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How legal issues generate negative consequences

Legal disputes can unleash a domino effect of financial, health, and socioeconomic impacts.

Dominoes bad

Each year, some 5.4 million Canadian residents struggle to get the professional help they need to deal with serious legal problems. The tragedy is that for many people, failure to resolve them in a timely and effective manner can lead to a host of other problems, including health, financial and socioeconomic issues. 

While there is no single pattern of impact, Statistics Canada's Canadian Legal Problems Survey published in 2022 gives some insight into how legal issues can generate negative consequences in other areas of people's lives.

Certainly, negative financial impacts stemming from legal problems are common, affecting some 2.6 million people annually for a range of reasons. The highest levels of financial impacts are reported in cases of child custody disputes (75% of cases), issues related to the breakdown of the family (69%), and litigating a civil action (73%). Vandalism, property damage, and noise disputes are associated with the lowest level of financial impacts (42%).

While finding ways to reduce the financial burden resulting from legal problems is a significant issue for Canadians, finding ways to resolve problems using less stressful means is also essential. Alarmingly, 4.2 million people suffer health consequences because of their legal difficulties per year, notably mental health issues. 

Extreme stress is the most common form of health impact, especially in cases of child custody (98% of cases) and family breakdown (96%). It is also prevalent among people who receive incorrect medical treatment (95%). Even problems arising from large purchases or services lead to health issues in 73% of cases, which is the lowest of any category of problem.

Socioeconomic impacts, such as job loss or homelessness, are less common but still significant for 1.6 million people in Canada. People suffering from injuries and serious health issues (61% of cases), workers struggling with their employers or jobs (57%), and anyone trying to get disability assistance (50%) are most likely to experience socioeconomic impacts.

What also emerges from the Statistics Canada Survey is that 80% of people who consult a lawyer found it at least somewhat helpful in resolving their issues, highlighting the critical role legal representation plays in helping people assert their rights. Tellingly, 72% of people found that contacting the other party involved in a dispute is unhelpful, underscoring the benefit of communicating through a lawyer. People who hired lawyers are also 18% more likely to say they achieved a fair result.

The importance of legal representation is especially necessary for people who have experienced harassment, as they frequently want a representative to deal with the other party. They also want services that better respond to their needs and more detailed and practical information.

Immigration is another area to consider. Though it is a smaller source of problems in society as a whole, anyone experiencing immigration challenges needs access to additional resources. They want more detailed and practical information, someone to help them prepare documents, a lawyer to represent them before the courts, and services that respond better to their needs.

Most people who have to deal with an act of vandalism, property damage, and noise are less likely to see their legal problems cascade into other areas of life. But they also tend to wish for services that better fit their needs.

Despite the challenges of accessing legal representation, the benefits of consulting a lawyer suggest that efforts to increase access to legal services are essential for promoting justice and equality in society. 

The survey teaches us that we need to consider the many different ways people are impacted in their lives, so that we can foster a legal sector that is more responsive in helping Canadians effectively address their legal problems, as well as any financial, health, and socioeconomic challenges that may follow. To do that, legal organizations and law firms will have to learn how to work with other outfits—technology companies, legal clinics, and charities, among others.


Statistics Canada's Canadian Legal Problems Survey asked people to attribute their serious legal problems to the following 19 categories:

  • Vandalism, property damage, noise (11%)
  • Large purchase or service (8%)
  • Harassment (8%)
  • Discrimination (8%)
  • Poor or incorrect medical treatment (8%)
  • Debt or money owed to you (8%)
  • Employer or job (7%)
  • Injury or serious health issue (5%)
  • Victim of/witness to a crime (5%)
  • House, mortgage or rent owed to you (5%)
  • A will (5%)
  • Breakdown of family (4%)
  • Civil court or legal action (4%)
  • Getting government assistance (3%)
  • Getting disability assistance (3%)
  • Being stopped/accused/arrested (3%)
  • Immigration to Canada (2%)
  • Child custody (2%)
  • Other (2%)