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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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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.



Ten per cent reported that it was too early to say whether the main objective would be achieved.
It is worth noting that the seriousness of the event was not taken into account, and it is possible that respondents tended to seek advice for problems that were more serious or more difficult to resolve alone.

20  Ten per cent reported that it was too early to say whether the main objective would be achieved.
21  It is worth noting that the seriousness of the event was not taken into account, and it is possible that respondents tended to seek advice for problems that were more serious or more difficult to resolve alone.


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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