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July 2019
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Conducting legal needs surveys: challenges and options


Catriona Mirrlees-Black, July 2019  

Legal needs surveys are the most reliable way of gaining an understanding of the legal needs of the community. They provide essential information to aid the design and delivery of effective legal assistance services. Australia's first legal needs survey, the LAW Survey, was conducted in 2008. Australia has undergone rapid change in the last ten years, including major population growth and a digital transformation in service delivery.
A new legal needs survey to support effective legal assistance services is overdue. But that raises a number of questions:
  • Who should participate?
  • What types of legal problems should be covered?
  • What questions should be asked?
  • Which interview format should be used? Face-to-face, phone, online or post? A combination?
  • How many people should be interviewed?
This paper profiles the many factors that must be taken into account in designing a new legal needs survey.
Legal needs surveys provide the opportunity for government and service providers to hear directly from the public about their everyday legal problems and what they do to resolve them. Australia needs a regular assessment of legal needs to support effective policy and service delivery and make the best use of available resources. See infographic
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