Seminar: Legal Need Surveys, Business Problems and the Limits of Comparative Survey Work

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Event Details

26 April 2018 at 11:00 am – 1:30 pm
BLT Meeting Room, S3.17, Level 3, Building S, Caulfield Campus
Business Law and Taxation


The Department of Business Law and Taxation invites you to a double seminar: ‘Legal Need Surveys, Business Problems and the Limits of Comparative Survey Work’ presented by Dr Nigel Balmer (UCL) and ‘Lay Understanding of Employment Law: Why are the Public so often Wrong about Rights?’ presented by Dr Catrina Denvir (Ulster University).

The presentations will be followed by lunch.

Registration is required – please email Lauren King (, and if relevant also mention any dietary requirements.


Nigel Balmer (University College London, UCL)

Over the past 25 years, there have been more than 50 large-scale (i.e. 1,000 respondents or more) stand-alone national legal needs surveys of individual citizens conducted in more than 30 separate jurisdictions. Legal needs modules have been incorporated into 5 government-run national surveys, including the English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Survey – the most detailed legal need survey ever developed. Dimensions of legal need are captured as part of the World Justice Project’s General Population Poll, which is regularly implemented in over 100 countries. In addition, seven dedicated large-scale national legal needs surveys of businesses have been conducted in recent years.

In this presentation, I explore some of the key themes emerging from legal need surveys worldwide, including the inequality of problem experience, the broader context of legal problems and common barriers to justice. I discuss the rationale for the conduct of legal need surveys and consider their unique contribution to empirical research and policy-making. Drawing specifically upon Australian data (from the Legal Australia Wide Survey) I explore the relationship between small business ownership and legal problem experience demonstrating the broader context in which these problems arise. Finally, I explore the limitations of comparative legal need research with reference to a series of innovative methodological experiments, and contemplate where it is that legal need surveys can go to from here.

Catrina Denvir (Ulster University)

Over many decades, processes of juridification have brought about huge growth in legal rights, responsibilities and protections. Although knowledge of the law is of clear importance to legal and sociological scholars, featuring heavily in interpretations of the rule of law and theories of citizenship, it occupies a less prominent role in the minds of ordinary citizens. Studies consistently demonstrate that the public appears to poorly understand the ‘law thick’ world in which they live for reasons that are both rational and irrational in nature. This lack of knowledge ultimately impacts upon the ability of citizens to ‘name, blame and claim’ when faced with a civil justice problem, with obvious consequences for problem resolution.

Drawing on examples from existing research, in this presentation I discuss the various methods by which we can measure public knowledge of the law, including the use of hypothetical scenarios, self-reported knowledge, and open-ended responses. I present findings from the 2010-2012 English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Survey to reveal the substantial knowledge-deficit that exists in public understanding of employment law and I highlight the characteristics associated with greater or lesser knowledge.  This forms the basis for a discussion as to the impact of lack of knowledge on the legitimacy and effective operation of the law. I conclude by considering the relevance and efficacy of public legal education as a method by which to increase knowledge and promote access to justice.