New models of work and funding are changing business all around the world. Crowdsourcing in particular has enabled new ways of working, and even the solving of previously intractable problems within a few months. Now, however, there is a new use of crowdsourcing—or rather, in this case, crowdfunding. The Good Law Project is using a crowdfunding model to help it to hold government to account, and challenge ‘Bad Money’ on behalf of those who cannot afford to do so. This has opened up a whole new world of crowdfunding for legal expenses, and has potential to change both law and policy-making.
A crowdfunding model
Crowdfunding is a form of peer-to-peer financing. It is usually done through one of several crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter. Projects create a donation page, then share it widely to request donations in return for rewards. The usual model is that you get a certain reward when you pledge a particular level of funding. It is, effectively, an investment model that shares the risk between large numbers of small investors. Projects that have used crowdfunding include Imogen Heap’s musical gloves, and the development of a number of concept cars.
In using crowdfunding for legal cases, however, there has to be a difference. There are no rewards available for funders apart from the knowledge that they are helping someone. The costs of legal cases can run into thousands, if not millions in a big case. The loser of the case is usually ordered to pay the other party’s costs. It is this threat of liability that prevents many people from bringing cases against large corporations, because they know that losing could bankrupt them. Some companies have pushed their own and their workers’ legal status to the limits, knowing that challenge is unlikely.
The Good Law Project brings cases that will set the right precedents, using crowdfunding as a way to raise funds to cover the potential liability for costs. Its founder, barrister Jo Maugham, has, for example, sued Uber for a VAT receipt as a way of testing whether the company is liable to pay VAT on the services that it provides. The project is currently raising funds for several cases. The most recent will allow it to cover the costs of applications to limit its costs, but it also has existing crowdfunders for its general work, with a target of £100,000 per year for the next two years, and a case on the EU referendum, among others.
Beyond the Good Law Project
However, crowdfunding for legal cases goes far beyond the Good Law Project. A site called CrowdJustice, which is specifically designed for raising funding for legal cases, is helping people across the country to raise money to cover their legal costs. As the UK’s Legal Aid budget is cut, taking legal action has become less affordable for ordinary people. Crowdfunding offers a way to fill the gap left behind, for cases large and small. CrowdJustice has hosted fundraisers for a few hundred pounds for an initial legal opinion, right up to huge Supreme Court appeals.
Crowdfunding has potential to be used beyond the UK. In countries without any state aid for legal costs, it could well become the model of choice for funding legal cases. It is likely to be particularly relevant for class actions, where the costs could be particularly high because of the probable involvement of experts on both sides.
As with any crowdfunding site, you start by building a campaign page to explain what you want to do, and why you need the funds. You then have to spread the word about your campaign, using your existing social network. The site provides hints and tips to help with this, just like any other crowdfunding site. However, the big difference with CrowdJustice is that once you have hit your initial fundraising target, the funds donated will be sent straight to your lawyer. This removes any question about integrity, making clear that those raising the funds cannot use them for any other purpose.
Changing models, changing patterns
There is, however, also another issue. Campaign groups have commented that crowdfunding is a very good way to raise awareness about a particular legal issue or case. This is probably particularly important in human rights cases, where the voices of those at the heart of the issue can sometimes almost be drowned out by legal arguments. A peer-to-peer model helps us to remember that we are all human.