceedings
76.1
4.3
19.6
138
Some other way
80.2
8.8
10.9
329
Total
78.6
8.8
12.6
1735

Satisfaction with assistance

Table 8.8 is based only on the 774 resolved events where participants sought help, and presents a breakdown of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events by satisfaction with the assistance received for these events from the sole or most useful adviser.4 Not surprisingly, the chi-square test conducted revealed a significant relationship whereby participants who reported being satisfied with the outcome of resolved events also tended to report being satisfied with the assistance they received for these events. Participants reported being satisfied with the outcome of 87.9 per cent of the resolved events where they were satisfied with the assistance they received, but only 41.2 per cent of the resolved events where they were dissatisfied with the assistance they received.

Table 8.8: Satisfaction with outcome of resolved legal events by satisfaction with assistance from sole or most useful adviser, all six LGAs, 2003

Satisfaction with assistance
Satisfaction with outcome
No. of events
Satisfied % of events
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied % of events
Dissatisfied % of events
Satisfied
87.9
4.8
7.3
668
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
39.5
21.1
39.5
38
Dissatisfied
41.2
13.2
45.6
68
Total
81.4
6.3
12.3
774
Note: x2=143.46, df=4, p=0.000.


Summary: satisfaction with the outcome of legal events


This chapter examined the level of satisfaction with the outcome or lack of outcome of 2844 legal events.5 It also examined the factors related to satisfaction with the outcome of 1735 legal events that had been resolved at the time of the survey. The main findings were as follows.

Participants reported satisfaction with the outcome of more than three-quarters of the events that had been resolved at the time of the survey. In contrast, participants reported being satisfied with the status of only about one-fifth of the legal events that were either unresolved or in the process of being resolved at the time of the survey.

The most common reasons for dissatisfaction with the outcome of resolved events related to the negative financial impact of the event (20.9%), the participant feeling that the outcome was unfair or unsatisfactory (20.0%), and a lack of helpful assistance (15.3%).

The most common reasons for dissatisfaction with the status of events that were unresolved or in the process of resolution related to the matter being still ongoing (36.5%), a lack of helpful assistance (17.5%), the participant feeling that the current situation was unfair or unsatisfactory (12.1%), and the negative financial impact of the event (8.7%).

The logistic regression analysis revealed that the type of legal event, the recency of the event and the action taken in response to the event were significant, independent predictors of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved legal events. The odds of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events were:


According to a chi-square test based on resolved events where participants had sought help, satisfaction with the outcome of the event was significantly and positively related to satisfaction with the assistance received.


Ch 9. Discussion


The present chapter highlights the major findings presented in Chapters 3 to 8 and discusses their implications in terms of the nature of legal need and access to justice.1 The final chapter, Chapter 10, argues that the findings suggest the merit of a multidimensional approach to legal service provision, which includes several concurrent strategies and allows for the tailoring of legal services to the varying needs of different individuals.


Incidence of legal events


The results of the present study suggest a high level of legal need across the six disadvantaged regions surveyed—legal events are a common feature of life, affecting many people and many aspects of life. Approximately two-thirds of participants (69%) reported experiencing one or more legal events in the previous 12 months. Furthermore, the legal events experienced related to a broad range of civil, criminal and family law issues. In particular, considerable proportions of participants reported general crime (27%),2 housing (23%), consumer (22%), government (20%), accident/injury (19%), wills/estates (15%), employment (12%), credit/debt (12%), family (9%) and education (7%) events.

The incidence of legal events reported in the present sample across six disadvantaged areas of NSW is considerably higher than those reported in recent overseas studies conducted in general population samples. In the United Kingdom, Genn (1999), Genn and Paterson (2001), and Pleasence et al. (2004b) reported incidence rates between 26 and 40 per cent over periods of between 3.5 and 5.5 years. In New Zealand, Maxwell et al. (1999) reported a yearly incidence rate of 41 per cent in their general population sample. However, as noted earlier, the lack of harmonisation in the methodologies used across different surveys of legal needs severely limits the ability to compare the findings from such surveys. Jurisdictional, population and measurement differences may have contributed to the different incidence rates. It is worth noting, however, that the higher incidence rate in the present study cannot be attributed to the different reference periods used for the recall of legal issues. The reference period of one year used in the present study was identical to that used by Maxwell et al. (1999) and shorter, not longer, than the reference periods used in the British studies.3

One possible measurement difference between the present study and the British studies that may have contributed to the higher incidence rate in the present study is the broader range of legal events covered by the present survey. The present study included criminal law events, which were not a focus of the British studies, and a larger number of events overall.4

A possible population difference that may have contributed to the higher incidence in the present study is the more disadvantaged nature of the present sample compared with the British and New Zealand samples. This argument is consistent with the evidence that socioeconomically disadvantaged people are particularly vulnerable to experiencing legal problems (e.g. Dale 2000; Pleasence et al. 2004b). It is also consistent with the tendency to find higher incidence rates in studies surveying disadvantaged populations. For example, the survey of temporary accommodation residents conducted in parallel to the LSRC general population survey in the United Kingdom reported an incidence rate of 84 per cent over 3.5 years (Pleasence et al. 2004b). Surveys in the United States focusing on lower income samples have reported yearly incidence rates ranging between 43 and about 87 per cent (ABA 1994; Schulman et al. 2003; Spangenberg Group 1989; Task Force 2003). In Australia, Cass and Sackville (1975) reported a five-year incidence rate of 69 per cent in their disadvantaged sample.5

The high incidence rates in the present survey of disadvantaged areas underline the importance of having appropriate services to resolve legal events in these areas. As other authors have noted (e.g. Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b), the broad nature and ubiquity of legal events suggest they should be of general concern—they are central to physical and social well-being. The findings from recent studies that legal events can have adverse effects on health and economic circumstances, can trigger further legal problems, and can reinforce and initiate social exclusion (Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b) further underline the importance of having quick, effective and inexpensive means of resolving legal problems. In particular, where there are evident high rates of legal need in areas such as those sampled in the present study, the importance of appropriate legal service provision cannot be underestimated.

Incidence of multiple legal events

Supporting recent studies (e.g. Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b), the present study suggested that legal events are not experienced randomly across the population or in equal numbers across individuals. In the present study, approximately one-third of participants reported no legal events, another third reported one or two events, and the remaining third reported three or more events. The third of participants who reported at least three events accounted for the vast majority (79%) of events reported by the sample. Thus, a relatively small percentage of individuals disproportionately accounted for the majority of legal events. This finding suggests that some individuals are particularly vulnerable to legal problems and that legal services are likely to be disproportionately needed by these individuals. Parallel findings have been reported in other fields such as health and crime. For example, small proportions of families are over-represented among those who have medical and social problems and those who use health and welfare services (e.g. ABS 2003a; Vinson & Homel 1975). Similarly, relatively few criminal offenders account for a disproportionately large number of criminal offences, arrests and convictions (e.g. Coumarelos 1994; Farrington 1983; Wolfgang, Figlio & Sellin 1972).

The present study also found that certain types of legal events tend to recur. For example, of the people who experienced an employment event within the one-year period, about one-third experienced two or more different types of employment events. Other legal event groups that had a high rate of recurrence were the family, human rights, general crime, credit/debt, government, consumer and education legal event groups.

Similarly to the United Kingdom studies by Genn (1999) and Pleasence et al. (2004b), the present study also found that some event types tend to appear in clusters. It is worth noting that the present study showed overlaps in occurrence not only between issues within the same broad area of law (e.g. between different types of civil law issues), but also between various types of civil, criminal and family issues. The present study, like the United Kingdom studies, identified a family cluster dominated by family and domestic violence events (Pleasence et al. 2004b).6 A connection between domestic violence, relationship breakdown, and problems with contact or support arrangements for children is not at all surprising, and Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that where domestic violence was reported in combination with divorce or children-related problems, it tended to occur first.

Like the British studies, the present study also identified a broad, general cluster which included events related to consumer matters, housing, accident/injury, employment, neighbours and welfare benefits (e.g. Pleasence et al. 2004b).7 It is not surprising that the composition of the broad cluster was not totally identical across the three studies given that the legal events covered by the different studies were not identical.8 In the British studies, an economic grouping consisting of money and debt problems was an additional element of the broad cluster, whereas in the present study, a similar economic grouping formed a separate cluster. In addition to including credit/debt events, the economic cluster in the present study included business events, which were not a focus of the overseas studies. However, it is notable that in all three studies there was a strong link between consumer events, which contributed to the broad cluster in each case, and money or credit/debt problems.9

As Pleasence et al. (2004b) note, there are a number of reasons why certain legal problems tend to occur in clusters. Firstly, different problem types might have coinciding defining circumstances. For example, numerous consumer transactions provide the opportunity to experience consumer problems and credit/debt problems. Secondly, individuals might have coinciding characteristics of vulnerability for different problem types. The sociodemographic characteristics associated with vulnerability to legal events are discussed in the next section. Thirdly, the experience of one legal problem might trigger or increase the risk of experiencing additional problems. Pleasence et al. (2004b) argue that the trigger effect of justiciable problems can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives. For instance, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that relationship breakdown can lead to downward mobility in the housing market, a loss of income and adverse effects on children’s education, while Genn (1999) found that injury and ill-health can lead to unemployment, which in turn can lead to problems relating to welfare benefits, debt and compensation. Pleasence et al. maintain that


The fact that legal events recur, occur in clusters and act as triggers for further problems suggests the critical role that could be played by quick and effective legal resolution in the prevention of flow-on effects. That is, appropriately targeted, efficient legal services would not only have an immediate role in resolving existing legal problems, but also a longer-term effect in preventing existing legal problems from escalating and in preventing new, related legal problems from occurring. Appropriate early, pre-court intervention not only has potential benefits for individuals who experience multiple or recurring legal problems, but also potential cost savings for government in avoiding expensive court resolution (e.g. MacDonald 2005).

The clustering of different types of legal events also suggests that legal services need to have the capacity for resolving the complex situations faced by some individuals involving multiple, concurrent, interconnected legal problems. The present study indicated that these co-occurring legal issues may be quite disparate and may impact on many aspects of people’s well-being, including their finances, employment, health, housing and welfare. Thus, the results suggest that, for some individuals, legal service provision needs to be sufficiently coordinated to deal with multiple, disparate legal issues. Furthermore, given the impact of legal needs on many areas of everyday life, there may also be benefits in coordinating the provision of legal services with the provision of other human services. The current level of coordination among legal and human services, and possible approaches for enhancing this coordination are discussed further in Chapter 10.

Sociodemographic factors related to the incidence of legal events

Consistent with past research, the present study suggests that people from particular sociodemographic groups have an increased likelihood of experiencing particular types of legal problems. There were some differences in the experience of legal events according to gender, age, Indigenous status, country of birth, disability status, personal income and education. In particular, age, disability and income were generally consistent predictors of the 10 most frequently reported types of legal events, that is, accident/injury, consumer, credit/debt, education, employment, government, housing, wills/estates, general crime and family events. These findings are discussed in further detail below. To assist with the discussion of the results from the regression analyses, Table 9.1 provides a quick reference summarising the significant predictors in each regression.

Table 9.1: Summary of significant predictors in the 15 regression models conducted

Outcome variable
Gender
Age
Indigenous status
Country of birth
Disability status
Personal income
Education level
Legal event group
Recency
Resolution status
Action taken
Method of resolution
1
Reporting legal events of any type
2
Reporting accident/injury events
3
Reporting consumer events
4
Reporting credit/debt events
5
Reporting education events
6
Reporting employment events
7
Reporting government events
8
Reporting housing events
9
Reporting wills/estates events
10
Reporting general crime events
11
Reporting family events
12
Action taken
13
Satisfaction with assistance
14
Resolution status
15
Satisfaction with outcome
Note: Each row represents a separate regression model. White cells indicate variables included in the regression, while shaded cells indicate variables not included. Ticks indicate significant predictors.

Gender

In keeping with much of the literature, the present results suggest that the likelihood of experiencing legal events does not reliably vary according to gender (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; NCC 1995; Pleasence et al. 2004b). In the present regression analyses, gender was not related to the overall reporting of legal events and was only related to one of the 10 most frequent types of legal event groups (see Table 9.1). Specifically, males reported higher rates of accident/injury events. Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that gender was only associated with three of their 18 problem types.

When gender differences are found, there is some convergence in terms of the types of legal events showing gender differences. Similarly to the present study, Fishwick (1992) reported higher rates of accident events for males. Fishwick (1992), the Task Force (2003) and Pleasence et al. (2004b) all reported higher rates of domestic violence or family problems for females.10

Age

In the present study, age was related to reporting events overall, and to reporting each of the 10 most frequent types of events examined (see Table 9.1). Supporting past research, the age groups with the highest incidence rates varied according to the type of legal event, suggesting that different stages of life tend to expose people to different types of legal problems (Dale 2000; Fishwick 1992; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Schulman et al. 2003).

Consistent with past research, older people (65 years or over) tended to report lower rates of legal events than other people. The only exception to this trend was that the oldest age group had the highest incidence of wills/estates events. It is not surprising that wills/estates issues may become more of a priority as people get older. The extent to which the lower reporting rates by older people truly reflect a lower incidence of legal need is unclear. Older people have been identified as a disadvantaged group who may have specialised legal and access to justice needs as a result of their particular life circumstances (Ellison, Schetzer, Mullins, Perry & Wong 2004). For example, older people tend to have relatively low income, and increased risk of health and disability problems (Ellison et al. 2004).

If older people actually experience fewer legal problems, then this may be because their life circumstances are less likely to expose them to legal problems, or because they are better able through past experience or familiarity to prevent issues from becoming serious legal problems (Pleasence et al. 2004b). However, it has been argued that the lower reporting rates by older people may also in part reflect a failure to identify legal needs or problems for a variety of possible reasons, such as a decrease in the importance placed on problems or an increased ignorance of personal circumstances due to increased isolation with old age (Pleasence et al. 2004b). A recent qualitative study of the legal needs of older people in NSW by Ellison et al. (2004) suggests that older people sometimes ignore their legal problems and demonstrate a reluctance to complain about their circumstances and legal problems. A number of studies have also found that many older people do not understand their legal rights or the available avenues for redressing their legal problems (Ellison et al. 2004; Tilse, Setterlund, Wilson & Herd 2002).

Given the ever increasing older population, the reason behind the lower reporting rates of legal issues by older people warrants future investigation. If the lower reporting rates do not actually reflect fewer legal problems, but an increased failure to identify legal problems, specialised information strategies for older people may be useful in helping them to recognise and deal effectively with legal problems (e.g. Ellison et al. 2004).

The three youngest age groups (15 to 24, 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 year olds) reported the highest incidence of legal events overall, with the peak occurring in the 25 to 34 year age group. This finding is consistent with prior research showing that the experience of legal problems tends to peak in the 20s, 30s or 40s (e.g. Genn 1999; LJF 2003; Pleasence et al. 2004b).

General crime and accident/injury events peaked in the youngest age group. These results are consistent with the high criminal offence rates, high crime victimisation rates and high rates of risk-taking behaviour for young adults, particularly for young men (e.g. ABS 2004a; Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies 2005; NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research 2004; Palamara & Stevenson 2003). Consumer and housing legal events were also common in the youngest age group. The high rates of these legal events are likely to partly reflect the fact that young people are relatively less economically independent and tend to live in poorer-standard accommodation. For example, national survey data show that relatively high percentages of Australians in this age group have personal incomes below the poverty line, experience financial stressors such as being unable to raise money quickly for something important, and live in rented accommodation (ABS 2004b; Lincare 2005; Schneider 1999).11

Credit/debt, government and housing events peaked in the 25 to 34 year age group, and rates of consumer, education and family events were also relatively high in this age group. Similarly, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found high rates of immigration, consumer, money/debt and domestic violence problems in this age group. The high rates of consumer, credit/debt and housing events probably echo, to some extent, the increasing personal expenditure and use of debt as people become economically independent and commence acquiring major assets such as houses (e.g. Pleasence et al. 2004b).12 In keeping with this argument, national Australian survey data show a substantial increase in household income for this age group compared with the 15 to 24 year age group (ABS 2005). National survey data also show relatively high rates of cash flow problems, dissaving actions13 and first home buyers for the 25 to 34 year age group (ABS 2004b; Trewin 2003). The high rate of family events in this age group tended to reflect people of this age group either facing problems related to raising children or facing relationship breakdowns.14

Family events peaked in the 35 to 44 year age group. This finding is consistent with that of Pleasence et al. (2004b) who note that the high rates of these problems reflect the high rates of people of this age who live with a partner and have dependent children.15 Credit/debt, consumer and education events were also relatively high in this age group.

The incidence rates for wills/estates and employment events peaked in the 45 to 54 year age group. The incidence of all other types of events tended to decline progressively after the mid-forties or mid-fifties. Family and education events showed considerably large declines after the mid-forties. These declines probably reflect the fact that as people move into their late forties and fifties, their children start to leave home (e.g. Pleasence et al. 2004b) and finish their formal education.

The present results suggest that there may be benefits to tailoring legal service provision according to the different types of legal issues experienced at different life stages. Similar strategies have been adopted in other areas, such as banking, investment and insurance, where savings, superannuation and insurance schemes are tailored to the typical financial needs experienced by different age groups (e.g. Datamonitor Market Briefing 2003; Department of Family and Community Services 2005; MostChoice 2005; Urban Institute 2000).

Indigenous Australians

According to the present results, Indigenous Australian status was not related to the overall incidence of legal events, but Indigenous respondents were more likely than non-Indigenous respondents to report credit/debt, employment and family events, and less likely to report wills/estates events. While the relationship between ethnicity and the incidence of legal events has been examined by some past research studies (e.g. Cass & Sackville 1975; Fishwick 1992; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Task Force 2003), few of these studies have specifically examined the relationship between Indigenous status and the incidence of legal events. In New Zealand, Maxwell et al. (1999) found a relationship between Indigenous status and the incidence of legal problems, indicating that Maoris were more likely than other ethnic groups to report experiencing a number of legal problems.

The present relatively high rates of credit/debt, employment and family legal events among Indigenous people is not surprising given nationwide survey data showing that Indigenous Australians as a group suffer multiple types of economic and social disadvantage (ABS 2004c). For example, the present high rates of credit/debt and employment events among Indigenous participants are consistent with data showing lower average gross income, higher levels of financial stress, lower levels of labour force participation and higher levels of unemployment among Indigenous Australians than among non-Indigenous Australians (ABS 2004d; ABS & AIHW 2005). The high rate of family events among Indigenous people in the present study is also consistent with national survey data showing that Indigenous children are over-represented in statutory child protection services (ABS & AIHW 2005).

The higher incidence of employment and family events among Indigenous participants is of particular interest given present and past evidence suggesting that these problems tend to endure and can trigger further problems. For example, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that family problems tend to be long lasting and Genn (1999) reported that unemployment can trigger further problems relating to welfare benefits, debt and compensation. The present study found that employment and family events are among the event types that are less likely to be resolved (see section entitled Factors related to resolution of legal events).

The lower incidence of wills/estates events for Indigenous people is also of note because, unlike many other types of legal events, wills/estates events do not usually constitute legal problems. Rather, wills/estates events involve a basic form of planning in relation to major assets and usually indicate taking positive legal action to put one’s affairs in order. Thus, the lower rate of wills/estates events for Indigenous Australians is consistent with a higher level of unmet or unrecognised legal need among this group.16

Non-English speaking background

In the present study, the relationship of ethnicity to reporting legal events was also examined in terms of country of birth.17 People born in an English speaking country reported a higher overall incidence of legal events, and a higher incidence of accident/injury, wills/estates and general crime events more specifically. Fishwick (1992) similarly reported that people of English speaking background in NSW were more likely than those from a non-English speaking background to report experiencing legal events, while Cass and Sackville (1975) found that Australian-born respondents were more likely than migrants to report multiple legal problems.

As was the case with the oldest age group, it is not clear whether the lower reporting rates of people born in a non-English speaking country reflect actual lower incidence rates. The lower reporting rates may also reflect a failure to identify legal problems for whatever reason. This possibility is in keeping with past research findings suggesting an ignorance of legal rights and avenues for legal resolution among people from a non-English speaking background. For example, the Australian Law Reform Commission (1992) found that people of non-English speaking backgrounds faced a lack of information about the law, a lack of access to suitable interpreters, and the perception that there is cultural insensitivity in the operation and administration of the law. Cass and Sackville (1975) reported that many legal problems were exacerbated for non-British migrants in Sydney because of their poor English, poor understanding of their legal rights and poor knowledge of the existence and scope of legal services including legal aid schemes.

As with the oldest age group, the reason behind the lower reporting rates of people from non-English speaking background in the present study warrants further investigation. If the lower reporting rates reflect a failure to recognise legal problems for whatever reason, specialised information strategies targeting this group may be warranted.

It is interesting that, once again, the present results indicate that the minority group is the group with a lower incidence of wills/estates events. Again, this finding is consistent with a failure to take legal action to put one’s affairs in order.

Disability

The present findings indicate that people who have a chronic health or disability problem report relatively higher rates of a wide range of legal problems. The present study found higher overall rates of legal events, as well as higher rates for all 10 of the most common types of legal events with the exception of wills/estates events (see Table 9.1).18 However, as mentioned earlier, the occurrence of wills/estates events, unlike the occurrence of other types of events, frequently signifies taking positive action to meet legal need rather than a legal problem. Thus, people with a chronic illness or disability had higher incidence rates for all the frequently occurring legal event groups where the experience of legal events tends to indicate legal need or legal problems.

These findings are in keeping with past surveys showing a high level of legal need among people with a disability or illness (Dale 2000; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Task Force 2003), and are not particularly surprising given statistics showing that Australians with poor or only fair health have increased risk of multiple types of social and economic disadvantage (ABS 2004c).

As noted elsewhere, the association of chronic ill-health and disability with legal problems may well be bi-directional: chronic ill-health/disability may not only increase vulnerability to legal problems, but may also be brought about or worsened by such problems (Pleasence et al. 2004b). In any case, the consistent relationship between chronic illness or disability and a wide range of legal problems indicates the importance of ensuring that legal services meet the needs of this disadvantaged group.

Income

According to the present regression analyses, people with the highest personal incomes generally reported higher overall rates of legal events and higher rates for six of the 10 most frequent types of legal events (see Table 9.1).19 It is worth noting that this relationship between reporting legal events and income is in fact independent of any association between income and education. Thus, the higher reporting rates for high-income earners cannot be fully explained by higher levels of education among high-income earners.

The higher incidence of legal events among high-income earners in the present study is contrary to the expectation that socially and economically disadvantaged groups will have higher levels of legal need. However, although past research has reliably shown a relationship between economic indicators and the incidence of legal needs, the relationship appears to be complex and is not always in the same direction. Some studies have found higher incidence rates among low-income groups. For example, Dale (2000) reported relatively high incidence rates for homeless people and Pleasence et al. (2004b) reported high incidence rates for persons in the lowest income bracket, lone parents and persons in rented or high-density housing. On the other hand, similarly to the present study, other studies have found high overall incidence rates for those with higher incomes (ABA 1994; Fishwick 1992; LJF 2003). Furthermore, although Pleasence et al. found that those in the lowest income bracket had the highest overall incidence of justiciable problems, those in the highest income bracket had the second highest overall incidence.

In considering the different relationships between incidence rates and income evidenced across studies it should be remembered that studies have differed in their measurement of both income and legal needs. While the present study, like some previous studies, used personal income to identify low-income groups (Cass & Sackville 1975; Curran 1977; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999), other studies used household income (e.g. ABA 1994; Dale 2000; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; NCC 1995; Rush 1999; Schulman et al. 2003; Spangenberg Group 1989; Task Force 2003), and sometimes studies identified specific low-income groups such as the homeless (e.g. Dale 2000).20 Furthermore, studies have differed considerably in the number, range, type and severity of legal events they covered.

There are a few possible explanations of the varying relationship between incidence rates and income. Firstly, it is simply possible that, in some populations, low-income earners do in fact experience a smaller number of legal events than high-income earners. Note that a smaller number of legal events may or may not reflect a lower level of legal need since the number of events does not take into account the seriousness or intractability of those events.

Secondly, it is possible that low-income groups generally do have a high level of legal need, but that, in some studies, whether due to cultural or other factors, they are relatively less likely than high-income earners to recognise their legal issues or relatively more reluctant to complain about them. Or, if low-income groups do have more serious legal needs, they may be less likely to identify relatively trivial matters as legal problems and may tend to identify as problems only the more serious of their legal needs.

Thirdly, it is possible that low-income groups have different legal needs to high-income groups. If this were the case, the inconsistent relationship between income and the overall incidence of legal events across studies would partly depend on the number, range and types of legal events included in different surveys.

Some support for the argument that low- and high-income groups tend to experience different types of legal events is provided by the fact that there was some commonality between the present study and the Pleasence et al. (2004b) study in the types of events reported by high-income earners. In both studies, high-income earners reported high rates of events that are consistent with having relatively high levels of disposable income, assets and possessions. Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that high-income earners had high incidence rates for consumer, investment and owned housing problems, and suggest that these rates most likely reflect higher levels of consumer activity and home ownership among high-income earners.21 Similarly, in the present study, high-income earners had relatively high incidence rates of consumer and housing events, and the high incidence of housing events was largely a result of a high incidence of buying or selling a home.22 The present study also found a high incidence rate of general crime events among high-income earners, which is consistent with high-income earners having valuable possessions, given that this high rate was largely due to high rates of stolen or vandalised property.23 National crime victimisation survey data similarly show high crime victimisation rates among individuals with high household income (Johnson 2005).24 Finally, the high incidence of wills/estates events among high-income earners in the present study may also reflect a greater need to take care of valuable assets.25 The Task Force (2003) similarly found that moderate-income households were more likely than low-income households to report legal issues related to estates and trusts.26

It is important to note that the various possibilities presented above for the varying relationship between the incidence of legal events and income are not mutually exclusive. For example, it is possible that, compared with high-income earners, low-income earners have more serious legal needs, are less able to recognise or less willing to complain about their legal needs, and tend to experience different types of legal needs. Identifying the reasons behind the particular incidence rates reported by different income groups is an important question for future research that would assist in the appropriate tailoring of legal services to the needs of different income groups.

Education

The present study found that, compared with those who had completed schooling only as far as Year 10, university graduates were more likely to report legal events overall and more likely to report government and wills/estates events (see Table 9.1). It is worth noting that the present relationship between reporting legal events and education is independent of any relationship between education and income. A few other studies have also reported a link between academic qualifications and increased likelihood of reporting legal events (Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b). However, as with the present study, Pleasence et al. (2004b) did not find education to be a significant predictor across most legal problem types.27

Again, it is not clear whether the lower overall reporting rates of legal events by people with lower academic qualifications reflect a lower actual incidence rate or a failure to recognise or admit to legal problems. To the extent that the latter is the case, legal education and information strategies may be useful in helping this demographic group to identify and face their legal problems.



Response to legal events


Type of response

The present study found that a common response to legal events was to do nothing—respondents reported taking no action in response to about one-third of the legal events they experienced. They reported seeking some sort of help, advice or information for just over half of the events they experienced, and they attempted to handle the remaining 16 per cent of events on their own. Past research consistently shows that a considerable proportion of respondents do not seek advice from legal sources for their legal problems (e.g. ABA 1994; Cass & Sackville 1975; Dale 2000; Fishwick 1992; Rush 1999; Spangenberg Group 1989; Task Force 2003).

However, the percentage who took no action at all in the present study was considerably higher than the corresponding figures of 3 to 19 per cent reported in the recent studies in the United Kingdom (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b). The difference is likely to be due in part to the fact that the United Kingdom studies only examined responses to events that were deemed by respondents to be non-trivial, that is, ‘important enough to warrant action’. However, even when only non-trivial legal events are considered in the present study, the percentage of events where no action was taken is still relatively high at 26 per cent.28

The higher rate of inaction in the present study might also reflect the possibility that people from disadvantaged areas are less likely than others to respond to the legal problems they experience. The present study surveyed residents of disadvantaged areas whereas the United Kingdom studies surveyed the general population. Consistent with this argument, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found a higher rate of inaction among their sample of temporary accommodation residents than among their general sample (28% versus 19%).

Among those who took no action in response to non-trivial events in the present study, the most common reason given for not taking action was that it would make no difference or would make things worse.29 This finding is very similar to that of the Task Force (2003) and Pleasence et al. (2004b) who both found that the most common reason provided for inaction was that nothing could be done.

The present high rate of inaction in response to legal events and the common accompanying belief that taking action would make no difference suggest that there is clearly a role for improved education and information about legal rights and legal remedies in the disadvantaged communities surveyed. Genn (1999), Genn and Paterson (2001), and Pleasence et al. (2004b) similarly advocate the need to raise levels of awareness and understanding about legal rights, obligations and remedies.

Factors related to response to legal events

Not surprisingly, the present study found that the type of legal event was a significant predictor of whether or not people sought help. Past research also suggests that problem type is important in determining whether or not people seek advice (ABA 1994; Cass & Sackville 1975; Curran 1977; Genn 1999; Fishwick 1992; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Schulman et al. 2003; Task Force 2003). Furthermore, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that the likelihood of seeking advice increased with the seriousness of the problem faced—respondents were more likely to describe problems for which they sought advice as being ‘very important to sort out’.

In the present study, respondents were more likely to seek help for accident/injury, employment and wills/estates events than other events on average, and less likely to seek help for consumer and human rights events. In keeping with the present study, some past studies have found that accidents (ABA 1994; Cass & Sackville 1975; Genn 1999) and matters related to wills, advance directives and estate planning (ABA 1994; Curran 1977; Fishwick 1992; Schulman et al. 2003; Task Force 2003) are relatively likely to result in seeking legal advice. Although these legal issues are not necessarily serious or long-lasting problems, it has been suggested they are probably recognised by the public as areas that are traditionally addressed by lawyers in private practice (Cass & Sackville 1975).

Although family and domestic violence issues have reliably been reported in past research as legal problems that are relatively likely to result in seeking advice (e.g. ABA 1994; Cass & Sackville 1975; Curran 1977; Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Schulman et al. 2003; Task Force 2003), the present findings did not replicate these results.

Present findings that the type of legal issue influences the action taken, coupled with past findings that people tend to seek advice for more serious problems, are heartening because they suggest that the decision to seek advice is not completely haphazard, but tends to be measured against the nature, perceived importance and likely impact of the legal problem. However, given that the present survey did not measure the perceived seriousness of legal events, it is possible that respondents to the present study sometimes failed to seek help for serious problems.

The present results also showed that various sociodemographic characteristics of individuals were associated with their response to legal events. The youngest and oldest respondents, Indigenous Australians and people with low levels of education tended to be less likely to seek help than other people. Again there is some overlap with prior research. For example, Fishwick (1992) reported that young people were less likely to seek help. Genn (1999) found that 18 to 34 year olds were less likely than others to obtain advice, while 45 to 64 year olds were more likely than others to obtain advice. Pleasence et al. (2004b) reported that black and minority ethnic respondents were less likely than white respondents to take action. The Task Force (2003) found that Native Americans were amongst the demographic groups least likely to seek attorney assistance. Genn (1999) found that people with no academic qualifications were less likely to obtain advice. However, Pleasence et al. (2004b) reported that people with no academic qualifications were more likely than others to seek advice when they acted.

The present results suggest that when young people, older people, Indigenous Australians and persons with low levels of education experience legal problems, these problems have a greater chance of escalating into serious problems or triggering related problems. Thus, in addition to raising the general public’s awareness and knowledge about legal rights and remedies, it may be useful to further target legal education and information strategies towards these groups of individuals who tend to be less likely to seek help.

It is also worth noting that although some past studies have found a relationship between economic circumstances and the likelihood of seeking assistance (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Pleasence et al. 2004b), income was not significant in the present regression analysis for seeking help. However, the relationship between economic indicators and seeking assistance in past studies has not always been straightforward or in the same direction. Genn (1999) found that high-income earners were relatively more likely to obtain advice, whereas Genn and Paterson (2001) found middle-income respondents (£8000–£14 999) were more likely to seek advice than both those on lower incomes and those on higher incomes. Pleasence et al. (2004b) found the relationship between economic circumstances and inaction was complicated. Those in work were less likely than others to act, but those who owned their own home were more likely than others to act. In addition, respondents in low-income occupations were particularly unlikely to take action.

Type of legal advice and assistance

In line with recent overseas research (Genn 1999; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b), the present findings indicate that individuals who do seek help in response to legal problems by no means limit themselves to traditional legal sources of advice, but use a wide range of legal and non-legal advisers. In the present study, traditional legal advisers, such as private solicitors and barristers, local courts, Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW, Aboriginal legal services and CLCs, were only used in 12 per cent of cases where help was sought. Even when less formal legal advisers such as friends or relatives who are lawyers and published sources are included, legal advisers were used in only one-quarter of cases where help was sought. Thus, when people did seek advice in response to events that had legal implications, in the majority of cases, they only used non-legal advisers. The most common non-legal advisers were professionals such as doctors, accountants, psychologists and counsellors (25%). The next most frequently used non-legal advisers were friends or relatives who are not lawyers (16%), government organisations (15%), trade unions or professional bodies (6%), insurance companies/brokers (6%), school staff (6%) and the police (5%). The use of non-legally trained friends and family for advice in response to legal issues is also a common finding of previous studies (e.g. Genn 1999; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Scott et al. 2004).

Furthermore, the present results also indicated that the type of help obtained in response to issues that have legal implications is not always of a legal nature. Participants reported seeking only non-legal types of help, such as medical advice or assistance, in relation to at least one-quarter of the legal events where they sought help. This finding highlights the fact that in some instances where help was sought for events with legal consequences, participants prioritised non-legal help over legal help and did not address any legal needs raised by these events.

However, the present findings also suggested that, even when non-legal advisers are used, by and large, people’s choice of adviser generally appears to be appropriate to the type of event experienced. For example, school staff were commonly approached for education events, medical/health professionals for health and accident/injury events, government organisations for government events, trade unions for employment events, private lawyers for wills/estates events and the police for general crime events.

Thus, in line with recent findings in other jurisdictions, the present study suggests the limited use of traditional legal advisers and the even rarer use of formal legal proceedings to resolve legal issues. As Genn (1999) notes, there is little evidence of any ‘rush’ to law.

