With a team of psychologists of the University of Twente’s department of Psychology of Conflict, Risk and Safety, we are looking at individual experiences in legal conflicts, to better understand legal aid user’s interactions with innovative legal aid. Over the past three years, we have studied the needs of legal aid users in asymmetric conflicts, the effects of Rechtwijzer 1.0 in divorce conflicts, and examined effects of framing of online interventions in asymmetric conflicts.
We are now in the final stages of the project, having finished data collection. Our first study has been published in Negotiation and Conflict Management Research.9 We found that in asymmetric conflicts, needs for help from legal aid providers were higher than in symmetric conflicts. We found this for two types of asymmetry: asymmetry of dependence and asymmetry of conflict experience. To better understand the needs of legal aid users, we found it was important to understand how individuals viewed themselves relative to the other party, rather than only how they experienced the conflict themselves. Asymmetry of dependence was related to both needs for conflict-related help, as well as emotional help. Conflict experience predicted the need for emotional help, but only for respondents with weak social networks. We recommend that legal aid professionals are aware of the asymmetries that clients experience. This is especially important for vulnerable clients who might require emotional help from legal aid professionals to be better able to deal with their conflicts.
We have also completed data collection on the longitudinal study of divorce conflicts. Around 50% of those going through divorce completed all three measurement points in the survey, resulting in a valuable dataset on the development of divorce conflicts. We are currently analysing the process of psychological distress throughout the process as well as the effect of Rechtwijzer 1.0.
Finally, we ran an experiment, testing the effect of online interventions in online conflicts. We simulated conflicts in an online market place and then offered one of three different types of help. We simulated both power symmetry and power asymmetry between the conflict parties. We then either offered advice, or focused on giving emotional support as a comparison condition. The advice was framed as legal advice or as peer support. We are now comparing which types of help were most beneficial in terms of conflict behaviour as well as to respondents’ experiences of control or empowerment.
We have also explored the possibility to develop this experimental framework further, in cooperation with scientists from the department of human media interaction at our university. Using digital agents and simulation, it would be possible to build a strong experimental environment in which new legal aid interventions could be tested in a controlled and realistic way.