Not many people think the world needs more lawsuits. But Julia Salasky, a lawyer in the U.K., is someone who does.
Salasky is the founder of a recently launched site called Crowdjustice, and don’t worry, she’s not an ambulence chaser. She believes it needs to be easier to launch lawsuits that serve the public interest.
“In the U.K., there’s a crisis in legal aid. The government money that used to be available to people who couldn’t afford to go to court, or people of limited means–that’s been totally eviscerated,” she says.
Crowdjustice aims to serve as a replacement for those who can no longer get help launching a lawsuit. It’s crowdfunding platform where anyone can donate to fund cases that have been vetted by the site.
Operating in the U.K. for now, Crowdjustice will be reserved for civil cases that involve a community interest (rather than a dispute between two people), such as a disability discrimination or human rights case or a fight to save nature from development. Litigants must already have a lawyer who has accepted the case in order to be listed on the platform, which is for now invitation-only.
Niche crowdfunding sites aren’t new, but they’ve had varying success. Salasky believes a site dedicated to legal campaigns is useful because litigation varies from country to country. Another reasons is that on Crowdjustice, the funds raised will go directly into a trust account held by the lawyer for the case–not the individual. “There’s more oversight of what’s happening,” she says. Campaigns will only be funded if the full goal is met, and Crowdjustice takes a 5% cut.
The first case on the site right now is that of Colombian petroleum engineer and whistleblower Gilberto Torres, who wants to hold the oil company BP responsible for his 2002 kidnapping. Though his lawyer will only get a fee if the case wins, the $7,800 crowdfunding campaign is to cover various other costs and court fees.
As for donors, they don’t get a financial reward out of the deal, but they do get the satisfaction of knowing they are supporting a cause they believe in. Any unused funds after a successful campaign or case are donated to the Access to Justice Foundation.
I ask Salasky who is going to want to give money to lawyers. She notes that many public interest lawyers work tireless days for little pay. “If there’s someone who won’t give to a case because they feel that it’s going to line a lawyer’s’ pockets instead of achieving justice, then they won’t give to a case,” she says. “But justice isn’t free.”