Legal Needs Online

What problems do people go to the Internet to find help for? What are the scenarios they are dealing with? What kinds of resources are they seeking?

Legal Needs Queries & Keywords

We have been using keyword research tools & Internet trend analysis to generate lists of the most common legal help-related questions and keywords. These questions and keywords summarize common searches and topics people care about.

We used tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Also Asked, and SemRush to compile these lists. These tools analyze what people are searching for on the Internet, and then spot related terms and search volumes.

Our team summarized the most common keywords and questions at our Content: Keywords guide here.

If you want to see a more detailed Airtable database of common FAQs and keywords (including those linked to legal issue codes in LIST taxonomy format), please write to us at legaldesignlab [at] law.stanford.edu

Legal Needs on Free Legal Answers

Our team at Legal Design Lab has worked with the American Bar Association’s online free legal clinic, Free Legal Answers (FLA), to analyze the usage data. This data covers people’s questions between 2012-2019, from the many US states that have FLA platforms. Note that people must demonstrate they meet income eligibility requirements before they can ask a question on the FLA clinic platform.

Here is what we learned about legal needs & trends based on the usage of this income-restricted online legal clinic.

Types of legal problems people ask about

On the FLA platform, the questions are labeled by the user and reviewed by the state platform’s administrator. Based on these self-labeled categorizations, here is the breakdown of legal need types.

Most common query types on ABA Free Legal Answers

The most common legal needs that people sought help for on this platform were:

  1. Family Law (Divorce, Custody, Support, Restraining Orders, Guardianships, etc.)
  2. Courts and Lawyers (How to find a lawyer, how to file documents, how to appear at hearings, etc.)
  3. Housing (Landlord-tenant problems, Eviction, Foreclosure and mortgage payments, habitability, etc.)
  4. Consumer Financial Questions (Debt, Loans, Disputes over money, etc)
  5. Estates and Wills (Making plans, resolving issues after a death, guardianship and conservatorship)
  6. Other (may include many things)
  7. Car and Traffic (Car Payments, Bad Car Purchases, Car Accidents, Traffic Tickets, Traffic Court)
  8. Work and Employment (Harassment, Wage Theft, Unemployment, Benefits)
  9. Being a victim or witness to a crime
  10. Having personal data breached

Note that family law questions far outpaced all other types of questions. These results correspond generally with legal needs surveys (see below) that ask people in the general population about their legal needs.

Family-related legal needs

In family law, there are common sub-categories that people are seeking help with. Divorce and Custody were the most common needs area by a large majority. Other areas included:

  1. Wills and Inheritance
  2. Child Support, Paternity, and Paternal Rights
  3. Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Protection Orders

These are the words that people mentioned most often when talking about their family law problems. We categorized them as follows:

  • Legal Process and Services: Court, file, legal, attorney, lawyer, judge
  • Family members: Child, Children, Husband, Son Mother
  • Options and Outcomes: Support, Custody, Divorce, Time, Pay, Home

Housing-related legal needs

The third-most popular category, of housing, had sub-categories that were most common.

  • Landlord-tenant problems were the most common issue-type. This includes problems like:
    • Being behind on rent
    • Facing an eviction
    • Getting a warning notice
    • Return of a security deposit
    • Working out lease terms & possible violations
    • Getting an attorney to help

In the fourth most popular topic, of Consumer Finance questions, there were certain themes that emerged:

  • Dealing with debt and collection actions
  • Making insurance claims
  • Considering bankruptcy
  • Dealing with court orders and processes around money
  • Dealing with car payments and auto loans

Seasonal trends of legal problems

The data, because it is from many years, can also reveal some patterns in when people are seeking help for certain issue types.

What days of the week are people seeking help?

During a given week, most people are going to the online FLA platform during the middle of the week. It’s during the work week when people are seeking out legal help — not during the weekend.

People are using an online platform in the weekdays — not so much on the weekend.

Tuesday is the peak question time, while Saturday and Sunday seem to have the least number of questions. The questions taper off as the week goes on.

By days of the week, the questions numbers of questions are consistent across categories.

What months have legal problem “peaks”?

Help-seeking is highest in late summer and autumn.

August has the highest level of activity, followed by October, September, and November.

The lowest levels of activity are at the beginning of the year, during winter months. February is the least active month (also perhaps in part due to its shorter length). December, January, March, and April are also less active.

For the most common categories, questions seem to increase between spring to fall, and eventually taper in the winter.

