Measuring legal capability

Developing legal capability measures and using them to form policy insights is central to our research.

Despite the importance of understanding legal capability, the development of relevant measures is recent.

Measuring different aspects of legal capability is not simple, and approaches will vary. Some things can be asked about directly - for example, specific skills associated with digital capability or functional literacy. Others can’t be observed directly (for example legal confidence or perceived accessibility of lawyers). This challenge can be addressed by constructing scales to tap into latent traits (in this case, aspects of legal capability) and luckily there is a whole field of study to help with this – psychometrics.

Psychometrics is concerned with the theory and method of measurement, and in particular, measuring things you can’t directly observe. As a result, it is crucial in helping to capture many domains of legal capability.

Tools for measuring legal capability

These guides cover what aspect of legal capability is being measured, which questions to ask, how to score and interpret responses, some background technical details and brief findings to date.

Further guides will be added as we develop, test, refine and validate new scales.

Cover image of the Perceived Inaccessibility of Lawyers Scale Guide

Perceived Inaccessibility of Lawyers (PIL) Scale

A simple to administer 10-item scale designed to measure the extent to which people think of lawyers as inaccessible.

This scale can be used to measure perceived inaccessibility for specific cohorts, quantify differences between groups and assess the impact of interventions designed to improve perceptions.

For use in a range of research, evaluation and practical settings.

The Perceived Inaccessibility of Lawyers Scale guide

Cover of the Perceived Inaccessibility of Courts Scale guide

Perceived Inaccessibility of Courts (PIC) Scale

A simple to administer 10-item scale designed to measure extent to which people think of courts as inaccessible.

This scale can be used to measure perceived inaccessibility for specific cohorts, quantify differences between groups and assess the impact of interventions designed to improve perceptions.

For use in a range of research, evaluation and practical settings.

The Perceived Inaccessibility of Courts Scale guide

Other legal capability resources

Below are links to a range of recent resources produced by VLF researchers and colleagues which explore legal capability.

They include reports setting out technical details of scale development, contextualisation and use of measures, and broader theorising and practical discussion of legal capability.

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Law… What is it Good For? How People see the Law, Lawyers and Courts in Australia

VLF report setting out findings from a major Australia-wide survey investigating foundational aspects of legal capability.

Explores the extent to which people saw the law as relevant to everyday legal problems, how important they felt legal advice was, and accessible they perceived both courts and lawyers to be.

Read the report

Justice and the Capability to Function in Society

Pascoe Pleasence and Nigel Balmer discuss the place of legal capability in the global tradition of legal needs surveys.

They set out the importance of understanding legal capability in informing “bottom-up” access to justice policy.

Read the report

Assessing Access to Justice: How Much “Legal” Do People Need and How Can We Know?

Hugh McDonald discusses how the shift to user-centric approaches to access to justice and legal needs requires a commensurate shift in the empirical methods and measures used to assess access to justice.

Read the report

Reshaping Legal Assistance Services: Building on the Evidence Base

Pascoe Pleasence, Christine Coumarelos, Suzie Forell, and Hugh McDonald review evidence demonstrating how legal problem-solving is patterned by people’s circumstances and explore how the concept of legal capability helps explain research findings. They also discuss how legal assistance can be better matched to the legal needs and capability of diverse users.

Development of a General Legal Confidence Scale: A First Implementation of the Rasch Measurement Model in Empirical Legal Studies

Technical paper by Pascoe Pleasence and Nigel Balmer describing the development of the General Legal Confidence (GLC) Scale. Includes detailed guidance on the use of Rasch analysis to develop legal capability scales capturing latent constructs.

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Legal Capability and Inaction for Legal Problems: Knowledge, Stress and Cost

Hugh McDonald and Julie People use Australian national legal needs survey data to examine how knowledge, stress and cost factors whether people take action in response to legal problems. The findings show how deficiencies in legal capability can manifest a ‘paralysing’ effect resulting in inaction.

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Legal Need Surveys and Access to Justice

Report by Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel Balmer and Peter Chapman providing a framework for the conceptualisation, implementation and analysis of legal needs surveys, including discussion of legal capability.

Read the report

Wrong about Rights: Public Knowledge of Key Areas of Consumer, Housing and Employment Law in England and Wales

Article by Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel Balmer and Catrina Denvir examining public knowledge of rights - a key dimension of capability - in key areas relating to consumer, housing and employment law.

Read the article

Financial Capability Research in Australia

Roslyn Russell, Jozica Kutin and Tracey Marriner provide a snapshot of Australian research landscape on financial capability – a closely related field to legal capability.

Read the article

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