Legal information acquisition by the public : an exploratory study
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] This exploratory study applied models of human information behavior and health information acquisition to the acquisition of legal information by the public. A mixed methods approach, consisting of two sequential phases, was utilized. First, an online survey consisting of 45 multiple-choice questions was administered to a Qualtrics panel of 385 individuals without formal legal training who were at least 18 years of age. In the second phase, eleven individuals who met the same screening criteria were interviewed in order to provide additional elaboration upon and clarification of the survey data. In phase 1, frequency of legal information searching and incidental discovery of legal information (information encountering, or IE) was assessed for relationships with personal, affective, contextual, and environmental factors. Findings indicate that individuals who search and encounter legal information more frequently share certain demographic and affective characteristics with their counterparts in the acquisition of health information. Age, income, and previous experience with the legal system were associated with greater legal search frequency. Age, race, and previous experience with the legal system were associated with greater frequency of legal IE. Self-efficacy and vigilance were both associated with frequency of search and IE, though perception of the legal system was not. Subjects searched and encountered more frequently because of curiosity than other situational factors. The role of risk in search and encounter frequency could not be determined. Both exposure to multiple information sources and to multiple mass media sources were associated with greater frequency of legal search and IE. In phase 2, subjects were asked about their searches and IE experiences with legal information, and the role of legal information in their everyday lives, especially as compared to health information acquisition. Findings indicate that members of the public define legal information quite narrowly as tied to lawyers and courts, rather than rights and duties (even provided with a more inclusive definition), and often fail to relate routine encounters with the law to their larger understanding of the legal system. Survey findings were corroborated in terms of source choices, the roles of previous experience, self-efficacy, and avoidance-vigilance. The increased availability of legal information sources through the internet has made it easier for people to find codes and regulations, but has not made it easier to find the information necessary to assess more complex legal issues. Other emergent themes identified in phase 2 included the detrimental effect of attorney advertising and the perception of legal information as disruptive, in contrast to the embeddedness of health information in everyday life.