The widespread use of advisers outside the traditional legal sphere also indicates that the conventional definition of legal services, which is restricted to legal information, advice, assistance and representation obtained from a lawyer, only covers a fraction of people’s advice-seeking behaviour in response to issues that have legal consequences. Therefore, a comprehensive view of legal services must extend beyond traditional legal services to include all individuals and organisations to whom people routinely turn to for advice in response to legal issues (Pleasence et al. 2004b). In particular, it is important to recognise that non-legal professionals may be the first, and in many cases, the only point of contact with professionals for people in legal need.

The widespread use of advisers outside the traditional legal sphere also suggests that information and education about resolution of legal issues should stress the many methods that can be used for resolution and that traditional legal process tends to be a rare and last resort (Pleasence et al. 2004b).

Barriers to legal advice and assistance

Past studies have identified a number of different types of barriers to obtaining legal advice, including barriers to accessibility, financial barriers, language barriers and psychological barriers (ABA 1994; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003; MacDonald 2005; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b). In the present study, almost two-fifths of those who sought help for a legal issue reported some type of barrier to obtaining that help. The most frequent types of barriers identified in obtaining advice from all sources were difficulty getting through on the telephone (18%), delays in getting a response (17%), difficulty getting an appointment (11%), the lack of local or easily accessible services (8%) and problems with opening hours (8%). Similar barriers were identified by respondents who only used traditional legal advisers, suggesting that there is room for improvement in the delivery of legal services. The present study also found that the distance respondents travelled to access services was sometimes considerable in the rural/remote regions surveyed (Nambucca and Walgett). One-quarter of respondents residing in these regions reported that they travelled over 20 kilometres to seek help in response to legal events.

These findings suggest that there is considerable scope to improve the accessibility of legal services. Difficulty in getting through on the telephone and making an appointment suggest that the existing services may require increased resources in order to respond efficiently to the current demand. Difficulty in finding local services and problems with opening hours suggest that extensions to current service provision may be warranted, both in terms of operating hours and in terms of the number of readily accessible physical locations where legal advice is available. In short, as has been suggested elsewhere, there may be benefit in legal advice services mirroring the behaviour of those who wish to use them, and being available when and where people wish to seek legal advice (Pleasence et al. 2004b).

Although some past studies have found that financial factors were common barriers to obtaining legal advice (e.g. ABA 1994; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001), these did not emerge as frequently reported barriers in the current study. In the present study, financial barriers were identified in 6 per cent of cases across all types of advisers, including both legal and non-legal advisers. Pleasence et al. (2004b) similarly found that cost was reported as a reason for inaction in only a small percentage (4%) of cases. It is not surprising that cost was not an issue for many of the present respondents given that the majority of present respondents sought help from friends, relatives, and non-legal professionals and organisations, who do not usually charge legal fees. In addition, only a small percentage of the present legal events involved legal resolution through court or tribunal proceedings, where the cost of legal representation can be substantial. It is worth noting, however, that financial barriers in the present study were reported slightly more frequently (in 10% of cases) when only traditional legal advisers were used, suggesting that the issue of cost needs to be addressed for some people in some cases.

Not understanding the advice provided (5%) and English language problems (2%) were also not common barriers in the present study. Thus, although ensuring that legal advice and information are framed in the clearest possible language is necessarily an important goal in any legal service provision, the present results do not suggest that a major overhaul in the quality of written and oral communication is necessary. However, it is important to note here that the present sample was not representative of all disadvantaged populations in NSW, and hence, that English language problems may still be significant obstacles to accessing justice for some groups of disadvantaged populations in NSW. Although interviews in the present study were offered in three languages other than English, they were not offered in all non-English languages, and there may well have been a bias toward inclusion in the sample of people with a good command of English. Furthermore, in the Fairfield LGA, which was chosen partly because of its cultural and linguistic diversity, the proportion in the sample who were from a non-English speaking background appears to be somewhat lower than that in the population.30

Although psychological factors have been reported as important barriers in some studies (e.g. Maxwell et al. 1999), psychological barriers such as feeling embarrassed were identified in only 2 per cent of cases in the present sample. Again, however, given the limited representativeness of the present sample, the possibility that psychological barriers may be significant obstacles to accessing justice for some groups of disadvantaged populations in NSW cannot be ruled out. People who tend to be easily embarrassed about legal problems may have been relatively unlikely to agree to being interviewed about their legal problems.

The present study also assessed whether respondents required special services in order to obtain help for their legal issues. Such services were only required in 5 per cent of cases where respondents sought help, and they obtained these services in the majority of cases (71%). The special services that participants reported requiring included medical or counselling help or assistance, home visits or special transport, financial help or assistance, help reading or understanding complex information, wheelchair access, an interpreter, a place for children to play and access to an outreach service. These findings suggest that, while there is always room for improvement, the respondents’ needs with respect to such special services were generally met.

Thus, the present findings suggest that the main barriers in terms of seeking help for legal events in the surveyed areas relate to the easy access of services, and that improvements to the efficiency, resourcing and extended availability of services are likely to be beneficial.



Satisfaction with the assistance for legal events


Satisfaction with client services is used as an indicator of the quality of those services and as a yardstick for improving and regulating services (Armytage 1996; Oliver 1997). While, as discussed earlier, obtained satisfaction rates across different studies are likely to be influenced by the precise definition and measurement of satisfaction used (Oliver 1997), it is nonetheless notable that the present study found relatively high rates of satisfaction with the assistance received for legal events. Across all types of legal and non-legal advisers, almost four-fifths of those who sought help, advice or information for legal events in the present study were satisfied with that help, and only 13 per cent were dissatisfied. High satisfaction with the assistance received was also reported for traditional legal advisers such as private lawyers and local courts (81%). Pleasence et al. (2004b) similarly found that just over three-quarters of advisers were rated as either helpful or very helpful. The LJF (2003) pilot study reported a somewhat lower percentage of respondents who were satisfied with the help they received (69%).

The high rates of satisfaction with the assistance received from traditional legal advisers in the present study are notable, particularly given the low rate of use of such advisers.31 The rare use of traditional legal advisers is consistent with anecdotal reports of public scepticism towards the legal profession in Australia (Evans 1995), and with Cass and Sackville’s pioneering Australian study in 1975, which concluded that ‘Australians may be more cynical than the British in their attitudes towards lawyers and legal institutions’ (p. 84). However, the present high rate of satisfaction with the help obtained when people do actually seek help from lawyers and local courts suggests that any lack of confidence in the legal profession may in part be misplaced. Similarly, a number of recent Australian studies have reported reasonably high rates of satisfaction with lawyers (e.g. Evans 1995; Firth & Munday 2003; James & Associates 1998).

Factors related to satisfaction with assistance for legal events

The present study found that the type of legal event was a significant predictor of satisfaction with assistance. Respondents were less likely than average to report being satisfied with the help they received for traffic offence events and more likely than average to report being satisfied with the help they received for accident/injury and wills/estates events. This finding may partly reflect that it is easier or more straightforward to provide clear and helpful advice for some types of events than others. It may also in part be due to the tendency for participants to report being satisfied with the assistance they received for events where they were satisfied with the outcome. The latter explanation is consistent with participants being particularly likely to report satisfaction with the outcome of accident/injury and wills/estates events and is discussed further in the section Factors related to satisfaction with the outcome of legal events, below.

Respondents also reported being less satisfied with the advice they received for unresolved rather than resolved events. This finding stresses the value people place on legal services that provide quick and satisfactory resolution of legal issues. Sociodemographic characteristics were not significant predictors of satisfaction with assistance.

In keeping with past findings (Pleasence et al. 2004b), satisfaction with assistance also appeared to vary somewhat according to the type of adviser used. For example, satisfaction with the assistance received was reported in over nine-tenths of the events where the main adviser was a friend or relative (regardless of whether the friend/relative was a lawyer), in about four-fifths of the events where the main adviser was a private lawyer or local court,32 but in only about three-fifths of the events where the main adviser was a company, business or bank, a local council, an employer or a government organisation. This finding may in part be an artifact of the different types of legal problems handled by different types of advisers.33 That is, the apparent greater satisfaction with the assistance received from some advisers may partly be due to these advisers providing advice on problems that are relatively easier to resolve.



Resolution of legal events


As noted earlier, the present study measured participants’ perceptions about whether or not their legal events had been resolved. The advantage of this approach is that it allows participants to report whether or not they feel that a given legal event has concluded and is no longer an issue for them. Events that were perceived to be unresolved could have included events where no action was taken towards resolution, events where attempts at resolution were abandoned for whatever reason (e.g. due to legal advice, cost, difficulty) and events that were in fact concluded in some way but were not resolved in the respondent’s favour.

Participants reported that 61 per cent of the legal events experienced had been resolved by the end of the study period, either through legal proceedings in a court or tribunal (5%), by the participant themselves (44%) or in some other way (11%). The remaining events were reported to be in the process of being resolved (11%) or to be unresolved (28%). It is worth noting that all of the events examined in the present study had occurred within the previous 12 months, so the resolution rate was examined no more than 12 months after these events had occurred. Given findings that some legal problems have a duration of longer than one year and a small proportion have a duration of more than five years,34 the resolution rate may well have been higher had the events been followed up over a longer period.

The present resolution rate is comparable to that of the pilot study (57%) which also used a 12-month reference period (LJF 2003). Interestingly, Pleasence et al. (2004b) achieved a similar resolution rate (64%) despite using a much longer reference period (3.5 years) and Genn (1999) achieved a somewhat lower resolution rate (48%) despite using an even longer reference period (5.5 years). The apparently higher resolution rate in the present study may indicate that the present sample was better equipped to resolve legal problems by, for example, being better at obtaining useful advice or being better at acting on such advice. However, the higher resolution rate may simply reflect the different range and nature of legal events covered in the present study, which may have included a higher proportion of easily solvable problems.35 Regardless, the present results nonetheless show that not all legal events were resolved quickly.

Factors related to resolution of legal events

The present study found that an important predictor of resolution status was the type of legal event, with relatively higher resolution rates for accident/injury and wills/estates events, and relatively lower resolution rates for business, employment, government, health and family events. Past studies have similarly found that some types of problems are easier to resolve than others (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003; Pleasence et al. 2004b), but different studies sometimes report different resolution rates for apparently similar problems.36 These findings suggest that effective legal service provision must encompass the effective resolution of serious, complicated and more intractable problems. Thus, resource allocation for legal service provision needs to take into account the fact that some legal matters may require greater resources, time and expertise to resolve.

Some past studies have found that resolution rates depend on various sociodemographic characteristics of the individual, such as age, Indigenous status, income and education (Genn 1999; LJF 2003). In the present study, age and disability status were the only sociodemographic characteristics associated with resolution status in the regression analysis. Genn (1999) reported high resolution rates for 25 to 34 year olds and low resolution rates for those aged 65 or over. The present study found that 15 to 24 year olds had the highest resolution rate and 55 to 64 year olds had the lowest.37 These findings suggest that certain age groups may require particular assistance or support in order to resolve their legal issues.

People with a chronic illness or disability tended to have lower rates of resolution. These lower rates of resolution were found even though the type of legal issue experienced was taken into account. Furthermore, the lower resolution rates for people with a chronic illness or disability can also not be explained by a failure to take action. Such people sought help at similar rates to other people. The lower resolution rate for people with a chronic illness or disability may in part be due to the fact that, in addition to their legal needs, they have special health needs, which may complicate or strain the legal resolution process. For example, their illness or disability may mean that they sometimes require special, additional or broader support, including non-legal support, in order to address their legal issues effectively.

Another possible reason for the lower resolution rates for people with a chronic illness or disability may relate to the finding, reported earlier, that this group had a relatively high incidence of legal events overall, as well as a high incidence of a wide range of legal events. The lower resolution rate may in part reflect the difficulty of having to deal with multiple legal issues, either simultaneously or serially. Multiple legal issues may not only complicate the problems faced by the individual, but may also compound the stress experienced by the individual, provide additional strain on the individual’s available resources for resolving issues, and require additional or broader support.

Regardless of the explanation, the lower resolution rates for people with a chronic illness or disability, coupled with their relatively high incidence of a wide range of legal issues, emphasises the importance of ensuring that legal service provision for this group becomes a top priority.

The present study also found that people who sought help had higher resolution rates than those who did nothing, but lower resolution rates than those who handled the matter themselves. The lower resolution rate for people who did nothing is not at all surprising. However, the finding that people who dealt with the matter themselves were more likely to achieve resolution than those who sought help requires explanation. This finding may reflect the possibility that people are more likely to take on easier legal issues they think they can resolve themselves, but tend to seek help for more difficult legal problems. This explanation is consistent with the finding of Pleasence et al. (2004b) that the likelihood of respondents seeking advice increased with the seriousness of the problems they faced.

The lower resolution rates for people who take no action in response to legal issues suggests that mechanisms which encourage and empower people to take action either with or without assistance, such as legal education and information strategies, are likely to increase the chances of legal issues being resolved.



Satisfaction with the outcome of legal events


As noted above, many of the legal events reported by participants in the present study did not have sufficient time to be resolved within the one-year reference period. Not surprisingly, participants were not very satisfied with the status of events that were not fully resolved, reporting satisfaction with the status of only about one-fifth of such events.

However, a higher rate of satisfaction was reported for events that had been resolved. The present study found that participants reported being satisfied with the outcome of almost four-fifths of the events that had been resolved.

Similar or lower rates of satisfactory outcomes have been reported by respondents to a number of previous surveys. It is worth noting, however, that strict comparisons across studies are problematic because of differences between studies in the measurement of satisfaction and other outcomes. Genn (1999) reported that 41 per cent of participants had completely achieved their main objective, while Pleasence et al. (2004b) reported almost three-quarters of respondents who took action secured at least some of their objectives. The ABA (1994) study in the United States found that satisfaction with the outcome of legal issues was reported by 54 per cent of moderate-income households, but only 38 per cent of low-income households. The LJF (2003) pilot study examined satisfaction across both resolved and unresolved legal events and reported that 56 per cent were satisfied with the status of their legal events.

The relatively high rate of satisfaction with the outcome of resolved events in the present study is heartening. The importance of people being satisfied with the outcome of their legal issues cannot be overstated. Such satisfaction indicates a vote of public approval for the existing avenues for resolving legal issues and accessing justice. Satisfaction with outcomes is also important as a likely incentive to taking steps to resolve legal issues that arise in the future. As already discussed, approximately one-quarter of those who ignored their legal problems thought that seeking help would either make no difference or would make things worse. Although the reason behind this belief was not explored in the present study, it is possible that previous dissatisfaction with the outcome of legal issues negatively impacts on the motivation to resolve new legal issues. As already noted, taking action significantly increases the likelihood that legal issues are resolved quickly.

The present respondents who were dissatisfied with the outcome of their resolved events stated that their dissatisfaction was due to the negative financial impact of the event (21%), the result being unfair or unsatisfactory (20%), a lack of helpful assistance (15%), their objective not being achieved (8%) and the matter being too expensive to resolve (7%).

The findings that dissatisfaction with outcome was sometimes reported as being due to poor services or advice, or to protracted resolution suggests that there may be room for improvement in the quality and efficiency of current service delivery. While the percentage of respondents who were dissatisfied due to the cost of legal resolution was not large (7%), it nonetheless suggests that cost is a barrier to legal resolution for some people.

The considerable percentage of dissatisfied people who perceived the result as unfair or unsatisfactory raises the question of the extent to which people’s expectations about the ease of attaining the desired outcome are realistic. It has been noted in the psychosocial literature that satisfaction is a complex response which is influenced by more than simply whether an individual’s needs have been fulfilled. Satisfaction is also shaped by whether the individual has appropriate expectations about quality and fairness, and by the extent to which these expectations are confirmed (Oliver 1997).

If some of the present respondents had unrealistic expectations about potential outcomes, the provision of appropriate information about likely outcomes could be used to help individuals to more readily accept eventual outcomes (Genn 1999). For example, appropriate information about realistic outcomes can be provided by legal advisers, or via the dissemination of legal resource materials (e.g. websites, printed materials) or other legal information strategies. In fact, there is some evidence that clients value clear communications from their legal practitioners about the outcomes they should expect, suggesting the crucial impact of the effective management of client expectations (Armytage 1996). On the other hand, if expectations about achieving a fair outcome were realistic among the present respondents, then improvement in the quality of legal services and in their ability to achieve fair outcomes may be more appropriate.

Factors related to satisfaction with the outcome of legal events

The type of legal event experienced was a significant factor in whether respondents were satisfied with the outcome of legal events that had been resolved by the end of the reference period, again indicating the benefit of legal services being able to deal effectively with different types of problems. Respondents were more likely to be satisfied with the outcome of accident/injury and wills/estates events than other events, and less likely to be satisfied with the outcome of business, consumer, government and general crime events. Past studies have similarly found that problem type is an important factor in satisfaction with outcome and in achieving one’s main objectives, but the problem types associated with higher levels of satisfaction are not always apparently similar (ABA 1994; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003).38

However, a relatively high level of satisfaction with the outcome of wills/estates events has been found in a few studies (ABA 1994; LJF 2003). The high satisfaction with wills/estates events in the present study is not surprising given that the majority of these events simply involved making or altering a will rather than a problem of some sort or a dispute between two parties.39 In contrast, business, consumer, government and general crime events were dominated by events that represented disputes, problems, disagreements or challenges, which by definition, involve the participant’s interests competing with another party’s interests. Clearly, achieving a satisfactory outcome for any one party will tend to be more difficult whenever there are competing interests. While this observation would be obvious to many practitioners, it highlights, once again, the importance of ensuring that individuals have realistic expectations about the likely outcomes of their legal issues.

