Briefing paper

Conducting legal need surveys in the Australian context: challenges and options

Legal services Access to justice Questionnaire survey Australia


It is now over a decade since more than 20,000 Australians were interviewed for the seminal Legal Australia-Wide (LAW) Survey. During that time Australia’s demographic profile has undergone considerable change, driven by a large growth in the population. The last ten years have also seen the rise of technology with the widespread uptake of smartphones and a digital transformation in service provision. A new legal needs survey is therefore required to reassess the extent of unmet legal need, providing insight into people’s experience of everyday legal problems, the distribution of these problems across the community and the extent to which people can access the support they need to resolve problems satisfactorily.

Legal needs surveys are the most reliable way to gain an understanding of the legal needs of the community but their design impacts significantly on their usefulness. Careful consideration must be given to the questions asked, including what types of problems are included and which problems are selected for more detailed investigation. Sample selection and the number of participants are also key considerations, along with potential interview formats (face-to-face, telephone, online). This paper reports on these considerations, drawing on the findings of the preliminary stakeholder consultation conducted by the Foundation in 2018.

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Justice Issues paper 31