New platform allows litigants to raise money for legal costs through crowdfunding

By John Myers | Feb 22, 2017

NEW YORK – A legal battle over voting rights pending before the Seventh Circuit Appeals Court in Chicago has turned to a new crowdfunding-based model to pay for its upcoming court battles.

A legal battle over voting rights has turned to a new crowdfunding-based model to pay for its upcoming court battles.

On Jan. 30, We the People Project launched a crowdfunding campaign on the CrowdJustice platform to raise money to fund a legal fight to bring presidential voting rights to citizens of U.S. territories. The campaign's goal is to raise $10,000 by March 9.

The case is pending before the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

CrowdJustice is a crowdfunding platform built specifically for legal cases. It gives litigants the tools to build a community around their case and raise the financial and community support necessary to help get their case through the court system.

The platform was launched in 2015 in the United Kingdom and played a role in helping Brexit supporters win the right to vote on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union.

CrowdJustice began accepting cases from the U.S. on Jan. 30.

For a campaign to be accepted, the litigant must have lawyers ready to take on the case and willing to confirm that willingness with CrowdJustice, said Alexis Blane, global head of legal and partnership services for CrowdJustice.

“To make sure the case is handled properly any money raised through the platform goes straight to the lawyer and not the individuals who launched it,” said Blane. “It's a little different for charities who get the money directly because we assume that most donors are interested in supporting the charity in the first place.”

The biggest challenge for CrowdJustice is that many lawyers are unfamiliar with the concept of using crowdfunding to pay legal fees.

“For a lot of lawyers, CrowdJustice is a new idea and it sounds like there could be something scary about it,” said Blane. “But because the campaign is donation-based, there's very little risk. The individuals who give money to the campaign are not investors. They do not have any say in how the case proceeds.”

Also, helping to allay people's fears is a policy that requires that any unspent funding not spent on legal costs be donated to charitable organizations that provide legal services to other individuals who cannot afford it, Blane said.

In addition, the organization does provide some screening. While it might not block a campaign to provide legal costs for controversial political issues, it may decline to accept a case that could be seen as damaging the local community.

“We do screen the campaigns but we are not looking at the issues involved; we are looking at the content,” said Blane.

Norman Walzer, senior research scholar with the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University, researches new ways crowdfunding has been used to support communities.

“Crowdfunding is becoming a popular way for individuals to directly provide support for causes they believe in,” Walzer said. “By creating a crowdfunding platform, organizations can attract investors and immediately start moving forward. However, funders have to make sure they have access to as much information as possible.”

Walzer said he believes that crowdfunding will continue to grow as an alternative way to provide funding for community-based projects that might not be able to generate revenue on their own.

“It allows community-focused individuals to make relatively small donations and ensure that causes they support are successful,” he said.

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Northern Illinois University U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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