Justice Connect has released a major research report Seeking Legal Help Online – Understanding the ‘missing majority’
Justice Connect explains the ‘missing majority’:
Online self-help resources can help people to solve common legal issues on their own. They are especially important for people who can neither afford a lawyer nor access free public or community legal assistance. In Australia this group is known as the ‘missing middle’. With an ever-growing cohort of people in this ‘justice gap’, we have renamed it ‘the missing majority’.
Key Insights include
People in the missing majority use online resources not only to understand and resolve their legal problems but also sometimes to help others. This research highlights the strengths and frustrations of this cohort, who tend to be highly capable and determined.
The research insights cover, in the following order:
How people search for legal help online
A Google search is the first step in a help-seeker’s attempt to resolve a legal
problem on their own. While most people initially search by describing their problem in everyday terms, some search specifically for organisations to help them. The first set of insights describes the variety and mixed results of searching techniques used by participants in this research.
What the self-help journey is like
The challenge of solving legal problems on your own is explored in the second set of insights. Legal jargon is confusing for most people who haven’t studied law; the rules and procedures of the legal system can be opaque; and the process to understand and resolve an issue can be incredibly time-consuming. Even if help-seekers have interacted with the legal system before, and have a high level of English literacy and digital capability, they tend to find themselves in a highly stressful situation and are anxious about the outcome.
How different resources can help and how resources are consumed
Help-seekers in the missing majority can identify which online legal self-help resources will work best and when they would use them. The third set of insights presents the results from a card sorting activity along with key themes to show how each type of resource had different ways of supporting the help-seeker. These insights draw on participants’ own analyses and explanations of why they would select certain tools, when they would use them, and what combinations of resources would work best for them and their issue.
Our research participants had confidence in who to trust and what to avoid. If self-help became overwhelming, they would start looking for a professional to help them.
How resources could be improved
The fourth set of insights covers some of the shortcomings of existing legal resources and the behaviour exhibited by people as they try to decipher and then apply new knowledge. These insights highlight issues of access, trust, accessibility, appropriateness and usefulness.
Unfortunately, for the missing majority, many of the legal resources they can access online today do not meet their expectations. Looking for practical knowledge to start the process of self-help, or at least to understand their options to make informed decisions, people are quickly overwhelmed by an avalanche of text and information. The missing majority becomes stuck when language is unclear, they don’t have the ‘evidence’ they need to continue their journey, or resources do not work as they should.
Despite huge advances in digital technology and inclusion, many online legal resources remain limited in their design, mirroring segmented procedures, bureaucratic paperwork, and folded information handouts. Some people with disabilities cannot access or use online legal resources at all because the resources have not been designed with their needs in mind. Resources often also contain overly technical and complex language.
How help-seekers define a legal problem
The fifth and final set of insights takes us back to the beginning of the self-help journey: the moment when a help-seeker determines they have a legal problem. These insights draw attention to the mental model and challenging circumstances of a diverse range of people who find themselves in need of legal information or assistance.
Overall, the stories from participants and examples from live searches and testing of resources highlight the differences and commonalities of searching for legal help and information online.
Access the report via: