A survey jointly commissioned by and undertaken on behalf of the Law Society and the Legal Aid Agency revealed that of the legal needs of individuals in England and Wales, 64% of adults experienced a legal issue in the last four years. Of those, 55% received professional help, whereas an estimated 30% had unmet legal need for a contentious legal issue, where they either did not receive any help or wanted more help to resolve the issue. Of those who received help, 85% were satisfied with the service they received from their professional adviser. Most significantly, people who received services from solicitors were ranked the most satisfied at 90%.
So, research shows that one of the biggest barriers people face in enforcing and defending their rights is actually recognising that their problem is in fact a legal problem. As Richard Miller rightly points out, many people turn to friends and family, community leaders, doctors, local MP’s, and other familiar sources for help with their problems, without ever thinking of seeking legal advice. His view, which I absolutely support, is that public legal education can help to ensure that more people recognise when their problem might be one that a lawyer can help them with and what it is that a lawyer can do for them. He believes that public legal education will deliver significant benefits to society with more people resolving their legal issues.
Some arms of the media have sought to place significant (and in my view unjustified) criticism on publicly funded lawyers. One newspaper in particular used to report annual stories regarding the “fat cat” legal aid lawyers. The reality is that these high earners may be a small proportion of QCs in very complex cases, when the ordinary publicly funded legal aid lawyer earns a modest salary in comparison to their peers.