Which legal problems peak during certain seasons?

Family issues dominate across all months, but there are certain trends of when some problem types tend to spike or wane.

Family questions peaked in the summertime, around July and August.

Work questions peaked around October and November. 

Income maintenance questions peaked between February and April.

Education questions peaked in February-March, and then again in August.

Sexual assault questions (with keywords of ‘sexual’, ‘assault’, and ‘rape’) peaked between July and December. February to March had the lowest number of questions.

Content Calendar for yearly legal need plans

Our team made a Content Calendar that lays out when certain legal problems spike during the year — and what kinds of content or activity could be useful.

This includes how a legal service or website can recruit extra volunteers, organize special awareness events, or purchase online ads to attract users to the platform.

Legal Needs on Reddit

Need trends on r/legal advice

Our team analyzed what people are asking about on the Legal Advice Subreddit, r/legaladvice. This forum allows people to describe a problem they’re having and ask for help in response.

Renter-related problems on Reddit

We analyzed the text of posts related to renting and landlord-tenant matters on r/legaladvice. Here were some of the most common phrases that people used:

  • security deposit,
  • deductions,
  • return security,
  • 21 days, 45 days,
  • withheld,
  • wear tear,
  • normal wear,
  • written notice,
  • itemized,
  • certified letter,
  • forwarding address,
  • notice given,
  • days prior,
  • carpet cleaning,
  • cleaning fee,
  • walkthrough,
  • tenant shell,
  • lessor, court,
  • small claims,
  • manager, management,
  • landlord and tenant

This textual analysis can help us identify themes of legal issues:

  • Return of security deposit
  • Issues with housing during and after a rental
  • Money lawsuits for landlord-tenant problems

Employment problems on Reddit

There were several employment categories in our Reddit keyword modeling research. One of these categories focused on employment contracts.

The most commonly used phrases for this category were:

  • contract,
  • signed, sign,
  • offer,
  • job offer,
  • clause,
  • termination,
  • severance,
  • non compete,
  • notice,
  • unemployment benefits,
  • offer letter,
  • week notice,
  • resignation,
  • written notice,
  • new contract,
  • enforceable,
  • bonus and commission

This text analysis can show that people are coming to Reddit to ask about possible employment contracts, being fired or quitting, and getting contract terms enforced.

Domestic Violence and assault problems on Reddit

We analyzed r/legaladvice questions that were clustered around family, violence, and abuse in the home. The most commonly used phrases for this category were:

  • police,
  • charges,
  • called,
  • help,
  • family,
  • friends,
  • sister, brother,
  • home,
  • tell, told,
  • neighbor,
  • mom, mother,
  • scared,
  • happened,
  • threatened,
  • sexual, sex, sexual,
  • violence,
  • kill,
  • assault,
  • physically,
  • rape,
  • screaming,
  • yelling,
  • pictures,
  • media,
  • door,
  • room,
  • cat, dogs, animal,
  • inside,
  • bathroom,
  • gun,
  • ill,
  • suicide,
  • stalking,
  • weed,
  • meds,
  • drunk,
  • eye, face.

We can see from these

Our team at Stanford works with Suffolk LIT Lab to collect and label people’s stories about legal problems from r/legaladvice. You can see this labeled data here at our Learned Hands Project Hub

You can use these spreadsheets to understand specific stories of legal problems, and then the LIST issue codes that reflect this topic.

Legal Needs & User Research on Justice Journeys

These reports explain what people’s legal needs are more generally — not just for those going online for legal help. These legal needs reports are based on large-scale surveys of the US public.

The 2022 Justice Gap survey and report: https://justicegap.lsc.gov/ See the most recent survey results from the Legal Services Corporation of low-income Americans, about what justice problems they have and what resources they are able to use to resolve them

2019 IAALS/HiiL U.S. Justice Needs survey results, for all (not just low-income) Americans, about what legal problems they experience and services they use https://iaals.du.edu/projects/us-justice-needs

The 2017 Justice Gap legal needs report:  https://www.lsc.gov/sites/default/files/images/TheJusticeGap-FullReport.pdf Legal Services Corporation, the Congressionally-funded group commissioned a 2017 research study into the most common civil legal needs of people in the US

State of the State Courts survey of people’s opinions about the court system and justice resolution, from the National Center of State Courts: https://www.ncsc.org/consulting-and-research/areas-of-expertise/leadership-and-governance/state-of-the-state-courts