Who is doing the PULS and who is it for?

The Public Understanding of Law Survey will benefit all Victorians.

Who is involved in conducting the PULS and who is consulted on its content? 

The PULS unites world leading experts on access to justice, legal need and capability with Australia’s best known and longest established market research company. 

The PULS project is led by the VLF research team, including Professor Nigel J Balmer and Dr Hugh M McDonald, international experts on legal need, legal capability and public understanding of law. They are joined by Professor Pascoe Pleasence and Professor Rebecca L Sandefur – world leading authorities on legal need and access to justice.

The PULS fieldwork will be conducted by Roy Morgan Research – Australia’s best known and longest established market research company. Roy Morgan Research have extensive experience of legal need research, having conducted fieldwork for the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales’ LAW Survey.

The PULS also benefits greatly from the input of our steering and advisory groups which include representation from government, legal assistance organisations, regulators and academia.

Who is the PULS for? 

The research will interest people working to improve access to justice, and will benefit all Victorians  

Ultimately, the PULS benefits the general public by making justice more accessible. We hope that findings from the survey will help policy makers, advisers and service providers make decisions on sound evidence of need. For example, findings might inform:

  • how or where advice or information is delivered 
  • the level of service different people might need 
  • how we prioritise services 
  • where education or self-help could help 
  • where regulation or reform is relevant, and  
  • where we need to do further research
How is the PULS useful to me?

The PULS is a survey about how people see the law, and how they experience and respond to everyday legal problems. They may not identify their problems as legal, or that legal services are relevant to them but this bottom-up perspective, which focuses on how people see the world, is key to the PULS being useful to a wide range of groups.

The rigour of the PULS survey method means everyone interested in how the law functions, for whom and how well, will have a sound foundation on which to make key decisions.

Legal assistance

Legal aid and Community Legal Centres are pillars of Victorian access to justice. They help some of the most vulnerable through complex and challenging periods. Limited resources demand that difficult decisions are made about who can access services, and what help they receive, as well as where and how services are delivered.

The PULS will provide insights that help with these decisions, ensuring that the public’s need and capability is understood when designing and delivering services. For example, it will offer insights into -

  • How often people have everyday legal problems (justiciable problems)
  • Which groups are more likely to have problems, different types of problem, or problem clusters
  • What else is going on in people’s lives, and what this means for service design
  • How people respond to problems, and how services might respond to those falling through the gaps
  • The extent to which legal need mirrors service provision (complementing Victoria Legal Aid’s work on a tool to help to plan services in a way which reflects legal need)
  • Which groups have higher or lower legal capability, how capability relates to problem experience, and what this might mean for service provision.
Courts and tribunals

Around the world, only a small percentage of justiciable problems are resolved using courts or tribunals. Nonetheless, the PULS data will reveal a wide range of critical information for courts and tribunals, for example -

  • Who uses courts and tribunals and who doesn’t
  • Which problems tend towards courts and tribunals and which don’t
  • What other factors are associated with use of courts and tribunals, for example legal capability
  • Which people see courts and tribunals as more or less accessible
  • How perceptions relate to use

Making decisions on the location and types of services needs a reliable evidence base. However, relying on information from public interactions with legal services and processes will only ever present a partial picture.

Effective evidence-based legal service design and delivery requires data that captures the whole picture, regardless of whether or not they engage with legal services. This is where the PULS comes in. It can show -

  • How common different kinds of justiciable problems are among different groups
  • How people respond to them - if at all, and when legal services and processes are involved
  • How people think of legal services and processes and what this might mean for design and delivery
  • How current service provision compares to actual problem experience – what’s the gap?

One thing the PULS won’t do is allow us to quantify the difference legal advice or representation makes. This requires a different approach, and is something we will look to explore as research develops at the VLF.

Private profession and their peak bodies

Most people with legal problems do not use legal services to resolve them. Nonetheless, the last major legal need survey conducted in Victoria – the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW’s LAW Survey in 2008 – - indicated that private lawyers were the single most common adviser when faced with justiciable problems.

Understanding what people think of lawyers, when they choose to use them and when they don’t, are core components of the PULS. In addition to the invaluable demographic and geographic information which can help practitioners understand their market, the survey will offer insights into -

  • The extent to which different groups view lawyers as inaccessible
  • Whether people see lawyers as trustworthy
  • Who uses lawyers when faced with justiciable problems
  • Why people did not seek legal advice
  • The types of problems that tend to involve legal advice and the types which do not
  • How perceptions of lawyers relates to their use.
Non-legal professionals

Not everyone sees justiciable problems through a legal lens. ‘Legal’ problems don’t always involve legal solutions, in fact the international evidence shows that typically they don’t. Frequently they are not seen as legal at all, and this has implications for how people respond.

Justiciable problems don’t just happen on their own. They commonly occur in combination with issues in health, finance and family, where a broad range of human services and organisations operate, like doctors, social services, financial advisers, local government and community organisations. The PULS will present a range of useful information for non-legal human services and community organisations, highlighting opportunities for co-location, integration and outreach. This includes -

  • How justiciable and other life problems interact
  • Which problems tend to be thought of as legal and which do not
  • How often people present their justiciable problems to other non-legal services
  • Which groups tend to favour non-legal services and for which types of problem
  • The extent to which thinking of problems as legal relates to action
Law reform

Sometimes laws need updating. An important consideration when thinking about priorities for law reform is how the public currently experiences and understands their law. Here too PULS can help. The PULS will reveal what the Victorian public think the law currently is across a range of scenarios in six key areas of law – consumer, employment, family, housing, money/debt and neighbours. This allows you to -

  • Identify areas where public understanding is in line with the law, and where it diverges
  • Explore whether particular groups are more likely to misunderstand the law
  • Explore how understanding of the law relates to problem solving behaviour and use of legal services
  • See how people view the law and how this relates to their understanding and action
  • Explore the extent to which people see everyday justiciable problems as legal.

The PULS is being conducted in Victoria, but its methods, findings and tools will be widely relevant. The PULS will form part of a global effort to understand how people understand and interact with law, and understand how we might design services which give the public a voice and genuinely respond to their needs.

We are keen to share our findings, methods, data and tools so the work is as useful as possible in Victoria or further afield. For example -

  • PULS measures aspects of legal capability which have only been theorised about until now. All measurement tools we develop will be publicly available
  • In integrating significant questions on capability, the PULS sets out a new approach to legal need survey work. The approach, and the rationale behind it, will be set out in detail, and we would be delighted if others used questions, tools or methods like ours
  • PULS data will be made publicly available, and we look forward to others using it and collaborating with us where appropriate.
Victorian public

Six thousand Victorians will be respondents to the PULS and their answers will give the public a powerful voice in policy and decision making. Speaking to a representative sample across the state means all the relevant parts of the justice system can respond more effectively to legal need from with a solid base of evidence and certainty.