Crowdfunding Helps Clients Pay Their Legal Fees

Crowdfunding Helps Clients Pay Their Legal FeesBy Tami Kamin Meyer

It’s no secret the fees and costs associated with the legal system, whether exorbitant or not, prevent some people from seeking their day in court.

When people earn too much to qualify for Legal Aid representation but not enough to hire quality legal representation, they often have nowhere to turn to ensure their legal rights are protected.

That’s where Chicago attorney Michael Helfand and Funded Justice come in.

According to Alan Savage, COO of Funded Justice, in 2001, Helfand found himself troubled by the notion that many people with valid cases were unable to pursue their legal rights because they could not afford the fees and costs associated with doing so. He ruminated on that chasm for 11 years, when, in 2014, he established Funded Justice.

What is Funded Justice?

Michael J. Helfand

Michael J. Helfand practices workers compensation law in Chicago.

That’s where Funded Justice stepped in. “Our mission is to help people have their day in court,” says Savage.

That being said, there are some cases the organization does not believe are appropriate for crowdfunding through Funded Justice. While not offering specifics, Savage did say he personally reviews each request. If the case falls in what Savage calls a “gray area,” he refers it to Helfand for his review. If Helfand is unsure whether his organization should assist the potential client create an account through Funded Justice, he reviews it with the group’s all-attorney Board of Directors.

How it works

Because the organization is relatively new, a staff of three including Savage and Helfand attend to the needs of Funded Justice clients. Generally it’s Savage who responds to requests seeking information about the organization or establish a crowdfunding account.

There is no established minimum or maximum amount of money people can seek to raise through their fundraising campaign, although all donations must be at least $1.

Two kinds of funds exist, although one is more favored than the other. They are the “All or Nothing” and the more popular “Flexible” campaign.

  • With an All or Nothing account, the party establishing the crowdfunding campaign establishes a minimum amount they would like to raise. If the fund reaches that minimum, Funded Justice transfers the donations to the client’s account. If the minimum is not met, the client never receives the money and the people who donated money are never charged.
  • In the flexible campaign, the client does not set a minimum goal for their account, so any money raised can be tapped into.

 

However, concedes Savage, Funded Justice has no way of actually ensuring monies donated actually go towards paying an account holder’s legal fees. “With crowdfunding, you can’t check a person’s background to see if they are telling the truth,” says Savage. In fact, Funded Justice has no actual way of determining if the person claiming to need money for legal fees even has a real case or not. The organization does require people seeking accounts to submit as much corroborating information as possible, but even if all of that data is true, there is no way for Funded Justice to ensure the client used monies raised to pay legal fees and costs.

Something else Funded Justice can’t fully determine is the financial situation of the person seeking to establish an account. “We don’t know if the person actually went to an attorney to know if they legitimately can’t afford to pay their legal fees,” he says.

Other crowdfunding options

With all the different crowdfunding organizations already competing with one another, such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter, why would a person who can’t pay their lawyer turn to a specialized crowdfunding service such as Funded Justice rather than tapping into one of the generic platforms?

According to Savage, while the end-result of both Funded Justice and other crowdfunding platforms is the same, to help people raise capital, Funded Justice offers unique services to those with legal needs.

For example, says Savage, when a person establishes an account on other crowdfunding sites, they are “all alone.” However, when an account is created on Funded Justice, the organization steps in to help the client advertise their request for donations.

“We create press releases to try to generate interest in their cause. We also do something we call ‘crowdspeaking,’” says Savage. Funded Justice has partnered with a technologically-savvy company that coordinates people to posts tweets at the same time, using the same hashtag, in the hopes of creating a groundswell of interest and buzz around the cause. The organization also reaches out to reporters and other marketing professionals in the hopes of piquing people’s interests in their client’s causes and need for funds.

Mason Estep, the former owner of Standoffer, a crowdfunding platform he helped create and then sold, says Funded Justice is an excellent idea. “I think it’s a great way to leverage against the high costs of effective legal action and litigation,” says Estep, whose latest venture is Sech’s, an alcoholic beverage aimed at the college crowd.

Estep sees nothing wrong with people crowdfunding for legal fees and costs. “I think it’s just as ethical as pro bono legal services currently in existence. Taxpayers pay for these services to be available, so why not offer the choice of which case to contribute to, as well?” he concludes.


Tami-Kamin-MeyerTami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer. She may be reached at TKMwrites@gmail.com or @girlwithapen.