The present study also found that people who sought help were more likely to be satisfied with the outcome than people who did nothing, but less likely to be satisfied with the outcome than people who handled the matter alone. The finding that seeking help results in greater satisfaction with the outcome than doing nothing is not surprising and in keeping with past findings. The ABA (1994) found that those who turned to a lawyer or some other part of the justice system were more likely to be satisfied than those who took no action. The Task Force (2003) similarly found that low-income respondents were more likely to be satisfied with the outcomes if they used attorney assistance than if they did not.

The finding that people who handled the matter themselves were more likely to be satisfied with the outcome than those who sought help was also reported by the LJF (2003) pilot study. This finding is also similar to the finding reported above that dealing with the matter oneself results in increased likelihood of resolution. Again, greater levels of satisfaction when dealing with the matter oneself may reflect that people seek advice for more serious or intractable legal problems that are more difficult to resolve in a satisfactory way for the individual concerned. Other factors that might contribute to higher reported satisfaction when handling legal issues alone include being less likely to blame oneself for negative outcomes and developing more realistic expectations about likely outcomes through greater first-hand familiarity with the issue.

The lower reported satisfaction with outcome when help was sought rather than when individuals handled the matter alone may also suggest a mismatch between people’s needs or expectations when seeking legal help and the services currently available for legal resolution. Such a mismatch could lie not only in the perceived quality or fairness of the outcomes, but also in the efficiency of the resolution, or in the methods or pathways currently available for legal service provision.

In terms of the currently available pathways for legal resolution, there has been considerable debate in recent years about various alternatives to traditional legal service delivery, including the possible value of ‘unbundling’ legal service provision (American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services (ABA SCDLS) 2002; Giddings & Robertson 2003a, 2003b; MacDermott 2003; Mosten 2000; Shirvington 2003). ‘Unbundling’ refers to breaking up legal service provision for a client into discrete legal tasks. Rather than providing the client with legal assistance for the entire package of tasks, the client is encouraged to choose the tasks for which they require legal assistance and to use self-help type strategies (e.g. do-it-yourself kits, self-help groups) for others of these tasks. There has been a trend in recent years towards legal consumers playing a larger part than ever before in their own legal service delivery (Giddings & Robertson 2003b). However, some authors have expressed ethical concerns with unbundling, and it is clear that self-help in any form simply cannot be a quality substitute for legal assistance for all legal tasks and for all people (ABA SCDLS 2002; Giddings & Robertson 2003b; MacDermott 2003; Shirvington 2003).

While determining the best pathways for legal service delivery is a matter for ongoing research and improvement, the high level of satisfaction with the outcomes of legal issues that individuals handled themselves in the present study suggests that, where appropriate and effective, unbundling legal service provision and promoting self-help strategies may be greeted favourably by some legal consumers. However, the legal tasks particularly suited to self-help strategies or unbundling, and the individuals or sociodemographic groups who would be particularly likely to benefit from self-help or unbundled services, are questions for future research. Giddings and Robertson (2003b) suggest that non-routine legal work involving the exercise of substantial discretions is unsuited to self-help. They also suggest that self-help or unbundled services are only suited to articulate, middle-class people and are likely to be a poor substitute for the services of experts in the case of disadvantaged people. This view is consistent with the notion that people with poor literacy, language or communication skills, and those with complex or serious problems, may require high levels of assistance and support in order to solve their legal problems (Genn 1999).

Some past studies have found that various sociodemographic characteristics, such as gender, age, ethnicity, social class, education, employment and income, were related to satisfaction with the outcome of legal problems, the perceived fairness of the outcome or the achievement of one’s objectives (e.g. Genn 1999; LJF 2003). None of the sociodemographic factors examined in the present study were significant predictors of satisfaction with outcome.

The present study found that participants who reported being satisfied with the outcome of their resolved events also tended to report being satisfied with the help, advice or information they received for those events. This result is not surprising and has been noted previously (e.g. Armytage 1996). Nonetheless, it highlights the inherent difficulty of interpreting consumers’ assessments of the adequacy of legal services without taking into account the perceived adequacy of the outcomes of the events for which legal services were used. While dissatisfaction with the legal advice or assistance received may reflect that inadequate service provision led to poor outcomes, it may also reflect the possibility that people are more likely to negatively evaluate appropriate legal service provision when they are unhappy with the outcomes. For example, two people who receive the same legal assistance may form diametrically opposed views of its adequacy depending on whether or not their objectives were achieved. Similar confounding has been reported in the health setting where satisfaction with the quality of care is affected by health status (Al-Mandhari, Hassan & Haran 2004). Although it is not entirely unreasonable to judge the adequacy of service delivery by the outcome it achieves, any such tendency again highlights the importance of individuals having realistic expectations about the likely outcomes of their legal issues. Negative assessments of legal service delivery based on inappropriate expectations about winning or achieving certain objectives presents a challenge for policy makers because such assessments may obscure the best methods of resolving legal issues.



Summary of results and implications


The present results demonstrate that residents of disadvantaged areas in NSW differ in the number and types of legal needs they experience, in their responses to those needs, and in the outcomes they achieve. The final chapter argues that this diversity of experience suggests the merit of a multidimensional approach to justice that allows the tailoring of legal services to the varying needs of different individuals.


Ch 10. Towards improving access to justice: a multidimensional approach


Legal needs cut across many areas of everyday life, and their resolution involves people from many walks of life. However, people have different legal needs. Some have multiple, complex legal needs, while others are more resilient. People also choose different means of handling their legal issues, and some people are less successful than others in resolving their problems. This diversity in experience suggests that a broad-brush, one-size-fits-all approach to accessing justice in the disadvantaged areas surveyed would be less than ideal. No single strategy is likely to be successful in meeting all problems for all people.

Increasingly, thinking on access to justice is moving away from unidimensional strategies that concentrate solely on the provision of easily accessible, high quality reactive legal services. More and more, the emphasis is shifting to multi-pronged approaches that include preventative and proactive strategies in addition to reactive strategies, in an effort to maximise both the appropriate utilisation of the legal system and the efficient targeting of limited resources (e.g. MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b). MacDonald (2005) identifies five waves in thinking about the concept of access to justice which demonstrate its evolution over recent decades:

1. concentrating on equal access to lawyers and courts

2. correcting structural inadequacies within the court and legal aid systems

3. ‘demystifying’ the law through, for example, the plain language movement

4. recognising the importance of preventative law, including the role of alternative dispute resolution, and, more recently

5. developing proactive strategies to empower citizens to access legal education, information and assistance services, and to participate in every institution in which law is created, found, administered, interpreted and applied.

MacDonald (2005) argues that a multidimensional approach to justice enables legal services to be tailored to the needs of individuals. While there is no easy formula for determining in advance what access to justice solution will be most appropriate for any given person, a ‘menu’ of options to accessing justice allows individualised choice.

Supporting a multidimensional approach, the present results suggest a number of reactive, preventative and proactive strategies that could play critical roles in access to justice in the disadvantaged areas surveyed. In particular, such strategies include:



Building capacity through information and education


There is clearly a role for improved information and education about legal rights and remedies in the communities surveyed, as indicated by the present findings that people frequently ignore their legal needs and believe that taking action will make no difference. Furthermore, the frequent use of friends and family as advisers, and the high level of satisfaction with these advisers, also suggests the potential value of improving the general level of legal literacy—not only among those who are likely to experience legal problems, but also among the broader community who may be asked for advice in relation to legal issues. Rather than disrupting the established informal personal networks for obtaining initial advice, the value of these networks could be strengthened by improving their skill base in identifying legal rights and in providing informed guidance about the possible pathways for legal resolution.

Numerous past studies, both in Australia and overseas, have similarly highlighted a lack of general knowledge about the legal system and have argued for the need to enhance such knowledge (e.g. Australian Law Reform Commission 1992; Cass & Sackville 1975; Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Rush 1999; Scott & Sage 2001; Tilse et al. 2002; Urbis Keys Young 2002; Women’s Legal Resources Centre 1994; Worthington Di Marzio and Cultural Partners Australia 2001). For example, Genn (1999) argues that, in the United Kingdom, the emphasis in legal advice provision tends to be geared towards disaster management, and there are few information or education strategies that equip the public with the skills to avoid problems from arising or to deal effectively with problems before they escalate. Instead, education about legal rights and remedies tends to be received informally, in a haphazard and sometimes biased manner, through sources such as the media. In Australia, legal service provision similarly appears to be largely reactive. A number of studies indicate a high level of unmet legal need and some suggest that it is not uncommon for legal advice to be sought only after legal problems have reached crisis point (Fishwick 1992; Forell et al. 2005; LJF 2003; Rush 1999; Scott & Sage 2001). Furthermore, previous Australian studies have reported confusion about the legal services offered by different agencies and low public awareness of the existence of legal service agencies such as Legal Aid NSW and CLCs (Cass & Sackville 1975; Fishwick 1992; Rush 1999; Scott & Sage 2001; Women’s Legal Resources Centre 1994).

In addition to increasing knowledge about legal rights and formal legal services, general information and education strategies could also stress the many non-legal pathways that people use to resolve legal issues—justice is not solely obtained through the use of lawyers (MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b). Present and past results demonstrate that people consult a wide range of non-legal professionals and personal contacts, and that legal representation is often a rare and last resort.

Improving knowledge about legal rights, legal services and realistic legal outcomes has the potential to help mobilise people to respond appropriately to their legal problems rather than to ignore them, and the potential to build people’s capacity for resolving legal problems quickly and effectively. The present study confirmed that legal problems are less likely to be resolved if people take no action. As argued in the literature, improving legal knowledge also has the potential to:


There are different mechanisms that could be used to inform and educate the public about legal issues and pathways for legal resolution. A challenge for legal service providers, policy makers and government is to develop an effective, coordinated public legal information and education strategy to maximise early intervention and prevent escalation of legal problems.1 While there is considerable literature on consumer behaviour and best practice in consumer education in a number of areas such as advertising and marketing (e.g. Flowers, Chodkiewicz, Yasukawa, McEwen, Ng, Stanton & Johnston 2001; Sheth et al. 1999), there has been little systematic evidence-based research on best practice in specifically providing community legal education and communicating information about legal rights and legal service provision. In Australia, it has been argued that community legal education is often not seen as priority by lawyers, despite its potential in improving access to justice (Goldie 1997). As a result, there is a pressing need to evaluate the effectiveness of whatever new legal education and information strategies are developed, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of any such existing strategies. Legal information is only of value if it is easily accessible, understood and used effectively, and careful consideration needs to be given to developing effective mechanisms for the assimilation of legal information by people who need it (MacDonald 2005; Scott 1999).

Some of the mechanisms for legal education suggested in the literature involve raising general awareness of legal rights and legal services in the community at large by providing generic legal information. For example, it has been suggested that basic legal information could be disseminated via school curriculums, pamphlets, videotapes, radio spots, the internet and consumer hotlines (Genn 1999; MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b). In keeping with the frequent use of non-legal advisers in response to legal events (e.g. Genn 1999; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b), it has also been suggested that legal information could be disseminated via non-legal professionals, services or agencies that routinely engage the public or are available to the public at specific points in their lives, such as community health clinics, social service agencies, health and welfare professionals, government and regulatory agencies, non-government organisations and consumer groups (MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b). The potential use of non-legal professionals for the dissemination of legal information will be discussed in more detail later in the sections The role of non-legal services and Coordinating service provision and managing demand.

While generic legal information provides a starting point for raising general awareness and knowledge about legal issues, the literature suggests that generic information has limited usefulness when used as a strategy on its own and needs to be supplemented with more customised information or other forms of assistance to be most effective (Currie 2000; Flowers et al. 2001; Giddings & Robertson 2003b; MacDonald 2005; Scott & Sage 2001).

In particular, the literature suggests that consumer information is more likely to be useful if it is timely and relevant, that is, if it is provided at the point when a person is trying to solve a particular problem and is specific to the problem at hand (Flowers et al. 2001; Goldie 1997). Realistically, the aim of legal information and education strategies cannot be to equip the general public with the comprehensive and sophisticated legal knowledge required for them to act as de facto legal practitioners who have the expertise to resolve, on their own, every legal issue that they could potentially encounter at any point in their lives. Achieving such an aim would almost certainly be oppressively resource intensive. Instead, a more feasible aim of community legal education would be to equip the general public with sufficient knowledge to recognise when they have a legal need, and to readily identify where to go for appropriate legal advice and assistance. Thus, raising the level of legal literacy among the general public requires enhancing knowledge about both legal rights and the available pathways for legal resolution.

Perhaps the most useful step towards raising legal literacy about pathways for legal resolution would be to raise public awareness about useful first ports of call for legal information and advice, such as the LawAccess NSW telephone service and CLCs. LawAccess NSW acts a legal ‘triage’, helping to provide the general public with an initial legal ‘diagnosis’. LawAccess NSW provides information and advice about legal issues and, where appropriate, also provides referrals to specialist legal services. Wide advertising and dissemination of the LawAccess NSW telephone number has the potential to provide a simple and effective gateway to legal services, and to complement strategies providing more ongoing, generic community legal information and education.

Another step towards improving the timely access of specific legal information might be to improve people’s expertise in accessing relevant electronic legal information through the internet when they need it (Scott 1999). Although computer literacy is no doubt improving in today’s technological society, there are still sections of the community who have limited computer literacy skills or do not have ready access to the internet. In addition, helpful problem-specific information needs to be available for dissemination at the point where individuals first make contact with legal service agencies.

The consumer education literature also suggests that information strategies are more likely to be effective if they are tailored to meet the specific needs of particular groups of people rather than if they use a one-size-fits-all approach (Flowers et al. 2001). The implications of the present results for tailoring legal information strategies to meet the particular legal needs of different sociodemographic groups are detailed in the following section on Tailoring legal services for specific sociodemographic groups.

A number of authors warn that while legal education and information are necessary, they are often not sufficient to resolve legal problems, and should not be regarded as cheap alternatives to legal advice, assistance and representation (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; Giddings & Robertson 2003a; Pleasence et al. 2004b). Genn and Paterson (2001) point out that individuals must not only be able to recognise problems, but must also be able to identify when advice is necessary, and must be able to communicate effectively in order to act on their own, obtain advice or instruct others to act for them. Furthermore, those with poor literacy, language or communication skills, and those with complex or serious problems, may require high levels of assistance and support from legal advisers once a legal problem has been identified (Genn 1999). It has also been noted in the literature that, over and above legal assistance, some individuals may additionally require non-legal assistance, such as advocacy or support from human service agencies, in order to resolve their legal problems effectively (Forell et al. 2005; Scott 1999; Scott & Sage 2001).

Thus, the empowerment of individuals through legal education and the provision of relevant and timely legal information is often only a preliminary step towards legal resolution. The present findings also suggest other strategies that are likely to be useful in legal resolution, which are discussed below.



Tailoring legal services for specific sociodemographic groups


Particular sociodemographic groups appear to be especially vulnerable to certain types of legal problems, less likely to seek legal advice or less able to resolve legal problems. These findings suggest that particular attention should be devoted to ensuring that legal information, advice and assistance services are tailored to meet the particular needs of different sociodemographic groups.

Age

The present results show that different types of legal problems predominate at certain ages. Specifically:


These results suggest that there may be some benefit in ensuring that legal education and information strategies, as well as legal service provision, are mindful of the different types of legal problems that tend to be faced by people of different ages. The implications for legal information strategies are that information on particular legal matters could be targeted to the age group most likely to experience those issues, could be communicated in a form appropriate for that age group, and could be disseminated via pathways easily accessible for that age group. For example, given that general crime and accident/injury issues peak in young adulthood, one possible pathway for providing specific legal information on these issues may be through high schools. Furthermore, if legal information is distributed through non-legal professionals and services that engage the public at specific points in their lives, such as health and welfare professionals, community health clinics, social service agencies and other government agencies (MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b), there may be benefit in this information focusing on the legal problems that are common at those life stages. For example, if a legal education dimension were added to pre-natal classes as suggested by MacDonald (2003),2 then this would be an appropriate opportunity to focus on the legal issues that predominate for parents of young families (e.g. family, credit/debt, government and housing issues).

Similarly, legal advice and assistance provision could also be tailored to the needs of different age groups. For example, regions of NSW with relatively large youth or older populations may benefit from having specialist legal services to meet the particular legal needs of these populations (e.g. Ellison et al. 2004), whether these are separate agencies or specialised arms within more generalist legal services. In the case of older people, a recent qualitative research study suggested the benefit of a specialist legal service to address the particular legal needs faced by older people, and to provide legal resolution via pathways that are preferred by older people and that overcome the specific barriers to accessing justice faced by older people (Ellison et al. 2004).

The present study also showed that the youngest and the oldest age groups tended to seek help for their legal issues relatively less often than some other age groups. As a result, legal education and information strategies specifically targeted to each of these age groups may be useful in encouraging and empowering these groups to seek help to resolve their legal problems.

The present finding that resolution rates tended to decrease with increasing age also suggests that people may require greater levels of support and involvement from advisers in order to resolve their problems as they get older.

Disability

The present study found that, of all the sociodemographic groups examined, people with a chronic illness or disability stood out as being particularly vulnerable to a wide range of civil, criminal and family legal problems. In addition to being especially vulnerable to experiencing legal events, this group was also found to have a reduced capacity to resolve the legal problems they face. Thus, the present study suggests that meeting the legal needs of people with a chronic illness or disability should be a top priority.

