One of the key government strategies to improve access to justice is the provision of online legal information services. A national survey of legal need in Australia in 2012 found that 19% of Victorians with a legal problem tried to resolve it themselves using a website or self-help guide. Despite evidence of widespread public use, there has been little evaluation of what the public does with the information, what outcomes are achieved from its use or the extent to which online legal information provides access to justice. The quality and usefulness of online legal information is important because it has the potential to provide access to justice for people who cannot afford legal advice for all their legal needs and who are also ineligible for Legal Aid or other public legal assistance services. Past Australian research found that a lot of public legal information was not suitable for a community audience and was of limited use to legal self-helpers. Since then providers of online legal information services have worked to develop and improve the quality of the legal information on their websites. So how useful is online legal information to the public today?
Victoria Law Foundation together with Fitzroy Legal Service, Victoria Legal Aid and the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) are participating in a Monash PhD study into the uses and usefulness of online legal information for the Victorian public. The research aims to suggest a framework to better align legal information resources with user needs.
The findings of the research will be public and will be communicated to major providers of online legal information in Victoria. The legal sector will benefit from learning why the public use legal information and whether it is helping them with their legal needs. This information is important in the allocation of resources to these services.
As part of the research, users of online legal information are invited to complete an online questionnaire about the reasons they use online legal information and whether it is clear and useful for their needs. Here is a link to the survey.