Ground-breaking research

The Public Understanding of Law Survey (PULS) is ground-breaking research to help us better understand legal capability, attitudes and experience of the law in the Victorian community. It looks at:

  • people's ability to navigate the complex array of rights and responsibilities we encounter each day
  • what people know about the justice system and its institutions
  • how people see the law playing a part in their lives
  • how people experience and respond to legal problems.

The PULS is a first of its kind in the world and represents a significant development in this kind of research and is Victoria Law Foundation's flagship research project.

It’s not just a survey about lawyers, courts and judges – it’s a large-scale state-wide survey of how people understand, experience and engage with law in Victoria and experience of everyday legal problems in the Victorian community.

The survey explores:

  • what people know about their law, justice system and its institutions  
  • how they see the law playing a part in their lives
  • how they experience legal problems

To make the results as strong and reliable as possible, we have spoken with Victorians face-to-face for around 40 minutes, using probability sampling. The high number of respondents means we can look at the data in many different ways.

Future directions

Understanding legal capability and how people experience and interact with law is a long-term aim of research at the VLF. The PULS is a major building block.

Exploring legal capability and how people experience and interact with law is a foundation stone of our research work. The VLF began this with our ‘Law… What is it Good For?’ report, and the PULS is the next major step, but it is not definitive.

With 6,000 respondents and a rigorous sample frame, the dataset from the PULS will allow us to answer more questions for years to come. We will also be making the PULS data available to others who would like to work with it. Repeating surveys after a period of time is always valuable to benchmark and monitor change, and we would look to replicate the PULS in a few years for that reason. This is particularly salient at a time of significant change in modes of service delivery, with more and more emphasis on self-help and online resources.  

There is a long list of allied projects which would expand the scope of public understanding of law using similar instruments. These include further work with groups including those:

  • missing from our sample frame
  • included in the PULS but in small numbers, such as specific minority groups
  • needing an adapted questionnaire to properly engage with their life and experience (e.g. children)
  • where good research practice would require leadership from organisations within communities (e.g. First Nations Australians).

Future work may also apply some of the tools developed in the PULS to look at other questions. These could include measuring capability:

  • in an advice setting to inform triage, level of service, or just to compare with the wider Victorian community
  • to quantify the impact of a program or intervention.

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