People with chronic ill-health have been identified as a group suffering multiple disadvantage (ABS 2004c), and some authors have argued that people with a disability are the ‘most socially excluded’ of disadvantaged groups (e.g. Howard 1999, cited in Pleasence et al. 2004b). The present results suggest that people with a chronic illness or disability are definitely a group with a high level of legal need and indicate the importance of ensuring that legal services are targeted to meet the needs of this group. The vulnerability of this group to many types of legal problems suggests that this group may benefit from education and information about a wide range of legal issues, and that specialised legal advice and assistance services for this group may be warranted.

Interestingly, as noted earlier, the reduced capacity of people with a chronic illness or disability to resolve legal issues was not due to them being less willing to seek advice for their legal needs, but may reflect the added complexity posed by their illness or disability when faced with legal issues, or the difficulty in dealing with multiple legal needs. A worthwhile question for future research is to examine in more detail the particular barriers experienced by people with a chronic illness or disability in resolving legal issues, and the points within the legal resolution process where these barriers are experienced. For example, barriers may be experienced at the point of obtaining legal advice or at the point of attempting to implement that advice, or both. Thus, people with a chronic illness or disability may benefit from information strategies that would help them make optimal choices in terms of where or how they seek legal advice.

The finding that people with a chronic illness or disability have reduced capacity for resolving their legal issues suggests that these people may require some sort of additional assistance or support in order to resolve their legal problems effectively. Furthermore, given their health needs, it is quite possible that they have multiple, complex legal and non-legal problems and would benefit from a coordinated response from legal services and broader non-legal support and advocacy services in order to effectively act on legal advice. Providing a more coordinated response from legal and non-legal services to meet the needs of people with multiple legal and non-legal problems is discussed further in the section Coordinating service provision and managing demand, below.

Indigenous Australians

In keeping with national statistics suggesting that Indigenous Australians tend to suffer economic and social disadvantage (ABS 2004c, 2004d; ABS & AIHW 2005), the present study found Indigenous Australians to be particularly vulnerable to credit/debt, employment and family problems. Indigenous Australians were also less likely to prepare or alter wills. As already noted, their vulnerability to experiencing employment and family problems is of particular concern given that such problems tend to be longer lasting, more difficult to resolve and likely to trigger further problems (Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b).

Also of concern was the finding that Indigenous Australians were relatively less likely to seek advice to resolve their legal issues, given that ignoring legal problems was shown to reduce the likelihood of resolution. The reasons behind the increased tendency of Indigenous Australians to take no action in response to legal issues were not specifically explored in the present study and warrant future investigation. However, one possibility is that cultural factors may contribute to a greater reluctance on the part of Indigenous Australians to actively resolve issues. For example, Schetzer and Henderson (2003) reported that some of the barriers to Indigenous people obtaining legal advice and effectively participating in the legal system include Indigenous people distrusting the legal system, disliking the formality of the legal system and court processes, feeling intimidated when approaching legal services, perceiving a lack of cultural awareness, sensitivity and compassion among legal service providers, and perceiving bias or discrimination against Indigenous people in some legal processes. Another possible reason for the increased tendency of Indigenous Australians to take no action is that the multiple disadvantage they experience may compromise their ability to deal with their legal problems.

The current empirical results support the widely held view that meeting the legal needs of Indigenous Australians should be a priority (e.g. Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit 2005; Schetzer & Henderson 2003). Policy makers and legal service providers need to determine how best to ensure that legal services reach this group, and how to overcome any barriers to Indigenous people accessing legal services. The present results provide a number of guides about improving access to justice for Indigenous Australians. Firstly, the present findings suggest that legal service providers who specialise in dealing with Indigenous clients are likely to require expertise in, or appropriate contact referrals for, the areas of the law related to credit/debt, employment and family matters.

Secondly, given Indigenous people’s increased tendency to take no action to resolve their legal needs, specialised legal information strategies targeted specifically for Indigenous people may prove a useful tool in helping to mobilise Indigenous people to seek legal advice when they experience a legal problem. Such information strategies may be useful, for instance, in encouraging Indigenous Australians to have up-to-date wills.

In addition, past findings suggest that both specialist legal services for Indigenous people, and more generalist legal service agencies whose clients include Indigenous people, need to be culturally appropriate and sensitive in order to encourage Indigenous people to access their service (Schetzer & Henderson 2003). For example, it has been argued that services could be


The multiple disadvantage suffered by Indigenous people may also suggest that Indigenous people sometimes require broad non-legal advocacy and support in order to deal effectively with their legal problems.

Other sociodemographic groups

The present results also have implications for tailoring legal services to meet the specific legal needs of other sociodemographic groups, such as people with low levels of education, people with low incomes and people born in a non-English speaking country.

Firstly, it has already been noted that young people, older people and Indigenous Australians were found to be relatively unlikely to seek help for their legal problems and it was argued that legal education and information strategies specifically tailored to each of these demographic groups may be useful in encouraging them to actively address their legal problems. Another group who were relatively less likely to seek help were people with low levels of education. Thus, legal education or information strategies targeting this demographic group may also be particularly useful in empowering this group to take action to resolve their legal issues.

Secondly, the present low reporting rates of legal events among older people, people born in a non-English speaking country, people on low incomes and people with low levels of education may also have implications for legal education and information strategies. In some instances, low reporting rates of legal issues reflect a failure to recognise legal issues or a reluctance to complain about them. While the reasons behind these lower reporting rates were outside the scope of the present study and warrant future investigation, some past studies have reported low levels of legal knowledge among older people, low-income groups and some culturally and linguistically diverse populations (e.g. Australian Law Reform Commission 1992; Cass & Sackville 1975; Ellison et al. 2004; Rush 1999; Tilse et al. 2002; Urbis Keys Young 2002; Women’s Legal Resources Centre 1994; Worthington et al. 2001). To the extent that these lower reporting rates reflect a lack of knowledge about legal matters, then legal information strategies which assist these groups to identify and deal effectively with legal problems may be beneficial.



Tailoring legal services for specific legal needs


The present study suggests the potential benefit of carefully tailoring legal information, advice and assistance services to meet different types of legal needs. Some legal issues are much more common than others and some are genuinely more difficult to resolve. Furthermore, the type of legal issue experienced is related to whether or not individuals seek legal advice, where they go for advice and whether or not they are satisfied with the outcome.

Consequently, as argued elsewhere (Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001), in setting priorities for the provision of legal information, advice and assistance services, some consideration needs to be given to the type of legal issue. Legal services should be able to deal effectively not only with frequently occurring legal problems, but also with legal problems that are relatively intractable, likely to appear in clusters or likely to trigger additional problems. In the present study, relatively frequently occurring legal events related to general crime, housing, consumer, government, accident/injury and wills/estates issues. Legal events that were relatively less likely to be resolved involved business, employment, government, health and family issues. As noted earlier, resource allocation for legal service provision should take into account the fact that some legal matters may require greater resources, time or expertise to resolve. Some problems can be resolved with the provision of appropriate legal advice, whereas others require further assistance, representation or support to achieve a satisfactory outcome (e.g. Genn 1999).

Legal practitioners and policy makers should also be aware of the legal issues for which people tend to seek help and those for which people are less inclined to do so. The present study indicated that respondents were most likely to seek help for accident/injury, employment and wills/estates events, and least likely to seek help for consumer and human rights events. The reasons why people were less likely to seek help for consumer and human rights events were not specifically examined. However, people may decide not to seek advice for certain legal issues because those issues are relatively unimportant, because appropriate services to resolve those issues are not readily available, because they are unaware of the relevant services or because they perceive the available services to be inadequate. Consequently, a question for future research is to investigate whether the reduced tendency to seek help for consumer and human rights issues reflects a low demand or an inadequate supply of services to address these issues in the areas of NSW surveyed. In the United Kingdom, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that help was more likely to be sought for serious problems.

Legal service providers also need to recognise the legal issues for which clients tend to be dissatisfied with the outcome, particularly because such dissatisfaction may provide a disincentive for seeking legal assistance in the future. The present survey found higher than average satisfaction with the outcome of accident/injury and wills/estates events, and lower than average satisfaction with the outcome of business, consumer, government and general crime events. As noted earlier, some legal issues are more difficult to resolve in the client’s favour, particularly where disputes or disagreements with other parties are involved. Thus, an important task for legal practitioners should be to ensure that their clients have realistic expectations about the likely outcomes of their legal issues.

The diverse areas covered within the law and the complexity of the legal system have inevitably resulted in a degree of specialisation among legal practitioners. Indeed, in recent years, the United States has seen the emergence of ‘micro-niche’ legal practices that specialise in extremely narrow areas of the law (ABA SCDLS 2002). Legal specialisation, like medical specialisation, is conducive to the provision of expert advice and assistance with regard to specific problems.

However, legal specialisation in NSW has tended to result in legal service delivery being ‘siloed’ by the type of legal matter (Forell et al. 2005). The present finding that various types of civil, criminal and family issues tend to occur in clusters suggests that, in some instances, it will be inadequate to deal with each legal issue in isolation, without also addressing interconnected legal issues. As is discussed further in the section Coordinating service provision and managing demand, below, there is a need to better coordinate legal services that specialise in different legal issues so that the needs of people facing multiple, interrelated legal issues can be addressed efficiently and effectively. In the present study, family and domestic violence problems tended to co-occur, as did credit/debt and business issues, and as did general crime, consumer, government, housing, accident/injury, employment and wills/estates issues.



Improving the accessibility of legal services


The present results suggest that, while there is always room for improvement, once respondents access legal services, they generally understand, and are satisfied with, the advice they receive. While English language problems, cost, psychological factors and difficulty accessing special services3 were barriers to obtaining legal advice for some respondents, they were not common obstacles in the present sample. However, given that the present sample was not necessarily representative of all disadvantaged populations within NSW, it is still possible that these factors may represent significant obstacles to accessing justice for some groups of disadvantaged people within NSW.4

The common barriers faced by the present respondents related to accessing legal services in a timely fashion, suggesting that existing legal services were sometimes unable to respond efficiently and effectively to the current demand. Respondents residing in rural/remote areas also had to travel substantial distances to access services in some cases. It appears that dedicated legal advice services are not always readily available where and when people want to use them. As Pleasence et al. (2004b) suggest, better access to justice is likely to be served by


Thus, additional staffing, extension of opening hours, and additional locally accessible services may be warranted if legal services are to provide quick, effective advice and assistance. More outreach services that provide legal services close to the neighbourhood and workplaces of clients may also be useful. Entrepreneurial outreach models in the United States include a mobile legal service in California, sponsored self-help legal information offices housed in churches in Washington DC and a neighbourhood coffeehouse staffed by lawyers ready to provide legal information (ABA SCDLS 2002).

Pleasence et al. (2004b) note that, in the United Kingdom, the extent to which legal advice services can mirror the needs and behaviour of their clients is limited by existing resources. Recent Australian studies suggest that CLCs and Legal Aid NSW offices are under-funded and have limited capacity to provide services, particularly in rural and remote areas (Forell et al. 2005; Schetzer & Henderson 2003; Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee 2004). Clearly, running additional legal services, or extending the current operation of existing legal services, cannot be easily achieved without appropriate funding.



The role of non-legal services


Most people have some sort of legal need and some people experience numerous, complicated legal problems. Legal needs reflect the wide range of legal rights and obligations related to many areas of physical and social well-being, including health, welfare, housing, education, employment, debt, citizenship, family relationships and policing. In short, legal needs reflect the problems people face as members of a broad civil society, and often impact on more than one aspect of people’s lives. Furthermore, legal problems are frequently not isolated events, but can interact with, contribute to, and cause further legal and non-legal problems.

The interplay of legal needs with other basic human needs suggests that bi-directional links between legal and non-legal services may be useful. Specifically, links between legal and non-legal services may be useful both for:


People in the former category may benefit from non-legal support services, while people in the latter may benefit from non-legal professionals acting as gateways to legal services.

Non-legal support services

The nature of legal needs suggests that attempts by legal service providers to deal with each legal event in isolation, without regard to its full impact or to its interconnected legal and non-legal problems, may well result in an incomplete solution in some cases. Given the overlap of legal needs with other basic needs associated with physical and social well-being, a complete solution may not only require legal advice or assistance, but also broader non-legal support services, such as support through housing, financial counselling, social, welfare, family or health services.

Thus, in some instances, individuals who seek help for a legal issue may benefit from a coordinated response to both their legal and non-legal needs. A number of authors similarly argue that those with complex or serious legal problems may require broader non-legal support to achieve effective legal resolution (Forell et al. 2005; Scott 1999; Scott & Sage 2001). For example, a recent qualitative study examining the legal needs of homeless people in NSW argued that homeless people may benefit from coordinated legal and non-legal support strategies given their tendency to experience multiple, compounding legal and social problems (Forell et al. 2005).

As already discussed, the present results suggest that people with a chronic illness or disability may well be a group who require non-legal support strategies to achieve a complete solution for their legal needs given their vulnerability to a wide range of problems and their reduced ability to resolve these problems. As noted elsewhere, the interplay of health and legal needs among this group suggests that the prevention, identification and resolution of legal problems within this group should be treated as both a public health and justice policy objective (Pleasence, Balmer, Buck, O’Grady & Genn 2004a; Pleasence et al. 2004b).

The current results suggest that Indigenous Australians may also be a group who would benefit from coordinated legal and non-legal support strategies given their elevated risk of long lasting legal problems, their increased tendency to leave their legal problems unaddressed, and, according to past research, their vulnerability to multiple socioeconomic disadvantage.

Possible methods for improving the collaboration, coordination and integration between legal and non-legal services are addressed below in the section Coordinating service provision and managing demand.

Non-legal professionals as gateways to legal services

The present study indicates that individuals experience a high volume of legal issues for which they do not consult legal practitioners or engage the legal system. When people seek help in response to an event that has legal consequences, they use traditional legal advisers very rarely. In three-quarters of the cases where individuals seek advice for legal issues, they use neither traditional legal advisers nor less formal legal sources. Instead, in the majority of cases, people obtain advice from family and friends, and from a broad range of non-legal professionals, including professionals working in medical, health, counselling, welfare, government, trade union, accounting, insurance, school and policing settings. Thus, there appears to be an informal network of non-legal practitioners who are routinely consulted by people with legal problems. In at least one-quarter of cases, the advice sought in response to issues that have legal implications is of a non-legal nature, such as medical assistance or financial advice. Other studies have similarly found that the first point of professional contact for people with legal problems is often non-legal agencies such as general welfare agencies, housing authorities, financial counselling services, schools and family support services (Pleasence et al. 2004b; RPP Consulting 2003).

As Pleasence et al. (2004b) maintain, the current informal but routine use of non-legal professionals by people with legal needs could be harnessed and used to greater advantage. Given that non-legal professionals are often the first, and sometimes the only, professionals who are consulted by people with legal problems, such non-legal professionals are ideally placed to notice legal problems. Consequently, non-legal professionals could be used to ‘signpost’ legal problems and act as ‘gateways’ into legal services (Pleasence et al. 2004b). The aim would not be to equip non-legal professionals with the skills to take over the legal advisory and assistance role provided by legal practitioners, but rather, to raise the level of legal literacy among non-legal professionals so that they can identify people who have legal problems and can encourage them to take appropriate steps to address their legal problems.

Pleasence et al. (2004b) suggest that non-legal professionals could be equipped with the necessary information resources to refer individuals to appropriate legal services or to provide individuals with basic legal information. Pleasence et al. further note that the best referring action by non-legal professionals may simply be to provide individuals with the telephone number of a dedicated generalist legal advice service. For example, in NSW, non-legal professionals could provide the phone number of LawAccess NSW or of the nearest CLC. As noted earlier, LawAccess NSW acts as a legal triage whereby individuals are given basic legal information and advice and, where necessary, are referred to an appropriate specialist legal service.

Using non-legal professionals as gateways to legal services has the potential to substantially enhance early legal intervention and resolution. The importance of early intervention in maximising outcomes and avoiding more complex problems has been emphasised in recent years (e.g. Forell et al. 2005; MacKenzie & Chamberlain 2003; Pleasence et al. 2004b).



Coordinating service provision and managing demand


As noted by Pleasence et al. (2004b), a holistic, integrated approach to justice requires appropriate coordination to work efficiently and to avoid duplication, as well as appropriate investment and mechanisms of quality assurance. The present study highlights the importance of coordination not only between different types of legal services, but also between legal agencies and non-legal agencies that provide services to individuals with legal needs.

The current structure of legal services

Currently in NSW, a diverse range of agencies provide legal information, advice and assistance for disadvantaged people, including both public, not-for-profit organisations and private organisations. These agencies include:


A structural feature of the present landscape of legal service delivery in NSW is that different types of legal issues tend to be dealt with separately by different legal service providers who function fairly autonomously (Forell et al. 2005; Scott & Sage 2001). For example, a CLC may assist with a debt matter, a duty lawyer may assist in a criminal matter, a grant of legal aid may be provided for a family law issue, and the police may assist with an apprehended violence order (Forell et al. 2005). As noted earlier, this problem-focused approach is conducive to expertise about different types of legal issues being developed by different services. The present study confirmed the importance of taking into account the type of legal issue when setting priorities for legal service provision, given that some legal events were particularly frequent, some were unlikely to result in advice seeking, others were particularly difficult to resolve and others tended to result in dissatisfaction with the outcome.

