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Research Report: Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas
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Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas  ( 2006 )  Cite this report

Ch 1. Introduction



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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).



  


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Coumarelos, C, Wei , Z & Zhou, AH 2006, Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney