Justice costs money.
As much as it hurts to say it, lawyers need to be compensated for the time they spend defending you. Much like education, legal fees have the potential to drive you deep into debt.
So how can you crowdfund legal fees? The answer is: By running a transparent and well planned campaign on platforms such as Crowdjustice, GroupFund Legal, FundRazr or GoFund Me. The first two platforms are specifically meant to raise funds for legal aid while the lat two are general donation platform.
While there are platforms available, running a campaign successfully is another matter entirely.
Keep reading to find out how you can successfully raise the funds you need.
Step #1 - Understand the Terrain
Before jumping into crowd funding as a means to fund your legal challenge, you need to educate yourself about what it means and how much money you'll need to raise.
The first thing to do is to understand what crowdfunding is.
What is Crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is pretty much self explanatory to be honest. This is a method of raising funds from a large crowd of backers for any cause. It could be to fund video game development, a new product or for a charity.
You can even crowdfund your education or your birthday!
At the heart of your campaign lies your campaign page. This is where you will describe your cause and give people a reason to back you. You'll need to create a pitch that describes your situation.
A video helps you communicate even more clearly and is a great way to form an emotional bond with your prospective backers.
Given the wide variety of causes that crowdfunding supports, it's no surprise that even legal aid is fair game. However, there are a few things to consider when it comes to the legal space.
How Much Do You Need?
Lawyers are expensive.
The good ones at least. There are many factors that go into determining how much you'll be asked to pay. Some of these factors are:
The complexity of your case
The lawyer's fee structure
The location of the case
Their experience level
If they're with a firm or sole practitioners
There are different ways in which your lawyer will charge you. The most common ways are:
Retainer - You pay a deposit upfront that the lawyer draws from on a monthly basis. You'll pay this every month until your case is resolved.
Hourly - The lawyer might charge you hourly fees with more experienced and highly reputed lawyers charging upwards of $500 per hour.
Flat fee - Less complex cases will usually result in a lawyer charging you a flat one time fee.
Contingency - This usually occurs when the case can be argued for significant damages. Think Erin Brockovich. The lawyer gets paid only when you get paid. They'll take a cut of what you're awarded by the jury.
You're still a while away from deciding whether crowdfunding is suitable for you. At this point in time, you want to get a ballpark estimate of how much you need if you haven't already done this.
You also want to consider the following options for legal aid:
Legal Services Corporation - This nonprofit was established by the government. They have a directory on their website that you can refer to and track down local representatives.
American Bar Association - The ABA website provides a list of nonprofit legal aid programs in your local area that you can get in touch with to aid your case.
You can also check with people in your network to see if they're aware of any local legal aid societies that can assist you with fees.
If none of these programs are of help to you, or if they don't completely offset the cost of legal aid, you should consider crowdfunding.
Questions To Ask Before Opting In
There are a few things you need to keep in mind before you opt for crowdfunding. At the top of the list are the ethical concerns.
A good lawyer will be extremely transparent about their fees and will not change it when they learn that you're planning on crowdfunding it.
If they volunteer to assist you with running the campaign, check with them with regards to how much of your case matter they plan to disclose. Typically, your case is confidential information.
However, for crowdfunding purposes, some details will have to be released. Check to see if you're comfortable with this and whether your lawyer understand your ethical concerns.
Ask them how they'll handle a scenario where you raise more money than is needed to fund the case. In fact, ask yourself this very same thing.
You will need to provide this information in a transparent manner to your backers on your campaign page.
Another point to be very clear about is that the lawyer cannot be swayed by the opinions of those donating the money. They're still working for you and not for the donors.
You want to document all of their answers in a written format and track all of their actions from here on out. If you find them to be in violation of any of the above points, you can use this to complain to the local Bar association.
A good lawyer would never risk a Bar complaint over these issues. Clarifying all of them beforehand will ensure that you weed out any people who are less than qualified to handle your case.
Step #2 - Choose Your Platform
You have four primary options when you choosing a platform to crowdfund your legal fees. Let's look at them one by one.
This is the most famous platform when it comes to legal fundraising. It witnesses high levels of targeted traffic and should be your first choice, except if your case has the ability to really tug at people's heartstrings.
Traffic is a huge part of the equation since people that visit the platform are looking to back legal cases. This means your chances of being funded are higher.
Crowdjustice highlights the following statistics about its campaigns as in the image below.
The firm is based in the United Kingdom but has expanded to America as well. One of its great features is that you can choose to publicize your campaign or keep it private within a preselected group of people.
This is especially helpful in cases where privacy is of the utmost concern. Crowdjustice charges three percent plus a transfer fee for all the funds you raise on its platform.
This is a platform that is aimed more towards lawyers than towards clients. GroupFund Legal also takes a more active role in promoting your case.
It sets up a variety of email reminders and promotional tasks. Of course, the efficacy of these tasks depends on your lawyer or law firm having a good level of contacts. It isn't really a website that attracts large amounts of public traffic.
This might make it less suited for a large number of cases. Typically, a law firm with a large donor base and a reputation of raising funds for ethical causes will find this more useful.
You can check with your law firm whether they're members of the platform or not. The cost is $29 per month and they offer the same features as Crowdjustice.
This is a more generic fundraising platform that happens to attract a whole bunch of legal fundraising campaigns. Fundrazr's traffic is thus geared towards nonprofit and legal fundraising causes and you can take advantage of this.
It doesn't offer the privacy options that the previous two platforms do. However, if your campaign has anything to do with a social justice cause, you'll likely raise a lot of money here.
Just make sure you and your lawyer are on the same page when it comes to the points I highlighted in the previous section about privacy and additional money being raised over your funding goal.