While there is little evidence-based empirical research on how legal agencies work together in Australia, a number of recent reports have noted a lack of coordination between legal agencies and anecdotal cases of high levels of inappropriate referral, suggesting a lack of clear pathways for clients (Australian Law Reform Commission 2000; Family Law Pathways Advisory Group 2001; Scott & Sage 2001). Consequently, discrete and uncoordinated legal services for different types of legal issues are likely to be less than ideal when people experience multiple legal problems. The present study demonstrated that various types of civil, criminal and family issues tend to co-occur. These types of issues are not only covered by different parts of the law but, as noted above, also tend to be handled by different types of legal services. The present study also showed that people with a chronic illness or disability tended to experience multiple legal issues and have lower rates of resolution. As argued by Forell et al. (2005) in relation to homeless people, the multiple legal issues faced by some people mean that they potentially need to access a variety of autonomous or independently functioning legal services for their different legal issues. These services tend to deal with discrete aspects of their legal problems without necessarily coordinating to address the complex situations they are facing.

Thus, the present study suggests that a challenge for policy makers and legal service providers is to reconcile the need to provide expert, specialised legal services for common and difficult legal problems with the need to provide a more client-focused approach for clients with multiple legal needs. The issue of improving the collaboration and coordination between legal services is addressed in the section Coordinating legal and non-legal services, below.

The current role of non-legal services

To a large extent, legal services in NSW traditionally work outside the networks of human services such as health, social, welfare and housing services. In addition, well-established cross-sectoral networks between legal and non-legal agencies with a specific focus on assisting clients with legal problems appear to be relatively uncommon (Forell et al. 2005; Scott & Sage 2001). Although, following the move in the United States and elsewhere, there have been a number of recent initiatives in Australia involving the integration of human services, these initiatives rarely include formalised collaboration with legal service agencies (see Fine, Pancharatnam & Thomson 2005; Forell et al. 2005; RPP Consulting 2003; Tayler, Farrell, Tennent & Patterson 2004). For example, the NSW Government’s Better Service Delivery Program does not appear to involve legal service agencies (Forell et al. 2005). Thus, legal services tend to operate fairly separately from human services in Australia and any links between them appear generally to be relatively informal and unsystematic.

Furthermore, although as argued earlier, non-legal professionals are well placed to notice legal problems and to act as gateways to legal services given their routine contact with people who have legal needs, they are not necessarily well equipped to perform this role currently. Non-legal professionals often have no legal training, do not necessarily have easy access to relevant legal information, and do not necessarily have the knowledge to provide appropriate referrals to legal services. Recent qualitative research studies in NSW have demonstrated that non-legal workers sometimes feel uncertain about what legal information to provide and what pathways to recommend for legal resolution (Forell et al. 2005; Scott & Sage 2001). For example, such non-legal workers sometimes felt they only had limited knowledge of the law, were fearful of providing incorrect or out-of-date legal information, were unclear about their legal obligations, had difficulty delineating the provision of legal information from the provision of legal advice, did not always have sufficient knowledge of legal services to make appropriate referrals, and did not necessarily have established links with legal professionals or legal services (Forell et al. 2005; Scott & Sage 2001).

Thus, while there is enormous potential benefit in using non-legal professionals as gateways to legal services, the current capacity of non-legal workers to act as gateways to legal information and advice services appears to be rather limited, and any existing links between non-legal workers and legal services appear to be haphazard.

Coordinating legal and non-legal services

As already noted, better coordination among legal and non-legal services may well be beneficial in assisting people with legal needs to use legal services, and in achieving legal resolution for individuals with multiple and severe legal and non-legal problems. In the area of human service delivery, an integrated service approach is increasingly being recognised as having the potential to provide improved access for consumers, increased efficiency with limited resources, enhanced effectiveness, reduced administrative duplication and potential long-term cost savings (Fine et al. 2005; O’Looney 1993).

More recently, the need for better coordination among legal services, and between legal and human services, has also been noted in Australia and other jurisdictions (e.g. Forell et al. 2005; MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Scott & Sage 2001). For instance, in the United Kingdom, while some steps have been taken towards the integration of legal and health services (e.g. Legal Services Commission & Community Legal Service 2005), Pleasence et al. (2004b) note that such integration remains in its infancy. They argue there would be benefits in better integration of legal services not only with health services, but also with social services, employment services, education services, and many other government services.

Past research suggests that a coordinated response from legal and non-legal services, where appropriate, is likely to be assisted by clear shared understandings of the complementary roles of different organisations, the identification of aspects of service delivery that are mutually beneficial, adequate resourcing and time commitment to building and maintaining effective relationships, partnerships and referrals, and mechanisms for appropriate quality assurance (Pleasence et al. 2004b; Scott & Sage 2001).

Different models could be used to achieve more coordinated legal and non-legal services in Australia. Increasingly in the area of human services, the phenomenon of service integration is being conceptualised as a continuum, which extends from completely autonomous agencies at one extreme, through a series of more intensive linkages between agencies, to the full integration of agencies to form new units or programs with pooled resources at the other extreme (Fine et al. 2005).

Between the two extremes of full autonomy and full integration, less intensive integration includes cooperative links that establish ongoing ties between parties without surrendering independence. Cooperative links may involve informal or more formal networking and referral between different agencies. In some cases, cooperative links are established within ‘service hub’ or ‘one-stop shop’ models, where different services are located within close proximity or at the same geographic location to enhance customer access and convenience, and to facilitate interaction and referral between services (Fine et al. 2005). Service hubs are seen as practical models of service integration when they are set up in geographic locations that have become a central hub of activity for particular client groups for whatever reason, such as the existence of informal support networks in those areas (Fine et al. 2005).

More intensive integration models, which fall short of full integration, involve planned harmonisation of activities between parties to minimise duplication of tasks and resources. In some more integrated models, case management is used to coordinate service delivery and maintain a client-focused approach (Fine et al. 2005).

In the area of human services, a number of authors warn against a one-size-fits-all approach to service integration, arguing that the degree and type of integration should be tailored to client need and should take into account the degree to which services are complementary (Fine et al. 2005; Leutz 1999). For example, it is noted that while more fully integrated models may be particularly appropriate for people with severe needs, such models tend to be less flexible, and less appropriate for people with less severe needs (Fine et al. 2005; Leutz 1999; O’Looney 1993).

The present study suggests that a one-size-fits-all approach to service integration is also unlikely to be ideal in the area of legal services, given the considerable diversity in the experience of legal need and legal resolution. The findings suggest that a coordinated response among different types of legal services, and between legal and non-legal services, is likely to be particularly useful for people with multiple problems, notably people with a chronic illness or disability. An integrated service approach may be unnecessary for people who experience few, easily resolved legal problems. Furthermore, given the success of some of the present respondents in handling their legal problems on their own, self-help strategies and unbundling of legal services may be as effective as more costly coordinated service approaches for individuals without multiple, complex problems.

One possible step toward better integration of legal and non-legal service delivery would be the provision of basic, routine assessment of the client’s full range of legal and related non-legal needs. Such routine assessment would reveal whether the client requires broader non-legal support services to achieve legal resolution and prevent further problems, and would provide a useful basis for appropriate referral to non-legal services. Such routine assessment could also be used to identify people who would be suited to self-help or unbundled strategies.

The best service integration model for individuals who experience multiple legal needs is a matter for future investigation. Furthermore, different levels of service integration may well be appropriate for different sociodemographic groups who tend to experience different types, numbers and severity of legal needs. Service hubs may be ideal for some groups while more integrated case management approaches may be more appropriate for others. In relation to homeless people, Forell et al. (2005) note that a number of specialist homeless persons’ legal services in Australia are part of service hubs or one-stop shops in that they are located near welfare or community services. They note that such service co-location provides homeless people with easy access to a range of services and provides some scope for a holistic approach to their needs. However, they argue that homeless people would be particularly likely to benefit from a more integrated case management approach that addresses their many complex, interrelated legal and social needs as a package, through closely linked legal and non-legal services.

The present report has argued that increased coordination among legal and non-legal services is likely to be beneficial for people with a chronic illness or disability and Indigenous Australians, given that these sociodemographic groups tend to have multiple legal and non-legal needs. The particular level and type of service coordination suited to each of these groups warrants future empirical investigation. Given that the present study identified different profiles of legal needs and legal resolution strategies for these two sociodemographic groups, it is possible that they may be best suited to different models of service coordination.

The best practice service integration model for strengthening the gateway role of non-legal professionals would also need to be identified through appropriate empirical testing and evaluation. While this model would require the enhancement of cooperative links between non-legal professionals and legal services, it would probably be achievable while maintaining independence between legal and non-legal services. Promoting such a gateway role would require the investment of time and resources to train non-legal professionals to recognise legal problems, to strengthen the networks between legal and non-legal professionals, and to develop and implement effective referral systems between non-legal and legal professionals (Pleasence et al. 2004b; Scott & Sage 2001). The value of ensuring that referral to legal services by non-legal workers is appropriate and efficient is highlighted by recent overseas studies which demonstrate that individuals typically experience ‘referral fatigue’ and give up trying to resolve legal problems if they are referred from adviser to adviser without receiving useful advice quickly (Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b). The use of non-legal professionals to signpost legal problems requires a simple, effective referral system, just as efficient, appropriate referral is required from generalist legal service providers to more specialist legal services.

Managing demand

Present and past findings demonstrate that the public experiences a high volume of events for which the legal system could be utilised but currently is not. Furthermore, the present study indicates that some individuals face complex, multiple legal problems and past studies show that some individuals do not reach legal services before their situation has hit crisis point (e.g. Forell et al. 2005). In short, in many cases, individuals are failing to access justice, and there is a large ‘dark figure’ of hidden potential demand for legal services and the justice system (Genn 1999).

The present study has suggested a number of strategies for improving access to justice in the areas surveyed, including increasing the level of legal knowledge in the community, the accessibility of legal services and the efficient referral to appropriate legal services. It is important to note that such strategies have the potential to substantially increase the workload of certain legal service agencies, particularly agencies that provide initial legal advice. This potential increase in demand would need to be managed appropriately and may require increased funding of existing legal services or funding of additional legal services.

The various models for increasing coordination among legal services, and between legal and non-legal services, would also generally involve set-up and maintenance costs. Fine et al. (2005) note that the costs involved will vary with the type of service integration model adopted, with more integrated service approaches tending to involve higher set-up costs. They stress, however, that tailoring integration approaches to the needs of clients will reduce unnecessary costs, and that more expensive, intensively integrated approaches are likely to be most appropriate for client groups with severe problems.

Furthermore, in considering the costs of any new access to justice initiatives, it is important to consider potential long-term savings as well as short-term outlays. In the area of human services, integrated service approaches are generally believed to have long-term cost benefits, although stringent evaluations of cost-effectiveness are often not conducted (Fine et al. 2005). Similarly, there may be considerable value in investing in early access to legal information and advice since such early intervention may reduce the necessity for more intensive intervention as people’s problems escalate and trigger further difficulties. Early intervention may well increase pre-court resolution, and hence, decrease the need for expensive court litigation. MacDonald (2005) notes that ‘task forces invariably conclude that litigation is an expensive and inefficient mechanism to resolve civil disputes’ (p. 54). Clearly, it is worthwhile investing in cost-benefit analyses of new access to justice initiatives to identify strategies that maximise client outcomes while minimising costs and resources.

As a number of authors have noted, while there is no reason for investment in legal services to emanate only from the public sector, the effective coordination and targeting of resources is ultimately the responsibility of government (MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b). In Australia, it is worth noting that the funding of legal services is complicated by the fragmentation of state and Commonwealth law. Some legal issues fall within state law while others fall within Commonwealth law. Furthermore, some of the main legal service agencies in NSW receive funding from both the state and Commonwealth governments.5 This state/Commonwealth fragmentation needs to be navigated successfully if greater coordination is to be achieved between different legal services and also between legal and non-legal services.



Future research


While the present study has provided answers to some questions regarding the legal needs and access to justice issues of disadvantaged communities in NSW, it has also highlighted a number of areas that would benefit from future empirically-based research or evaluation. As detailed below, future investigation would be valuable both in further clarifying the legal needs of different sociodemographic groups, and in providing further guidelines for enhancing legal service provision.

Future research on legal needs

The present study identified the particular legal needs of some disadvantaged sociodemographic groups such as people with a chronic illness or disability, and Indigenous Australians. Future studies could usefully identify the legal issues that have particular importance for other demographic groups, such as the young, the homeless and those in institutions.6 Furthermore, the present group of people with a chronic illness or disability included people with a diverse range of conditions, including mental health problems, intellectual and learning disabilities, sensory disabilities, and chronic physical conditions. It would be worthwhile for future research to clarify whether the different sub-groups within this broad group experience similar or unique legal needs.

The present study found relatively low rates of reported legal needs for older people, people born in a non-English speaking country, people with low income and people with low levels of education, despite the fact that these groups are typically considered to be disadvantaged groups who have special legal needs (e.g. ABS 2003b; Australian Law Reform Commission 1992; Ellison et al. 2004; Tilse et al. 2002; Urbis Keys Young 2002; Women’s Legal Resources Centre 1994; Worthington et al. 2001). A question for future research is whether these lower reporting rates truly reflect lower incidence rates rather than merely a greater inability or reluctance to identify legal needs.

The present study compared the sociodemographic characteristics of individuals who did not experience legal issues with those who did. Future studies could complement this work by identifying the sociodemographic profiles of those who experience multiple legal issues.7 For example, how do these individuals differ from individuals who do not experience legal issues and how do they differ from those who only experience one legal issue? There may be important differences in the nature and patterns of legal incidents amongst those reporting multiple events and those reporting only one. Future studies could also examine the sociodemographic profiles of those who experience serious legal issues rather than more trivial legal issues.8

Some types of legal issues were found to cluster together. Where individuals do experience multiple legal issues, it would be valuable to identify the issues that act as trigger events and to determine the value of resolving these issues quickly.

A third of the present sample reported no legal needs within the one-year reference period. Future studies could usefully investigate possible ‘protective’ factors that make people more resilient to legal problems, and how such protective factors could be promoted across the community at large or across vulnerable communities in particular.

As noted in the introduction, the study of legal needs has largely been isolated from the study of the broader array of human needs that drive consumer decision-making and related behaviour. The forces affecting the emergence of human needs and wants and their ultimate satisfaction are well charted in other disciplines and guide much of the literature on consumer behaviour, consumer satisfaction, services marketing and communications theory (e.g. Hanna 1980; Maslow 1970; Sheth et al. 1999). This literature is seeing increasing application to service provision in areas such as health services, other government services, higher education and the arts. Studying legal needs within this broader context has the potential to deepen our understanding of legal needs and legal service provision.

Finally, the importance of repeated survey assessments of legal needs to identify trends in the incidence and pattern of legal needs cannot be overstated. It cannot be assumed that the incidence, nature and pattern of legal needs across the population and within particular population groups will remain static. Changes to the profile of legal needs may well occur with changes in the demographic profile and life circumstances of the population, changes to the law and changes to the system of legal service delivery. Regular assessment of legal needs is necessary to inform the ongoing updating and prioritisation of legal service provision. Regular assessment of legal needs would also enable projections of service use by the population and by different population sub-groups. For example, is the lower reported rate of legal needs by older people a new phenomenon? If it is, what does this say about the future of legal service delivery given the demographic shift to an older Australia? Are we heading towards a less demanding period for the types of legal services accessed by older people, or is any such trend offset by increased service demands by other sociodemographic groups?

Future research on legal service provision

It was found that people were less likely to seek legal help for some types of legal issues, particularly consumer and human rights issues. Future research in NSW and in Australia could gainfully explore whether this tendency reflects low demand or inadequate supply of services. For example, to what extent is failing to seek help a function of the lack of seriousness of an issue rather than a function of the existing services being inadequate or a function of the existing services being inaccurately perceived as inadequate? These three possibilities would have different implications for service provision. The first would not indicate a need for changes to service provision, while the second would indicate updating service provision and the third would suggest information strategies to correct inaccurate perceptions of services.

As noted earlier, it would be beneficial for future research to examine the reasons behind the increased tendency of Indigenous Australians to ignore their legal problems. For instance, to what extent is this tendency driven by cultural factors or the disabling effect of multiple disadvantage? Similarly, future research could examine the reasons why younger people, older people and people with low levels of education were less likely to seek help for their legal problems.

The current study demonstrated that some people were able to deal with their legal issues on their own while others had increased difficulty in resolving their legal issues. In particular, people with a chronic illness or disability had lower resolution rates. It would be valuable for future studies to determine the reasons behind these lower resolution rates. What are the particular barriers these people experience in accessing justice and at what point within the legal resolution process are these barriers experienced?

In addition, future research could also identify the factors that make people successfully self-reliant in dealing with some or all of their legal problems. What are the characteristics of the individuals for whom self-help strategies or unbundled service provision would be particularly appropriate? Can we better foster self-reliance?

The present study also highlighted the value of measuring expectations about the outcome of legal issues when evaluating the adequacy of legal service provision. Inappropriate expectations about the outcome of a legal issue may not only lower the satisfaction with the legal advice received for that issue, but may also inhibit people from seeking advice in the future.

