The Public Understanding of Law Survey (PULS) Volume 2: Understanding and Capability

Explore the knowledge, skills and attributes that are required to effectively understand and use the law.

Publication date

February 7, 2024


Professor Nigel J. Balmer
Director of Research
Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner
Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner
Pascoe Pleasence
Professor of Empirical Legal Studies
University College London
University College London
Hugh M. McDonald
Acting Research Director
Victoria Law Foundation
Victoria Law Foundation
Rebecca L. Sandefur
School Director & Professor, The Sanford School
Arizona State University
Arizona State University

The findings in this volume build on those reported in Volume 1. This world-first report on legal capability provides a starting point to better understand what is needed for people to achieve fair outcomes for issues in our lives which might have a legal solution, what are known as justiciable problems.

In this volume, we introduce the concept of legal capability and report on levels of -

  • understanding of rights and responsibilities
  • confidence in being able to get fair resolution of justiciable problems
  • practical legal literacy relating to the ability to obtain, understand and navigate information and services needed to deal with everyday justiciable problems
  • perceptions of the relevance of law and how people see it in their everyday lives
  • perceptions of the accessibility of lawyers
  • trust in lawyers
  • digital capability for legal type tasks.

The PULS is the most significant effort to quantify legal capability to date and provides unprecedented insight into levels and patterns in Victoria, and importantly the relationships between the various aspects of legal capability. The relationships and dependencies will be further explored in Volume 3 of the PULS.

The data show variable levels of legal capability, unequal distribution of elements of it, and clear links to disadvantage. The findings put inequality of capability alongside inequality of legal need and problem experience as set out in Volume 1, adding another layer of inequality in access to justice.

This report will help build a better understanding of legal capability in the community, and where policy and practice can be tailored to meet the strengths and deficits in the community. The findings, together with Volumes 1 and 3 of the PULS will help reshape and optimise limited resources services, and ultimately democratise justice.

Key findings

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Implications and way forward

Learn more about PULS

Visit the PULS website to get the latest reports, resources and to learn more about what we are achieving with the PULS.

Understand better justice

Data and empirical evidence to help understand access to justice and build a better justice system.