Could crowdfunding strengthen access to justice in an era of cuts?

Julia Salasky, founder of CrowdJustice—a crowdfunding platform that enables individuals, groups and communities to come together to fund legal action—explains how the CrowdJustice model operates and how it seeks to provide access to justice for previously financially-untenable cases.

What have been your biggest challenges since you started?

It’s always a challenge to start something up – you have the kernel of an idea, and from that you need to do everything from creating the technology to finding funding to start up, to building the team – all while actually executing on the idea.

All of those elements require an enormous amount of energy and a lot of faith in the idea. There will always be people who find ways to criticise innovation that challenges the status quo and entrenched power structures, but we’ve been really lucky in that we’ve come to the market at a time when people are hungry to be involved in their communities, to be socially aware and to make a difference – and CrowdJustice gives them a platform to do that in a concrete and tangible way.

How has the legal community reacted to this new method of funding?

There is always an adoption curve with any new technology. Law is an industry that is notoriously slow to innovate, but some of the UK’s leading firms have referred clients to CrowdJustice and some of the UK’s leading public law barristers have championed our work.

These lawyers have embraced CrowdJustice because it gives them the opportunity to take cases for less well-off clients, or for matters of public interest, which often wouldn’t otherwise be able to get off the ground. It can also help lawyers get paid a fair rate for their work – many cases on the platform have raised tens of thousands of pounds.

What has also become apparent as we’ve seen more claimants successfully use crowdfunding is that it can help clients feel less alone in their journey through the legal system.

What have been your biggest successes to date?

When the Supreme Court heard a historic case on joint enterprise earlier this year, the whole CrowdJustice team went – one of the interveners, the campaign group JENGbA, had funded its crucial intervention on CrowdJustice. We watched as the Supreme Court reversed 30 years of case law, and we watched JENGbA supporters audibly gasp with joy and disbelief as the judgment was read. It was a historic moment in law, and it felt like a privilege to be involved in even a small way.

We have also recently seen junior doctors challenge the imposition of contracts by Jeremy Hunt—over 3,900 people have donated to that case. Just to think that a few years ago that would have been impossible!

Have you encountered any issues with regulations or payment?

It’s precisely regulation that means most crowdfunding platforms are not suitable for litigation. We have created a platform that provides a safe and compliant environment for donors, claimants and for their lawyers.

Setting up a legal crowdfunding platform involves a great deal of consideration around funding issues. CrowdJustice is a donation-based platform, and we’ve taken a robust approach to compliance, regulatory and anti-money laundering issues. What that means in practice is that:

  • we ensure the claimant has instructed a lawyer
  • we do anti-money laundering checks on donors so that lawyers can accept funds under their client money rules
  • funds raised go directly to lawyers’ client accounts, and
  • we accommodate the nuances of funding litigation as best we can

We also keep abreast of the funding landscape to ensure that the approach we take provides a safe and compliant platform for everyone who wants to use it.

Now that you’ve been established for a while, do you see the model changing in any way?

At its heart, CrowdJustice is about using technology to help people access the law. As we grow, we see CrowdJustice naturally evolving into a source of information for anyone looking for the latest legal cases and decisions that have direct impact on their lives.

We hope that this evolution will remove additional barriers to consumers using the law—in other words, improving access to funding, but also helping to demystify the law and enabling people and communities to understand their legal rights.

Is the creation of CrowdJustice any reflection on the current levels of access to justice in the UK? Is there any message behind the organisation?

Access to justice has always been hard for anyone who is not an oligarch. And it’s been getting harder, with devastating legal aid cuts and changing regulation. The legal world is full of doom and gloom at the moment, but someone outside that world may not realise how difficult the courts are to access until they need to do so.

There is absolutely a message at the heart of the organisation, which is simply that individuals and communities are not powerless. Technology really enables people to come together, and when they do so around a legal issue, they can achieve real change – sometimes against much more powerful entities.

Julia Salasky is a non-practising solicitor who was an associate at Linklaters in London, before working as a lawyer for the United Nations in Vienna and the Hague. She has also worked at a legal aid clinic in London as well as for an environmental law NGO.

Interviewed by Anne Bruce.

The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

First published on Lexis®PSL.

Filed Under: Legal Services

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