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Seeking legal help online: understanding the 'missing majority'

Access to information Access to justice Civil law Information literacy Legal services Victoria

This research project was designed in early 2020, then revised in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, so that all research activities were carried out remotely in July and August 2020, with 15 participants from Victoria, Australia

Researchers recruited participants from priority groups with increased vulnerability to legal problems and often assumed to have lower capability or limited access to online resources. This includes recent migrants, people living with a disability, single parents, and people living in a regional, rural or remote community. They learned from a diverse range of people about what they found useful in online resources to help them begin to resolve legal problems related to debt, work, housing, and accessing courts remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This comprehensive human-centred report outlines the context, rationale, methodology and findings of this almost year-long research project. It describes the hypotheses, strategy, tactics and assumptions of the research design, as well as its outcomes in the form of insights, recommendations and design principles. These are illustrated with words and images directly from research participants. Copious quotes throughout this document ensure that readers never lose sight of the people at the heart of this project and ensure that participants’ thoughts, needs and experiences are described in their own words. Visual diagrams, tables, illustrations and screenshots help to bring the research to life and provide specific examples of the methods used and actual experiences of people in the priority groups.

The report also references other literature on legal self-help. While some of this project’s findings confirm those from similar research, the conclusions of this report also differ from existing research and assumptions. In particular, our research found that demographic features such as education level, language spoken, disability, location and migration status did not determine a person’s likelihood to use online legal resources. More significant features were a person’s level of legal knowledge, based on prior experience, and their sense of self-efficacy in resolving legal issues independently.

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