Another useful exercise would be to compare survey data measuring legal needs with data on the use of legal services. Survey data provide a picture of latent legal need, including legal need that remains unaddressed, whereas service use data provide a picture of legal service provision. A comparison between the two has the potential to enhance our understanding of the extent to which the pattern of legal service provision mirrors the pattern of legal needs. It may throw light on whether there are gaps in service provision for certain types of legal problems, for certain demographic groups or in certain geographic areas. For example, is the high level of legal need among people with a chronic illness or disability appropriately reflected in the use of legal services? Does the low rate of usage of certain types of legal services reflect a low level of need or a limited availability of such services?

In addition, survey data could be used to identify the pathways that people use to resolve their legal issues. For example, which advisers do individuals tend to consult first, and what route is taken from one adviser to the next? How efficient is the referral between advisers?

The value of regular surveys to examine trends in the incidence and pattern of legal needs was advocated above. Recurrent surveys could also be used to monitor trends in help-seeking behaviour, in satisfaction with legal information, advice and assistance services, in resolution of legal issues, and in satisfaction with outcomes. Such trends would throw some light on how well legal services are meeting demands, and the success of any new services or changes to service delivery.

Finally, it is important to stress the benefit of rigorous, evidence-based testing and evaluation of new and existing legal service initiatives. A quality approach to legal service provision requires evaluation of the outcomes achieved as well as systematic investigation of how to achieve the most effective outcomes. For example, the present report has highlighted the potential benefit of targeted legal education and information strategies. Having identified this need, communication effectiveness studies could be used to indicate the best mechanism for specific education and information strategies to reach the target audience, and evaluation studies could be used to confirm the success of such strategies in effectively reaching their audience.

The present report also highlighted the potential benefit of various changes to the provision of legal information, advice and assistance. Suggested changes include using non-legal professionals as more formal gateways to legal services, and improving the coordination among legal services and between legal and human services. The usefulness of evaluating the efficiency, effectiveness and long-term cost-benefit of any such changes to legal services cannot be overemphasised. Such evaluation is critical in informing the ongoing improvement of legal service provision.



Conclusions


The present study is the first in about three decades to assess a broad range of legal needs in NSW. The findings suggest a high incidence of civil, criminal and family legal needs in the six disadvantaged areas of NSW that were surveyed. Legal needs affect many aspects of people’s lives and relate broadly to the promotion of justice, as well as to the promotion of social and physical well-being. However, some people have multiple, complex legal needs, while others are more resilient. People choose different means of handling their legal issues, and some people are less successful than others in resolving their problems. This diversity in experience is better suited to a multidimensional rather than a single, broad-brush approach to accessing justice in the disadvantaged areas surveyed.

Such a multidimensional approach would not simply react to legal problems unilaterally. It would also include tailored and proactive strategies to meet the varying needs of different individuals, to maximise prevention and early intervention, and to enhance the optimal utilisation of the legal system through the appropriate targeting of limited resources. The results suggest that useful strategies for promoting justice would include:


To ensure that legal services can react quickly and effectively to legal problems, the present findings suggest that improvements could be made to the accessibility of legal services, such as additional staffing, extension of opening hours, and additional legal services in rural and remote areas.

The widespread use of friends and family as advisers when legal issues arise indicates the merit of raising the general level of legal literacy among the community at large. The substantial proportion of people who simply ignore their legal needs also suggests a clear role for proactive information and education strategies in mobilising and empowering people to resolve legal problems. Such information and education strategies could usefully enhance general knowledge about:


It was noted that widespread advertising and dissemination of the telephone number for LawAccess NSW, which acts as a legal triage service in NSW, has the potential to provide a simple and effective gateway to legal resolution.

The present findings also suggest the particular benefit of tailoring and targeting legal information and education strategies to the sociodemographic groups who were relatively less likely to seek help for their legal issues, namely young people, older people, Indigenous Australians and people with a low level of education.

The current study also indicates the potential benefit of tailoring legal information, advice and assistance services to meet the particular legal needs of different individuals and sociodemographic groups. Some people have few legal needs and are easily able to handle their problems alone, suggesting that self-help and unbundled legal services may be appropriate in some cases.

However, other people, such as those with a chronic illness or disability, have multiple legal problems and reduced ability to achieve satisfactory resolution. This finding suggests that meeting the legal needs of this group should be a top priority for legal information, advice and assistance services.

Indigenous people were also found to be a group that is vulnerable to certain legal problems, namely credit/debt, employment and family problems, and may benefit from special attention and appropriately tailored legal services.

In addition, given that different age groups tend to face different legal issues and tend to achieve different resolution rates, there may also be benefit in tailoring legal information, advice and assistance according to age.

The type of legal issue also needs to be taken into account when setting priorities for legal service provision. The type of legal issue experienced was shown to be a critical factor in whether individuals seek advice, whether they are satisfied with the help they receive, whether they achieve resolution, and whether they are satisfied with the outcome. In particular, legal services need to allocate time and resources appropriately to deal effectively with frequently occurring legal issues and legal issues that tend to be genuinely more difficult to resolve.

However, the present findings highlight the importance of reconciling the need to provide expert, specialised legal services tailored to different types of legal problems with the need to provide a more client-focused approach for clients with multiple legal needs. Legal problems frequently co-occur, and some people, such as some people with a chronic illness or disability, simultaneously face a number of intertwined but disparate legal problems, including criminal, civil and family law problems.

A structural feature of current legal service delivery in NSW is that different legal service providers tend to deal with different types of legal issues. As a result, individuals with multiple, disparate legal problems sometimes need to access a variety of legal services. Furthermore, these services tend to deal with discrete aspects of the individual’s legal problems without necessarily coordinating to address the complexity of the situation in a holistic fashion. The overlap between legal needs and other basic human needs associated with physical and social well-being also means that some individuals with complex problems require both legal and non-legal support services. Thus, the present results indicate the potential benefit of improved cooperation and coordination not only among different legal services, but also between legal services and other human services, for individuals with complex, multiple legal and non-legal problems.

The value of a more integrated approach to legal and non-legal service provision was also highlighted by the current widespread use of non-legal professionals for advice in relation to events with legal implications. There may be considerable benefits in establishing strategies that would enable non-legal professionals who are well placed to notice legal problems to be used as an effective gateway into available legal services. For example, non-legal professionals could be used to disseminate basic, up-to-date legal information resources and to provide appropriate referrals to legal service agencies.

In summary, a multidimensional approach to legal service provision, which includes a range of reactive, preventative and proactive strategies, would enable legal services to be more effectively tailored to meet the diverse needs and experiences of different individuals. Such an approach would require appropriate resourcing and quality assurance, and effective coordination by government.



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Appendix A: The survey instrument



The_survey_instrument.pdf


Appendix B: Method


Table B1: Classification of legal events
Area of law
(no. of items)
Survey
question no.
Legal event group (no. of items)
Legal event
Civil (76)Accident/injury (4)
19Car accident — property damage
39ACar accident — personal injury
39BInjury at work
39COther personal injury
Business (2)
7Problem as landlord
9Problem re own business
Consumer (5)
20FProblem re superannuation
21Problem re goods/services
22Dispute with financial institution
23Problem re insurance
56Complaint about lawyer
Credit/debt (5)
20AProblem paying bill/debt
20BDispute re credit rating
20CProblem re money owed to you
20DProblem as guarantor
20EBankruptcy
Education (6)
35AUnfair exclusion from education
35BHECS issue
35CSchool bullying/harassment
37AUnfair exclusion from education — parent
37BHECS issue — parent
37CSchool bullying/harassment — parent
Employment (5)
2ADispute re employment conditions
2BUnfair termination of employment
2CWorkplace harassment/mistreatment
2DWorkplace discrimination
2E*Other problem re employment
Government (15)
5Problem re gov. pension/benefit
31CProblem re gov. services — carer of disabled/elderly
43AProblem re gov. disability/community services
44ADispute re taxation/debt
43E*Other problem re gov. services — disabled person
44BProblem re freedom of information request
44CImmigration problem
44DLocal council problem
51Non-traffic fines you challenged
53AProblem re medical treatment — immigration detention
53BProblem re legal advice — immigration detention
53CSafety threats — immigration detention
53DHarassment/abuse by staff — immigration detention
53EProblem re release — immigration detention
57B*Problem re legal system
Civil (76)Health (11)
31BInvoluntary psychiatric hospitalisation — carer
31F*Problem re quality of medical treatment — carer
31G*Problem re disability facilities — carer
42A/52Involuntary psychiatric hospitalisation
42BOther mental health care issue
43BProblem re non-government disability services
53AProblem re medical treatment — psychiatric ward
53BProblem re legal advice — psychiatric ward
53CSafety threats — psychiatric ward
53DHarassment/abuse by staff — psychiatric ward
53EProblem re release — psychiatric ward
Housing (11)
10ABought/sold home
10BDispute with neighbour
10CHomelessness
12Tenancy problem
14Home ownership problem
16AStrata title problem
16BProblem re caravan/home estate
16CProblem re boarding house/hostel
16DProblem re retirement home/village
31ANursing home problem — carer of disabled/elderly
43CNursing home problem — disabled person
Human rightsa (8)
24ADiscrimination — marital status
24BDiscrimination — age
24CDiscrimination — gender
24DDiscrimination — religion
24EDiscrimination — sexuality
24FDiscrimination — ethnicity
24GDiscrimination — disability
31H*Discrimination — carer of disabled/eldery
Wills/estates (4)
32AMake/alter will
32BExecutor of estate
32CDispute over will/estate
32DPower of attorney
Criminal (16)Domestic violence (3)
47AVictim of domestic violence by family member
47BVictim of domestic violence by household member
48Domestic violence allegation against you
General crime (11)
46AUnfair treatment by police
46BCriminal charge
46CProblem re bail/remand
46DPolice failing to investigate crime
47CAssault victim
49Property stolen/vandalised
53AProblem re medical treatment — prison/juvenile detention
53BProblem re legal advice — prison/juvenile detention
53CSafety threats — prison/juvenile detention
53DHarassment/abuse by staff — prison/juvenile detention
53EProblem re release — prison/juvenile detention
Traffic offences (2)
50ALoss of driver’s licence
50BOther traffic fine/offence you challenged
Family (9)Family (9)
25AProblem re residence/contact for child
25BProblem re residence/contact for grandchild
27AProblem re child support payments
27BChild protection issue
27CFostering/adoption/guardianship issue
29ADivorce/separation
29BDispute re matrimonial property
31DGuardianship problem — carer of disabled/elderly
57A*Other family law problem
Unclassified (3)Unclassified (3)
31EOther problem — carer of disabled/elderly
43DOther problem re disability
57Other problem
a Human rights events are not related to employment.
* Legal events marked with an asterisk were not specifically asked about in the survey, but were identified by post-coding. While the question number listed for each of these events in the table does not appear on the survey, it indicates the survey question from which the event was post-coded. For example, the legal event numbered 43E was post-coded from question 43.

Table B2a: Gender and age breakdown in sample and population, Campbelltown, 2003
Age (years)
15–24
25–34
35–44
45–54
55–64
65+
15–65+
Sample
Males
no.
64
21
33
37
19
14
188
(%)
(16)
(5.2)
(8.2)
(9.2)
(4.7)
(3.5)
(46.9)
Females
no.
24
57
49
44
20
19
213
(%)
(6)
(14.2)
(12.2)
(11)
(5)
(4.7)
(53.1)
Males and females
no.
88
78
82
81
39
33
401
(%)
(21.9)
(19.5)
(20.4)
(20.2)
(9.7)
(8.2)
(100)
Population
Males
no.
13 091
10 302
10 790
10 594
6 554
4 404
55 735
(%)
(11.5)
(9.1)
(9.5)
(9.3)
(5.8)
(3.9)
(49.1)
Females
no.
12 299
10 888
11 776
10 957
6 115
5 689
57 724
(%)
(10.8)
(9.6)
(10.4)
(9.7)
(5.4)
(5)
(50.9)
Males and females
no.
25 390
21 190
22 566
21 551
12 669
10 093
113 459
(%)
(22.4)
(18.7)
(19.9)
(19)
(11.2)
(8.9)
(100)
Notes:
1. Population data are estimated resident population as at 30 June 2003 (unpublished ABS data).
2. Each % is based on the cell no. divided by the total sample no. in the LGA (405) or the total estimated population in the LGA (55 840), as appropriate. (Data on age were missing for one survey participant.)
3. Three chi-square tests were conducted comparing sample numbers with the corresponding expected numbers based on the population data. (The expected number for each cell = cell % for the population multiplied by the total sample no., e.g. expected no. of males 15–24 years = 8.6% x 405 = 35).
a. one-way x2 for gender: x2=0.00, df=1, p=0.957 (N=406)
b. one-way x2 for age: x2=3.52, df=5, p=0.621 (N=405)
c. two-way x2 for gender by age: x2=19.27, df=5, p=0.002 (N=405)

Table B2b: Gender and age breakdown in sample and population, Fairfield, 2003
Age (years)
15–24
25–34
35–44
45–54
55–64
65+
15–65+
Sample
Males
no.
45
35
38
26
23
26
193
(%)
(11.3)
(8.8)
(9.5)
(6.5)
(5.8)
(6.5)
(48.3)
Females
no.
38
40
49
45
20
15
207
(%)
(9.5)
(10)
(12.3)
(11.3)
(5)
(3.8)
(51.8)
Males and females
no.
83
75
87
71
43
41
400
(%)
(20.8)
(18.8)
(21.8)
(17.8)
(10.8)
(10.3)
(100)
Population
Males
no.
14 539
13 620
14 756
12 999
8 866
8 830
73 610
(%)
(9.8)
(9.2)
(10)
(8.8)
(6)
(6)
(49.7)
Females
no.
14 281
13 959
14 237
13 014
8 280
10 579
74 350
(%)
(9.7)
(9.4)
(9.6)
(8.8)
(5.6)
(7.1)
(50.3)
Males and females
no.
28 820
27 579
28 993
26 013
17 146
19 409
147 960
(%)
(19.5)
(18.6)
(19.6)
(17.6)
(11.6)
(13.1)
(100)
Notes:
1. Population data are estimated resident population as at 30 June 2003 (unpublished ABS data).
2. Each % is based on the cell no. divided by the total sample no. in the LGA (400) or the total estimated population in the LGA (147 960), as appropriate. (Data on age were missing for one survey participant.)
3. Three chi-square tests were conducted comparing sample numbers with the corresponding expected numbers based on the population data. (The expected number for each cell = cell % for the population multiplied by the total sample no., e.g. expected no. of males 15–24 years = 9.8% x 400 = 39).
a. one-way x2 for gender: x2=0.42, df=1, p=0.516 (N=401)
b. one-way x2 for age: x2=4.04, df=5, p=0.544 (N=400)
c. two-way x2 for gender by age: x2=16.09, df=5, p=0.007 (N=400)

Table B2c: Gender and age breakdown in sample and population, South Sydney, 2003
Age (years)
15–24
25–34
35–44
45–54
55–64
65+
15–65+
Sample
Males
no.
41
68
45
28
15
24
221
(%)
(10.1)
(16.8)
(11.1)
(6.9)
(3.7)
(5.9)
(54.6)
Females
no.
22
59
42
27
22
12
184
(%)
(5.4)
(14.6)
(10.4)
(6.7)
(5.4)
(3)
(45.4)
Males and females
no.
63
127
87
55
37
36
405
(%)
(15.6)
(31.4)
(21.5)
(13.6)
(9.1)
(8.9)
(100)
Population
Males
no.
4 794
9 658
6 410
3 838
2 727
2 895
30 322
(%)
(8.6)
(17.3)
(11.5)
(6.9)
(4.9)
(5.2)
(54.3)
Females
no.
4 762
8 002
4 234
3 172
2 233
3 115
25 518
(%)
(8.5)
(14.3)
(7.6)
(5.7)
(4)
(5.6)
(45.7)
Males and females
no.
9 556
17 660
10 644
7 010
4 960
6 010
55 840
(%)
(17.1)
(31.6)
(19.1)
(12.6)
(8.9)
(10.8)
(100)
Notes:
1. Population data are estimated resident population as at 30 June 2003 (unpublished ABS data).
2. Each % is based on the cell no. divided by the total sample no. in the LGA (405) or the total estimated population in the LGA (55 840), as appropriate. (Data on age were missing for one survey participant.)
3. Three chi-square tests were conducted comparing sample numbers with the corresponding expected numbers based on the population data. (The expected number for each cell = cell % for the population multiplied by the total sample no., e.g. expected no. of males 15–24 years = 8.6% x 405 = 35).
a. one-way x2 for gender: x2=0.00, df=1, p=0.957 (N=406)
b. one-way x2 for age: x2=3.52, df=5, p=0.621 (N=405)
c. two-way x2 for gender by age: x2=19.27, df=5, p=0.002 (N=405)

