Accessibility to Legal Services
Access to Justice
Andrea Perry-Petersen – as interviewed by Anastasia Misarvidis-Tyshing
Legally Yours Advisory Board
Consultant, Researcher and Host “Reimagining Justice”
It can be difficult to know exactly when to seek legal services and how to find the right lawyer for advice. For many Australians the very idea of seeking legal advice can be quite daunting – they may be unsure if they require it, don’t know where to go, what to ask or how much it will cost them. In a report conducted by the Law and Justice Foundation it was found that respondents only sought advice for 51% of legal problems, with a legal professional being involved only 16% of the time meaning many Australians are electing to forgo legal advice altogether. Unfortunately, individuals who don’t seek legal assistance usually suffer from poor outcomes. So why are Australians choosing to go it alone?
One of the major barriers in accessing legal services is the unaffordability of advice. It should come as no surprise that lawyers are often perceived as being extremely expensive. According to the Victorian Law Foundation, 98.1% of people strongly agree with the notion that lawyers are expensive, with 84.5% believing they’re too expensive to use. In the same study 45.6% of respondents felt that lawyers were ‘out of reach for someone like them.’ The legal industry is suffering from a major branding issue, one that is disadvantaging clients and stunting our industry.
People from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience legal problems (65% of legal problems are experienced by only 9% of people) and should be at the forefront of any conversation about access to justice. Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds are also more likely to take no action to resolve the legal issues they are facing. This may be due to lack of finances or the personal issues that often accompany legal struggles and which can take over an individual’s life, such as divorce, parenting disputes, unstable living arrangements or unemployment. No matter what the reason, the resolution remains the same, in that the community needs more accessible education about what issues require legal assistance and how a lawyer may help, and lawyers need to better engage with what it means to be part of a service industry.
Sometimes individuals don’t even realise when they have a legal issue, and reluctance to hire a lawyer can often compound the problem. Common examples of this include not realising that a dispute regarding social security is an administrative law issue, that people have rights regarding employment, housing or consumer matters, or someone not appreciating that they may have access to disability payouts through their superannuation. Addressing the public perception of the legal industry will enable clients to be more aware of which issues require legal assistance and encourage more clients to seek legal advice for a broader array of issues, not just as a last resort.
The legal industry needs to become more client-centric for clients to actually utilise legal services. This can be done through dissemination of easy to understand information online, formal and community education, and integrating new technology to streamline services and improve the client experience. Legally Yours is doing all this as part of its mission to increase accessibility to legal services. One of the benefits of accessing services via platforms like Legally Yours is that all the available firms and practitioners have passed a vetting process and upfront pricing is available, alleviating clients’ concerns around costs and reliability of the legal service provider. By demystifying the law and making legal services more client-centric, the hope is that stigma surrounding the legal industry is reduced, but more importantly that clients seek and obtain the legal assistance they need, to effectively resolve their problems.