Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas ( 2006 ) Cite this report
Ch 9. Discussion
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.