Democratizing the Legal System One Crowdfunding Campaign at a Time

CrowdJustice was founded on the idea that the rich shouldn’t be the only ones with access to the legal system. The crowdfunding platform launched in the United States yesterday with a campaign to raise funds for two Yemeni brothers caught in the crosshairs of President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

The platform, which originally launched in the U.K. in May 2015, has already supported several successful cases across the pond, including a “people’s challenge” to Brexit in which the Supreme Court sided with the people in determining that the parliament must vote to approve the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.

CrowdJustice’s U.S. launch comes at a time when many feel that the constitution and rule of law is under attack from the highest office in the country—and the people seem to agree, judging by the $24 million they donated to the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) this past weekend. Americans opened their pockets in response to dozens of stories like that of Tareq and Ammar Aziz, who were stopped at a Virginia airport, placed in handcuffs, unknowingly coerced into signing a form relinquishing their permanent residency rights, and deported to Ethiopia.

The partner organization on the campaign for the Aziz brothers is the Virginia-based Legal Aid Justice Center, which provides legal representation for low-incomes individuals. According to the CrowdJustice page, their case will seek to restore the brothers’ immigration status and bring them back to the United States to be with their father, a U.S. citizen who lives in Flint, Michigan. They have already raised nearly $25,000 on CrowdJustice, well on their way to a $60,000 stretch goal.

Small, state or local organizations are not benefitting from donor windfalls to the same extent as national organizations like the ACLU, and the promise of the CrowdJustice platform is to democratize access to this support. With CrowdJustice, donors can choose cases (and the corresponding causes) based on their values or the changes they would most like to see in the world.

Kip Wainscott, a lawyer fresh off a stint at the White House and one of CrowdJustice’s four U.S. employees (including founder and CEO Julia Salasky), said that while the platform is nonpartisan, it is also launching at a moment that underscores the important role of legal cases in protecting rights and holding government accountable.

“Our central commitment is to improving access to justice for communities and individuals,” he said. “It shouldn’t only be the wealthy that can use the legal system to vindicate their rights.”

CrowdJustice is free to create a case page but they must be attached to a lawyer or legal organization, which CrowdJustice will verify in order to ensure that funds from backers are used as promise. Funding is given directly to the lawyers or organizations working on the case.

A platform with a similar concept called FundedJustice launched in 2014, although that platform markets itself to “middle-class America” without access to the resources available at the far ends of the spectrum, either “the best legal representation that money can buy” or to “legal aid clinics based on their low income.”

Although CrowdJustice does not have a specific requirements for crowdfunding a case, Wainscott said that it will be best suited to cases that tap into larger issues that will mobilize a community. In the U.K., for example, cases have included nonprofit challenges of government surveillance, a Colombian cleaner suing her employer for discrimination, and neighbors banding together against a developer.