A new combination

Legal need surveys, which form part of the PULS, are not a new idea – they have a long history and have become increasingly popular around the world in recent years.

Attempts to measure people’s legal capability are more recent. Some legal needs surveys have included questions on awareness of law or familiarity with legal services.  

The PULS looks to shift the dial, increasing the aspects of capability it covers, and using modern psychometric methods to capture them. Psychometrics is the field concerned with the objective measurement of skills, knowledge, abilities, attitudes and traits.  

The elements which make the PULS different include:

  • the range of legal capability covered
  • the integration of psychometric methods into scale development, giving us greater confidence in the results
  • that we will be able to see the intersection between capability and the experience of legal problems.  

As a contribution to global research in this area, we hope that the PULS leads to an increased interest in understanding legal capability and a new approach to exploring legal need.

Concepts underpinning the PULS

The key concepts underpinning the PULS are 'access to justice', 'legal need' and 'unmet legal need'

These concepts, and how they relate, help clarify the questions we’re trying to answer and set the parameters of the research.

Access to justice

Broadly, access to justice can be defined as the ability of people to get a just resolution to their everyday legal (or justiciable) problems and enforce their rights in compliance with human rights standards (as set out in the United Nations Development Programme, 2005).  

Sometimes - but by no means always - this involves legal support or processes, because justice in this context is about just resolution, not legal services. In fact, it’s well understood that courts and law play a very small part in everyday justice, and that it’s more common for people to resolve problems without legal advice or process.

Legal Need

Sometimes experience of justiciable problems is referred to as legal need, and problems where there was no legal advice as unmet legal need.  

The prevalence of problems and whether there was any legal advice are useful indicators, but don’t cover all circumstances, and are not enough to capture legal need or unmet legal need. For example, an everyday legal problem could be quickly resolved by a confident and capable person speaking to the other side, without any advice. In such a case, there was a justiciable problem, but never a legal need.

We think of the OECD's definitions:

  • legal need is when a shortage of legal capability means people can’t resolve their everyday legal problems, and need help to deal with them appropriately
  • unmet legal need arises when a problem is not dealt with appropriately because effective legal support is not available
  • Fundamentally, there is no access to justice where legal need is unmet

Read the latest PULS report

This first volume updates the broad picture of access to justice and legal need, explores how justiciable problems are experienced, what people do about them, and how they progress and conclude (if they conclude).
Everyday Problems and Legal Need