Online legal advice and conflict support: A Dutch experience

Online legal advice and conflict support: A Dutch experience 16 March 2015

This report was written by Esmée A. Bickel, Marian A. J. van Dijk, and Dr. Ellen Giebels from Twente University

In this report we present the first results of a research project on online interventions in legal conflicts. First of all, this report provides an evaluation of the Dutch website Rechtwijzer.nl. Rechtwijzer.nl offers legal aid and assists parties in solving legal conflicts. We also looked at the conflicts and conflict processes of both conflict parties who did and those who did not use Rechtwijzer.

We took a longitudinal approach, which enabled us to examine the developments of legal conflicts as well as short and long-term effects of Rechtwijzer.nl. We looked at divorce conflicts and consumer conflicts. By answering digital questionnaires, 1553 respondents (467 respondents going through a divorce and 1086 respondents dealing with a consumer conflict) participated in the research.

Rechtwijzer visitors gave an overall positive evaluation of the website. They gave the website a very positive grade (7.51 for divorces and 7.29 for consumer conflicts) and were inclined to recommend the website to others. We also analysed who the visitors of Rechtwijzer were, and aimed to give an overview of their conflicts.

Rechtwijzer visitors were relatively in the beginning of their process, indicating that Rechtwijzer might be especially useful for orienting on, and gaining information about, the conflict process. The reported increase in the amount of communication between conflict parties in a divorce after the Rechtwijzer visit could possibly point to a role for Rechtwijzer as a starting point for engaging in negotiations towards a divorce agreement with the other party.

Our results also showed that Rechtwijzer visitors dealt with very complex conflicts, involving relatively high stakes, which were characterized by high levels of conflict stress and escalation.
Divorce conflicts for which advice was sought on Rechtwijzer.nl, were characterized by high levels of dependence asymmetry. Respondents, especially women, felt more dependent on their (ex-)partner than vice versa. Many respondents going through a divorce had additional concerns, such as financial concerns about serious debts or an impending decline in income.

Consumer conflicts for which advice was sought on Rechtwijzer.nl generally involved large amounts of money. Moreover, the majority of these respondents did not have legal expenses insurance. This underlines the importance of costless or relatively low-prized information resources and aid bodies, such as Rechtwijzer.

We found no clear evidence for an effect of Rechtwijzer on escalation or stress in the short term. Although we did not see a difference in self-efficacy scores before and after the use of Rechtwijzer, Rechtwijzer users did report that they felt more able to solve issues related to their divorce after using Rechtwijzer. These results suggest a short term effect of Rechtwijzer on self-efficacy.

To read the full report, click here.