Table B2d: Gender and age breakdown in sample and population, Newcastle, 2003
Age (years)
15–24
25–34
35–44
45–54
55–64
65+
15–65+
Sample
Males
no.
43
35
35
36
19
29
197
(%)
(10.5)
(8.6)
(8.6)
(8.8)
(4.7)
(7.1)
(48.3)
Females
no.
32
38
42
39
29
31
211
(%)
(7.8)
(9.3)
(10.3)
(9.6)
(7.1)
(7.6)
(51.7)
Males and females
no.
75
73
77
75
48
60
408
(%)
(18.4)
(17.9)
(18.9)
(18.4)
(11.8)
(14.7)
(100)
Population
Males
no.
11 036
11 097
10 229
9 160
6 890
9 617
58 029
(%)
(9.2)
(9.3)
(8.6)
(7.7)
(5.8)
(8)
(48.6)
Females
no.
11 235
10 777
10 110
9 037
6 759
13 534
61 452
(%)
(9.4)
(9)
(8.5)
(7.6)
(5.7)
(11.3)
(51.4)
Males and females
no.
22 271
21 874
20 339
18 197
13 649
23 151
119 481
(%)
(18.6)
(18.3)
(17)
(15.2)
(11.4)
(19.4)
(100)
Notes:
1. Population data are estimated resident population as at 30 June 2003 (unpublished ABS data).
2. Each % is based on the cell no. divided by the total sample no. in the LGA (408) or the total estimated population in the LGA (119 481), as appropriate.
3. Three chi-square tests were conducted comparing sample numbers with the corresponding expected numbers based on the population data. (The expected number for each cell = cell % for the population multiplied by the total sample no., e.g. expected no. of males 15–24 years = 9.2% x 408 = 38).
a. one-way x2 for gender: x2=0.01, df=1, p=0.909 (N=408)
b. one-way x2 for age: x2=8.17, df=5, p=0.147 (N=408)
c. two-way x2 for gender by age: x2=14.39, df=5, p=0.013 (N=408)

Table B2e: Gender and age breakdown in sample and population, Nambucca, 2003
Age (years)
15–24
25–34
35–44
45–54
55–64
65+
15–65+
Sample
Males
no.
32
24
30
33
26
57
202
(%)
(7.7)
(5.8)
(7.2)
(8)
(6.3)
(13.8)
(48.8)
Females
no.
16
17
40
55
38
46
212
(%)
(3.9)
(4.1)
(9.7)
(13.3)
(90.2)
11.1
-51.2
Males and females
no.
48
41
70
88
64
103
414
(%)
-11.6
-9.9
-16.9
-21.3
-15.5
-24.9
-100
Population
Males
no.
981
734
1 100
1 367
1 130
1 833
7 145
(%)
-6.8
-5.1
-7.6
-9.4
-7.8
-12.6
-49.2
Females
no.
873
786
1 263
1 310
1 128
2 024
7 384
(%)
-6
-5.4
-8.7
-9
-7.8
-13.9
-50.8
Males and females
no.
1 854
1 520
2 363
2 677
2 258
3 857
14 529
(%)
-12.8
-10.5
-16.3
-18.4
-15.5
-26.5
-100
Notes:
1. Population data are estimated resident population as at 30 June 2003 (unpublished ABS data).
2. Each % is based on the cell no. divided by the total sample no. in the LGA (414) or the total estimated population in the LGA (14 529), as appropriate.
3. Three chi-square tests were conducted comparing sample numbers with the corresponding expected numbers based on the population data. (The expected number for each cell = cell % for the population multiplied by the total sample no., e.g. expected no. of males 15–24 years = 6.8% x 414 = 28).
a. one-way x2 for gender: x2=0.03, df=1, p=0.875 (N=414)
b. one-way x2 for age: x2=2.91, df=5, p=0.714 (N=414)
c. two-way x2 for gender by age: x2=20.35, df=5, p=0.001 (N=414)

Table B2f: Gender and age breakdown in sample and population, Walgett, 2003
Age (years)
15–24
25–34
35–44
45–54
55–64
65+
15–65+
Sample
Males
no.
33
31
42
43
38
37
224
(%)
(8.3)
(7.8)
(10.5)
(10.8)
(9.5)
(9.3)
(56)
Females
no.
13
38
36
37
30
22
176
(%)
(3.3)
(9.5)
(9)
(9.3)
(7.5)
(5.5)
(44)
Males and females
no.
46
69
78
80
68
59
400
(%)
(11.5)
(17.3)
(19.5)
(20)
(17)
(14.8)
(100)
Population
Males
no.
494
606
676
716
640
549
3681
(%)
(7.6)
(9.4)
(10.4)
(11.1)
(9.9)
(8.5)
(56.8)
Females
no.
414
530
553
511
420
368
2796
(%)
(6.4)
(8.2)
(8.5)
(7.9)
(6.5)
(5.7)
(43.2)
Males and females
no
908
1136
1229
1227
1060
917
6477
(%)
(14)
(17.5)
(19)
(18.9)
(16.4)
(14.2)
(100)
Notes:
1. Population data are estimated resident population as at 30 June 2003 (unpublished ABS data).
2. Each % is based on the cell no. divided by the total sample no. in the LGA (400) or the total estimated population in the LGA (6477), as appropriate.
3. Three chi-square tests were conducted comparing sample numbers with the corresponding expected numbers based on the population data. (The expected number for each cell = cell % for the population multiplied by the total sample no., e.g. expected no. of males 15–24 years = 7.6% x 400 = 30).
a. one-way x2 for gender: x2=0.11, df=1, p=0.737 (N=400)
b. one-way x2 for age: x2=2.32, df=5, p=0.803 (N=400)
c. two-way x2 for gender by age: x2=10.41, df=5, p=0.065 (N=400)

Table B3: Number of target interviews, completed interviews, phone numbers in pool and phone numbers called, 2003
Statistical divisionLGA
Target no. of interviews
No. of completed interviews
No. of phone numbers in pool
No. of phone numbers called from pool
% of phone numbers called from pool
SydneyCampbelltown
400
402
4 992
4 779
95.7
SydneyFairfield
400
401
7 132
4 710
66
SydneySouth Sydney
400
406
10 091
6 550
64.9
HunterNewcastle
400
408
4 987
3 210
64.7
Mid-North CoastNambucca
400
414
4 977
3 012
60.5
North WesternWalgett
400
400
2 464
2 464
100
Total
2 400
2 431
34 643
24 725
71.4

Table B4a: Outcome of attempted phone contact, Campbelltown, 2003
Outcome
Groves’s typology
No.
Examples of outcome
Interview completed
I
402
Refuseda
-
1454
Outright refusal (1355)
Refused monitoring by a survey supervisor (78)
Refused to complete interview (21)
Not eligible
NE
520
Failed to meet survey coverage criteria (419)
Business number (68)
Language barrierb (33)
Not contacted and eligible
NC
202
Unable to determine appointment at call back
Not interviewed
NI
574
Contacted but surplus to quota needs
Not applicable
-
1627
Phone number no longer exists (848)
No contact after 5 attemptsc (779)
Numbers called from pool
4779
Numbers not called from pool
213
Total numbers in pool
4992
a R, the number of refusals who were eligible to participate, was unknown. There was no information on eligibility to participate for the outright refusals and those who refused monitoring by a survey supervisor.
b Interviewer could not determine the language used by respondent.
c On each attempt, either there was no answer after 10 rings, the phone was engaged, the call was answered by an answering machine or the number was dead.

Table B4b: Outcome of attempted phone contact, Fairfield, 2003

Outcome
Groves’s typology
No.
Examples of outcome
Interview completed
I
401
Refuseda
-
1465
Outright refusal (1374)
Refused monitoring by a survey supervisor (18)
Refused to complete interview (73)
Not eligible
NE
1097
Failed to meet survey coverage criteria (835)
Business number (41)
Language barrierb (221)
Not contacted and eligible
NC
79
Unable to determine appointment at call back
Not interviewed
NI
278
Contacted but surplus to quota needs
Not applicable
-
1390
Phone number no longer exists (904)
No contact after 5 attemptsc (486)
Numbers called from pool
4710
Numbers not called from pool
2422
Total numbers in pool
7132
a R, the number of refusals who were eligible to participate, was unknown. There was no information on eligibility to participate for the outright refusals and those who refused monitoring by a survey supervisor.
b Interviewer could not determine the language used by respondent.
c On each attempt, either there was no answer after 10 rings, the phone was engaged, the call was answered by an answering machine or the number was dead.

Table B4c: Outcome of attempted phone contact, South Sydney, 2003
Outcome
Groves’s typology
No.
Examples of outcome
Interview completed
I
406
Refuseda
-
1 800
Outright refusal (1718)
Refused monitoring by a survey supervisor (18)
Refused to complete interview (64)
Not eligible
NE
749
Failed to meet survey coverage criteria (540)
Business number (131)
Language barrierb (78)
Not contacted and eligible
NC
201
Unable to determine appointment at call back
Not interviewed
NI
468
Contacted but surplus to quota needs
Not applicable
-
2 926
Phone number no longer exists (1498)
No contact after 5 attemptsc (1428)
Numbers called from pool
6 550
Numbers not called from pool
3 541
Total numbers in pool
10 091
a R, the number of refusals who were eligible to participate, was unknown. There was no information on eligibility to participate for the outright refusals and those who refused monitoring by a survey supervisor.
b Interviewer could not determine the language used by respondent.
c On each attempt, either there was no answer after 10 rings, the phone was engaged, the call was answered by an answering machine or the number was dead.

Table B4d: Outcome of attempted phone contact, Newcastle, 2003
Outcome
Groves’s typology
No.
Examples of outcome
Interview completed
I
408
Refuseda
-
1057
Outright refusal (1036)
Refused monitoring by a survey supervisor (6)
Refused to complete interview (15)
Not eligible
NE
350
Failed to meet survey coverage criteria (292)
Business number (43)
Language barrierb (15)
Not contacted and eligible
NC
174
Unable to determine appointment at call back
Not interviewed
NI
242
Contacted but surplus to quota needs
Not applicable
-
979
Phone number no longer exists (395)
No contact after 5 attemptsc (584)
Numbers called from pool
3210
Numbers not called from pool
1777
Total numbers in pool
4987
a R, the number of refusals who were eligible to participate, was unknown. There was no information on eligibility to participate for the outright refusals and those who refused monitoring by a survey supervisor.
b Interviewer could not determine the language used by respondent.
c On each attempt, either there was no answer after 10 rings, the phone was engaged, the call was answered by an answering machine or the number was dead.

Table B4e: Outcome of attempted phone contact, Nambucca, 2003

Outcome
Groves’s typology
No.
Examples of outcome
Interview completed
I
414
Refuseda
-
949
Outright refusal (922)
Refused monitoring by a survey supervisor (9)
Refused to complete interview (18)
Not eligible
NE
341
Failed to meet survey coverage criteria (308)
Business number (27)
Language barrierb (6)
Not contacted and eligible
NC
127
Unable to determine appointment at call back
Not interviewed
NI
355
Contacted but surplus to quota needs
Not applicable
-
826
Phone number no longer exists (320)
No contact after 5 attemptsc (506)
Numbers called from pool
3012
Numbers not called from pool
1965
Total numbers in pool
4977
a R, the number of refusals who were eligible to participate, was unknown. There was no information on eligibility to participate for the outright refusals and those who refused monitoring by a survey supervisor.
b Interviewer could not determine the language used by respondent.
c On each attempt, either there was no answer after 10 rings, the phone was engaged, the call was answered by an answering machine or the number was dead.

Table B4f: Outcome of attempted phone contact, Walgett, 2003
Outcome
Groves’s typology
No.
Examples of outcome
Interview completed
I
400
Refuseda
-
744
Outright refusal (692)
Refused monitoring by a survey supervisor (30)
Refused to complete interview (22)
Not eligible
NE
193
Failed to meet survey coverage criteria (133)
Business number (51)
Language barrierb (9)
Not contacted and eligible
NC
64
Unable to determine appointment at call back
Not interviewed
NI
296
Contacted but surplus to quota needs
Not applicable
-
767
Phone number no longer exists (418)
No contact after 5 attemptsc (349)
Numbers called from pool
2464
Numbers not called from pool
0
Total numbers in pool
2464
a R, the number of refusals who were eligible to participate, was unknown. There was no information on eligibility to participate for the outright refusals and those who refused monitoring by a survey supervisor.
b Interviewer could not determine the language used by respondent.
c On each attempt, either there was no answer after 10 rings, the phone was engaged, the call was answered by an answering machine or the number was dead.

Table B5: Cooperation and response rate for each LGA, 2003
LGA
Estimated no. of eligible refusals
Cooperation Rate I/(I+R)
Response Rate I/(I+R+NC+NI)
R1
R2
R3
Min.
Max.
Best estimate
Min.
Max.
Best estimate
Campbelltown
1454
21
1009
0.22
0.95
0.28
0.15
0.34
0.18
Fairfield
1465
73
599
0.21
0.85
0.4
0.18
0.48
0.3
South Sydney
1800
64
1061
0.18
0.86
0.28
0.14
0.36
0.19
Newcastle
1057
15
742
0.28
0.96
0.35
0.22
0.49
0.26
Nambucca
949
18
687
0.3
0.96
0.38
0.22
0.45
0.26
Walgett
744
22
593
0.35
0.95
0.4
0.27
0.51
0.3
Total
7469
213
4691
0.25
0.92
0.34
0.19
0.43
0.24
Notes:
R1 = total no. of refusals. Used to calculate minimum cooperation and response rates.
R2 = no. of partial interviews. Used to calculate maximum cooperation and response rates.
R3 = R1 multiplied by estimated proportion of eligible persons among those who refused
= R1 x ((I+NC+NI)/(I+NE+NC+NI)). Used to calculate the best estimate of cooperation and response rates.
(N.B. Values of I, NC, NI and NE are provided in tables B4a to B4f.)

Table B6: Differences between pilot and main surveys
Item no.
Pilot surveyMain surveyType of changeDetails of change
82S4–S6Added 3 QsTo assist screening, record gender (S4), language spoken at home (S5) and language used for interview (S6). Gender recorded at end of pilot (Q82).
11–1AMinor change to Q
22No change
33–4Minor change to Q and added 2 RCsNew RCs re benefit introduced (CDEP program; Seniors Card/Pharmaceutical Benefits Only)
513Minor change to Q and repositioningScreening Q repositioned to go immediately before the Q (14) it relates to
6–86–8No change
99Minor change to Q
1010Minor change to 1 RC
1111Change to QSimplified Q to ask only about whether pay rent. Q used as screening Q for Q12 (problems re renting)
1212Minor change to Q
13Added QAdded screening Q re whether owned property in last 12 months
1314Minor change to Q
1415No change
1516No change
16A–16BOmitted QOmitted — How long have you been at your current address (16A) or how long have you had no fixed address (16B)
17Omitted QOmitted — Did you have any problems in other places you have lived...
1817Added 1 RCNew RC re internet access — Yes, at work
1918Minor change to Q
2019No change
2120Minor change to 1 RC
2221Minor change to Q
22Added QAdded legal event — Dispute with bank/financial institution
2323No change
2424Major change to QQ re non-work related discrimination was reworded to specify legally recognised categories of discrimination (marital status, age, gender, religion, sexuality, ethnicity, disability).
27.225Repositioned QProblems with residence/contact arrangements for children — removed from Q27 and asked about in separate Q and reference to grandchildren added.
25–2626Combined 2 screening QsNo. of kids and how many live at home combined into one question.
2727Made 1 RC a separate QProblems with residence/contact arrangements for children — removed from Q27 and asked as separate Q and reference to grandchildren added.
2828Re-orderedScreening Q re marital status
response categories
28AAdded QAdded — Has marital status changed over last 12 months?
29–3229–32No change
3333Changes to RCsChanges to RCs — (1)‘Still at school’ added to ‘did not finish school’; (2) 4 RCs re certificates, diplomas, university degrees combined into 2 RCs
3434Minor change to QScreening Q re student — ‘Are you currently’ changed to ‘have you been … during the last 12 months’
3535Minor change to Q
3636No change
3737Minor change to Q
3838Omitted 1 RC1 RC (‘very well’) removed from screening Q re how well read and write English
3939No change
4040–41Minor change to Q and added 3 RCs3 RCs added re type of chronic condition or mental/physical disability (Physical disability; a learning disability; a chronic condition)
4142Change to 1 RC1 RC changed from ‘probs with care after release from hospital’ to ‘other problems with mental health care’ (made more general)
4243No change
4344Minor change to 1 RC and added 1 RCRC added—Local council problem
4445No change
4546Minor change to Q
4647Minor change to Q lead-inLead-in made more sensitive
48Added QAdded — In last 12 months, did you have allegations of domestic violence made against you, either to the police or in court?
4749No change
4850Minor change to Q
49–5051–52 No change
5153Minor change to Q
5254No change
55Added QAdded screening Q — Have you sought advice from a lawyer at any time in the last 12 months?
56Added QAdded screening Q — Did you wish to make a complaint .... because the lawyer didn’t do what you wanted.... or because you were dissatisfied...
5357No change
54–5558Major changePilot asked participants to identify ‘most significant’ legal event in the last 12 months and the 2 most recent events in the last 12 months. Main survey only asked participants to identify the 3 most recent events.
5659Minor change to Q lead-in
60Added QAdded Q to measure the month that each of the 3 most recent events occurred.
5761Minor change to Q and RCs
58–5962–63Change to Q and response formatQ changed to ask first about ‘most important reason’ why didn’t seek help and then follow with ‘other reasons’ why didn’t seek help. Pre-coded RCs removed and replaced with open-response format.
6264Minor change to Q and added 2 RCs2 RCs re type of written information added (other type of written information; no written information)
6365Added 12 RCs12 new sources of assistance added (published self-help source; internet site(s); local council; library; employer; school/school counsellor/teacher; other professional; insurance company/broker; private agency/organisation; company/business; LawAccess; Aboriginal legal services)
66Added QAdded — whether each source of assistance was useful