November/December 2020

Ethics

Crowdfunding Ethically

Lucian T. Pera

Back in pre-digital times, when a client needed money to pay her lawyer, or to pay rent and other expenses, she would often turn to relatives and friends.

The client’s minister might take up a collection for rent. Neighborhood stores might set up pickle jars next to the cash register to gather money for an operation. Clients with a public profile might even have “legal defense funds” to receive donations to pay their lawyer.

Today, crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe fill that role. There’s at least one crowdfunding site specifically for legal matters—CrowdJustice.org. Money can also be raised for legal fees and clients’ expenses on Facebook or other social media, or using Venmo, PayPal or other payment tools. (Astute readers may now also think of litigation funding as a source of funds for some clients with legal claims. Litigation funding, however, raises quite different concerns, beyond the scope of today’s topic.)

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