Seeking legal help online: understanding the ‘missing majority’

  • 2021

  • Design Research

Designed By:

  • Jo Szczepanska and Emma Blomkamp
  • With Raquel Dos Santos
  • Jacqui Siebel, Zoe Chan and
  • Kate Fazio

Commissioned By:

Justice Connect

Funded by Victoria Law Foundation 2019 Knowledge Grant

Designed In:


Poorly designed and inaccessible information means millions of Australians cannot resolve civil legal issues independently. Our research report ‘Seeking Legal Help Online’ highlights the attitudes and behaviours of people seeking information and help online for common civil law problems, facilitating better design and deployment of legal self-help resources.

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  • Online self-help resources are especially important for people who can't afford a lawyer or access free public or community legal assistance; an ever-growing cohort we call the 'missing majority'. Contrary to previous research and assumptions, we found that poor resource design, not demographic features, is stopping people from accessing and deploying legal information. We set out to identify how the legal sector could improve their resources to be easy to find, understand and implement. Conducting this research during COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, the design was successfully modified to involve a diverse range of participants in online activities and remote interviews.

  • This investigation uniquely combined remote participation, generative activities, interviews and prototype testing to uncover digital skills and self-help expectations. Our report demonstrates value to professionals with various sources of evidence, design principles and as a guide to further research, with appendices sharing our research design and materials used. User insights and practical recommendations are linked to participant's quotes so readers never lose sight of the people at the heart of this project. Hosting a participant feedback session ensured that needs and experiences are described in participants' own words. Accessible visuals, tables and screenshots help to bring the research to life.

  • To maximize reach and impact, a webpage and webinar accompanied the report on involving communities in legal design. Justice Connect is applying research findings and techniques to evaluate, improve and scale legal help, such as the redesign of innovative self-help tool 'Dear Landlord'. Legal stakeholders told us: - They are likely to involve communities in their design process following the report and webinar - The findings help them better understand how people seek legal help online - The report empowers them to produce more innovative, helpful and intuitive legal resources for help-seekers - They would recommend the report to colleagues or a partner organisation.

  • The research project was designed in early 2020, then revised in response to the COVID-19 pandemic so that all in person research activities were adapted to be carried out remotely in July and August 2020 with 15 participants from Victoria, Australia. 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. Beyond outlining the context, rationale, methodology, and findings of the research, the comprehensive human-centred report also outlines the research hypotheses, strategies, tactics and assumptions of the research design, as well as outcomes in the form of insights, recommendations and design principles. The report also offers further details and examples of the research and recruitment design, including images of the actual materials used, pre-interview activity guide and interview questions, and example responses from participants representing each key legal user archetype: the Cautious-Traditionalist and the confident Do-It-Yourself 'super searcher'. The design principles offer research-informed best practice guidelines for the development and deployment of online resources. The recommendations focus on how to involve people with lived experience and relevant professionals in funding, researching, designing, testing, implementing, promoting, and evaluating online self-help resources.