Lawyers are expensive. And, as we all know, everyone loves a good lawsuit. Further, if history is any guide, tech-based startups are a no-fail way to make truckloads of money. Finally, if the Millennial generation has taught us anything, it has proven that you can, and should, use Kickstarter to do everything.

Which brings us to the latest legal startup, CrowdJustice, a crowdfunding platform allowing ordinary citizens to fund public-interest litigation. CrowdJustice describes itself as a startup that “gives you the tools to raise funds, mobilise your community and publicise your issue1” by hiring lawyers to file a lawsuit. Now instead of donating your hard-earned money to charities to save endangered animals or at-risk children, you can give your money to lawyers.

This service is either a good idea or one of the worst ideas ever conceived. Certainly there are a number of problems that could probably only be solved by a judge declaring a law unconstitutional or a jury punishing a group of powerful evildoers. But opening up the floodgates to the whim of the populace seems, well, problematic. Besides, groups like the World Wildlife Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, Greenpeace, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and many other public interest groups have a good record of assembling a war-chest for paying a team of lawyers when the need arises.

The first case that CrowdJustice has put up for funding is Torres v. BP, a human rights abuse case against the oil giant which has already been in the UK press. It sounds like a terrible affair. Perhaps this test case will pave the way for more lawsuits, but only time will tell. Tell us what you think — should we start crowdfunding lawsuits?

Featured image: “Conceptual views of high-cost legal fees” from Shutterstock.

  1. Yes, the spelling of “mobilize” and “publicize” is with an “s” because the company is British, and no, they did not use an Oxford comma. 


  1. Paul Spitz says:

    I am about as tired of everything crowdfunding as I am of everything to do with the Kardashians, and that includes Caitlyn, too. I wish the whole family would just go away, but they’d probably have to do a reality series called “Kardashians Go Away.” Instead of crowdfunding, everyone should just send me all their money.

  2. Alex says:

    Oh man. Do the crowdfunders get a cut of the payout? Or is it just a feel good way to support a cause?

    I guess I’m more worried about rich defendants being able to spend down a public interest lawsuit than I am about too many frivolous public interest lawsuits. So go for it! If it’s terrible in practice, we can fix it when the Chamber of Commerce tries to kill it in the first legislative session after one of these lawsuits works.

    Also, I’d be curious if the EFF or ACLU agree with your assessment of their success in public interest lawsuits. My guess is that there are a lot of meritorious claims they pass on for lack of manpower.

    • Sam Harden says:

      I’m sure there are meritorious claims that the EFF, SPLC, ACLU, etc. pass on because they either don’t have the manpower. The issue boils down to what we want the “barrier to entry” to be for filing a lawsuit.

      Here’s an example: Remember the pizza parlor that made headlines by saying they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding, shut down allegedly over the social media backlash, and then got a bunch of money from internet donations? What if, instead of the donations just going directly to the pizza place they started a Crowdjustice account to hire lawyers to sue the people who made those online comments for defamation?

      My point is this – the biggest barrier to entry for people wanting to file a lawsuit is money to pay the lawyers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it keeps people and lawyers from filing dumb lawsuits most of the time. In some suits the lawyers want to be paid up-front or by the hour, so the potential client has to make the decision of whether or not the potential result is worth the risk. In other suits the lawyers get paid on a contingency fee, so the lawyers have to make that evaluation. Many states in the US already have laws that try to make the playing field more level in different types of suits – such as laws that shift the attorney’s fees to the other party, or laws that enable a fee claim if the lawsuit is successful.

      This is a really long response to your comment, but I think we need to take a long hard look at whether that barrier to entry is working, and if not, what we can do to fix it, rather than automatically going to crowdfunding as a panacea.

      • Alex says:

        I hear you on the cost-benefit analysis for the whether barriers too entry are too high or too low. I can argue it both ways. But your comment prompted a couple more thoughts:

        -People who give $25 to help a lawsuit out are much less emotionally invested in a lawsuit. Clients with emotional skin in the game are important for a lot of reasons.

        -This issue is one reason why I dislike bar associations as a regulatory agency AND interest group. If their job is to protect the lawyer’s interest, then by all means, find more ways to pay lawyers. If their job is to protect the public, then maybe they should pump the brakes on this. In any case, I hate the idea of taking a “long hard look” at this because it sounds like a bar committee.

        -Most importantly, I’d argue that what happens AFTER a lawsuit is filed is a more troublesome barrier to entry. A lot of claims are pretty simple. Lawyers are good at turning the pretty simple claims into long, expensive, complicated and draining exercises (let’s depose him just in case–so what if it adds another 2 months to the calendar? We should file 7 weird torts, instead of just a breach of contract; Let’s argue over 37 jury instructions, instead of the one that captures the issue). I’m not sure how you trim streamline the discovery and trial process to get more claims through. But that’s where I would like to see barriers reduced.

        So I see your long answer and raise you my pet cause. :)

  3. Sam Glover says:

    On the one hand, sure. Anything that increases access to justice is good. On the other hand, Michele Bachmann. The last thing extremists with a following need is more funding so they can bog down the judicial system with “inventive” lawsuits.

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