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The legal needs of older people  ( 2004 )  Cite this report

Ch 3. Legal services

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This chapter has detailed the submissions received from older people in relation to accessing legal assistance and their relationship to the legal system. It also reports on the experiences of legal service providers and some peak organisations on their experiences of older people engaging with the solicitors — whether private, Legal Aid or community legal centres.

Many of the obstacles in accessing legal services emanate from features of the current cohort of older people. Although these are necessarily generalisations, and some are contradictory, these can be briefly summarised as follows:

  • a lack of confidence in their abilities to advocate on their own behalf or recognise and enforce their legal rights
  • a reluctance to take legal action on the basis that they do not want to cause trouble/complain
  • a feeling that the law/solicitors will not be able to adequately address their problems
  • a desire to be rescued: to have their legal problems solved by someone else
  • concerns about the cost of legal services
  • difficulties in physically accessing legal services
  • a perception that the law can be disempowering.

These attitudes can be viewed as barriers to accessing legal assistance for older people. For legal service providers wanting to target their services toward older people, these cohort features will require due consideration.

It is clear both from previous research and submissions made by older people that their needs in terms of legal service delivery are not so great that they cannot be negotiated. They are as follows:

  • legal information that is clear and readily accessible — preferably through face-to-face contact, but if that is not possible, in one-on-one phone advice
  • legal advice provided by practitioners who
    • take enough time to properly explain all the relevant information in simple terms
    • are friendly and courtious
    • are not too expensive and provide value for money
    • are interested and expert in dealing with their legal problems.
For those older people who cannot afford the services of private solicitors, they need to be able to access free legal services that can address legal problems that are of particular significance to them. Many service providers and older people alike expressed that there was a gap in service provision to older people and that a 'one stop shop' was required.


Ellison, S, Schetzer, L, Mullins, Perry, J & Wong, K 2004, The legal needs of older people in NSW, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney