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Annual Report 2010 - 2011

Profiling our clients

"Ninety percent of our 50 highest service users were under 21 years of age."

Research and surveys help ensure our decision-making stays informed and relevant to the needs of our clients.

Major achievements

Priority 1: Social Inclusion

Frequent users of legal aid services: a research study

This year we completed a study looking at the 50 most frequent users of Legal Aid NSW services from 2005 to 2010. The study aimed to develop a profile of our highest service users in order to build an evidence base for improving our casework to these clients.

We looked at our highest service users across the criminal, family and civil law practices, using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research methods.

We found that, of our 50 highest service users, 90% were children or young people under 21 years of age. The average age of first contact with Legal Aid NSW for our high service users was 13 years. We also found that more than three quarters of our high service users were male and Australian born. Our highest service user had 159 discrete dealings with Legal Aid NSW.

Not surprisingly, our high service users were concentrated almost entirely in our criminal law practice although many had contact with our care practice; almost 50% of our high service users have spent periods in out-of-home-care. We found that a very high percentage had been suspended or excluded from school, and 65% had attended four or more schools.

Three quarters of our high service users had been victims of neglect or experienced violence in their homes as children, half had a diagnosed mental illness, one third a cognitive impairment and two thirds had experienced homelessness.

The research report should be available on our website in the Reviews section from June 2012.

A key finding suggested by the study is that, too often, court is the critical and common intervention point. We share our high service users with many other agencies involved in the criminal justice and human services systems. The literature suggests that we could all be working together more effectively to resolve the complex needs of this small, but frequent, group of clients.

Social inclusion survey

More work was done on our social inclusion client survey to determine whether an applicant for legal aid is at risk of social exclusion, or is socially excluded. This will help us to develop policies that can more effectively target those people at risk of social exclusion.

Priority 2: Access to justice

Client satisfaction

This year Legal Aid NSW undertook a general client satisfaction survey to measure satisfaction with advice and minor assistance services, across the criminal, civil and family law practices. The survey was conducted between May and June 2011 by an independent company, Taverner Research. Legal Aid NSW recruited the clients from its offices across New South Wales. A total of 502 clients who consented to participate were interviewed by telephone.

Questions addressed issues such as waiting times, whether our service was useful and whether clients had personal safety concerns. Particular attention was given to people with special needs, with face-to-face interviews included if needed.

Preliminary results show a 89.5% satisfaction level for advice and minor assistance services across all practice areas. A summary of the survey results will be published on the Legal Aid NSW website in the Reviews section.

Priority 3: Integrated services

Testing effectiveness

In May 2011 we established a strategic research alliance with the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, engaging the Foundation’s research expertise to test the effectiveness of New South Wales services such as early intervention services in family and civil law and our outreach advice services. The research alliance will also facilitate research on areas of joint interest to Legal Aid NSW and the Law and Justice Foundation.

Planning ahead

Year ahead

Improve services and work practices based on the results of research such as the frequent users study and client satisfaction survey.

Embark on a series of What Works? projects with the Law and Justice Foundation to investigate the impact and value of our programs.

Key challenge

Making informed decisions so we are in a stronger position to provide disadvantaged clients with better targeted services to address legal issues. The knowledge we gain from research and surveys will help us to achieve this.