FundRazr charges a 2.9% processing fee plus fund transfer fees.
This is the biggest donation based crowdfunding platform in the world and in terms of traffic, it's rivaled only by Kickstarter.
GoFundMe primarily functions as a space for people to raise money for a variety of causes. Everything from crowdfunding hospital bills to funeral expenses is fair game here. The platform doesn't have too many legal fee fundraising campaigns but visitors are conditioned to back charitable causes.
The platform charges a standard 2.9% fee plus fund transfer fees. Like FundRazr, it doesn't offer any privacy related options since it's primary aim isn't to function as a legal aid platform.
However, the large traffic numbers and the audience's characteristics mean that GoFundMe should be close to the top of your list. The only exception is if your lawyer believes they can raise money on the other legally aimed platforms.
Step #3 - Pre Launch Prep
Once you've selected your platform, it's time to being networking and preparing to launch your campaign.
Typically, campaign creators begin their efforts around four months prior to the campaign launch date. However, this is hardly a practical timeline for you.
The first step for you to take at this stage is to figure out how long your campaign needs to be. Charitable causes such as yours will typically run for around a week.
There are some other considerations for you to take into account so do your homework when figuring out the length of your campaign.
Create a free blog on WordPress and create a profile on Twitter. Research all of the contributors to legal aid blogs and reach out to them on Twitter. Your aim shouldn't be to bombard them with messages about your cause.
Instead, mention that you're looking for all the help you can get and inquire whether they would be willing to mention you in their publications. Some of the websites and blogs you can reach out to include:
Young Legal Aid Lawyers
Legal Aid Handbook
The Justice Gap
Making Justice Real
This is just a starter list of course. Head over to Stitcher or other podcast libraries and research shows that spotlight legal cases. All of these shows list their contact information so getting in touch with them will not be tough.
Head over to YouTube and search for legal aid channels. some of the top channels in this space include:
The Legal Aid Society
Pro Bono Net
Illinois Legal Aid Online
KPA Lawyers Professional Corporation (Canada)
Again, this is just a preliminary list. Get in touch with all of these channel owners and let them know about your campaign. They'll usually have contacts in this area and can put you in touch with even more people.
Who knows, you might get some great advice and could even reduce your funding goal!
Even better, people who've been active in this field for a while will have media contacts. You can score these contacts and publicize your case and campaign even more.
While you might hear a lot of people mention social media and the importance of it, the fact is that it takes time to build a social media audience on your own. Time is something you don't have in abundance in this case.
The thing you want to do is leverage other people's audiences and this is why targeting blogs and podcasts, as opposed to starting anything of your own, is so important.
When determining your target channels, you want to zero in on the channels that appeal to a hardcore set of viewers. There's no point trying to get in touch with Fox News or The Huffington Post.
Your inquiry will be lost amongst the millions that pour in. Instead, target smaller publications that have a dedicated audience. You're far more likely to find success there.
If you're really stumped when it comes to finding channels, visit the nearest college or university. Go to the law school building and inquire about legal aid clinics that they run.
The people studying in school aren't lawyers but you can bet that they'll be up to speed with regards to content and channels that offer help in the Pro Bono area. You might even score some contacts with one of the bigger law firms and have your case picked up by them! The key is to cast a wide net.
You can even get in touch with lawyers or law firms and inquire about any Pro Bono work they're doing or if they could help in any way. Most of them won't respond to you but it doesn't hurt to send a message!
A day or so before your campaign launches, host an in person event in your area. This could be at a local business or even in your own home. You don't need to spend too much money on this.
Make it a potluck or some other such event. The point here is to gather all the people you know and to remind them that your campaign begins shortly.
Encourage them to donate as quickly as possible within the first 48 hours. If you can manage to raise 20% of your target within 48 hours, you stand a great chance of being fully funded.
This is because platform algorithms will boost your campaign when they see high levels of activity in it.
Your campaign will likely score a spot on their homepage and this will give you even more exposure to visitors to the platform who you don't know.
Your pre launch activities are crucial when it comes to the determining the success of your campaign. Make sure you devote at least two weeks to this phase. This will give you enough time to network and create enough buzz amongst people you know.
Don't be shy about raising awareness amongst your audience! Once all of these activities are done, it's time to hit the launch button and wait.
Step #4 - Campaign Time!
Once your campaign is live, you need to keep spreading the word to all the people you know and also to the people you've been networking with on social media.
Don't be shy about asking them to feature you or mention your cause. After all, your campaign is on and the clock is ticking!
Keep an eye on the progress bar and keep providing updates to your backers on your campaign page. Activity on your campaign page is good and it shows the platform that you care about your cause.
Campaigns that exhibit a good amount of activity in the form of updates usually receive a boost from the platforms. Besides you want to keep your backers updated on your progress as well.
Make sure your lawyer is in the loop and unless it happens to be a private fundraising on one of the legally aimed platforms, they won't have much to do at this point.
Ask them to leverage their network as well to see if they can drum up some contributions.
Step #5 - Post Campaign
There's not much for you to do once the campaign ends. You'll need to figure out how to use the money you've raised according to your pre launch plan.
If you haven't raised enough you could try to see if that amount will pay your fees. If it doesn't you should return it to your backers.
If the amount raised is enough for you to cover costs then you should thank your backers and provide them with updates as your case progresses. This is just the decent thing to do.
Make sure you thank them either way!
So there you have it! It takes work to raise funds for legal fees through crowdfunding. Make sure you explore all of the legal aid options before opting to go down this route.
Devote as much time as possible to your pre launch activities. This will go a long way towards ensuring you're successful.