Working Better, Faster and Cheaper with a Paperless Law Office

By Tami Kamin Meyer.

paperless office

Going paperless extends into tapping into useful web sites and apps designed to help a person organize their thoughts, notes, papers and research.

When New Orleans lawyer Ernest Svenson was handling a case in 2000 that required an abundance of discovery, a friend offered use of his scanner. That piece of office equipment, novel at the time, proved an incredible time saver for Svenson. He was thrilled with the simplicity with which he could locate any scanned piece of discovery.

“It was an epiphany,” he says.

What started as a way to organize one case overflowing with discovery led Svenson to rethink the way attorneys do business every day. Lawyers everywhere have gone paperless, transforming their practices with scanners, apps and digital documents.

Defining the paperless law office

Svenson, who authors the blog Paperlesschase, describes a paperless law office as one where an attorney and their team “actively seek to limit the use of paper by using technology and other methods.”

According to Svenson, defining the paper-free work environment is tricky. “If you define it the wrong way, it’s unrealistic,” he says. One thing for sure is that going paperless does not necessarily mean paper is completely outlawed. However, its use is greatly diminished.

The process of transforming the stereotypical law office, where printers consistently spit out pleadings, briefs, letters and more, into a paperless environment, can be daunting. There are numerous details to consider, such as buying the right scanner and document organizing software. You will also have to figure out how to get rid of those clunky and now useless file cabinets!

Ernie Svenson

Svenson himself relies on several apps such as Evernote to store people’s business cards and type notes.

“People have been using digital documents for years but they didn’t know how to organize them,” says Svenson.

Meanwhile, more and more courts are requiring filings to be electronically submitted. For example, the Federal courts, including Bankruptcy Courts, mandate electronic filing.

Useful tools for going paperless

Going paperless means more than merely scanning and saving written communications and discovery documents. It also goes beyond owning a laptop, scanner and printer. It extends into tapping into useful web sites and apps designed to help a person organize their thoughts, notes, papers and research.

Svenson himself relies on several apps, each designed to help him lessen his dependence on paper in different ways. For example, he uses the app Evernote to store people’s business cards and type notes. The app also features plug-ins that allow the user to store web pages and Google searches. While those offerings are free, the memory is limited, so Svenson pays an annual fee for additional storage.

“I use Evernote as my black hole,” he says. Whenever he comes across information he thinks he might want to revisit in the future, he saves it to Evernote. That way, he can refer back to it anytime.

Another useful app is Uberconference, a free conference call service Svenson really likes. “It rocks,” he says.

Pros of going paperless

According to Svenson, there are several benefits to transforming a law office into a paperless environment. They include:

  • Improved organization of documents
  • Enhanced research efficiency, and
  • Greater ability to work from anywhere, at any time and on practically any device.

 

Going paperless also saves money. There’s less ink to buy for printing opposing counsel’s unwieldy briefs. Less strain on the office copier usually translates into fewer repairs. It certainly reduces the need for toner and paper. The limited use of paper translates into fewer file folders and a diminished need for storage cabinets.

Going paperless also means an increased reliance on technology, such as cloud storage. There are also costs involved in buying virtual storage space for all the documents being scanned. Remote storage of your scanned documentation at an off-site location is also encouraged.

Svenson offers some advice if several people will need to access the digitized content. “If more than five users [need to access the documents], you need a formal document management system,” he says.

A paperless proponent speaks

For Al Thompson, a general practitioner in New Orleans, adapting Svenson’s paperless approach has changed not only his law practice, but his personal life, as well.

On a personal level, Thompson says that since going paperless, he is far more efficient and relaxed.

“I like to take home a lot of work over the weekend. As a solo practitioner, I don’t have to be at my office at any specific time. Then I realized having access to my documents at any time, from anywhere, sounded fantastic to me,” says Thompson, who has been practicing law since 1985.

But Thompson’s turning point occurred in January 2013. He was involved in a two-day civil trial that involved a mountain of discovery printed on a lot of paper. Having attended law school with Svenson and being an avid reader of his blog, Thompson thought the case presented the ideal opportunity to determine if going paperless would help him be more organized. He scanned and saved all the case’s pleadings and discovery into his iPad. On the first day of the trial, he walked into court sporting just his small briefcase while opposing counsel pushed in a large cart overflowing with files, papers and dog-eared books.

The first jury came back deadlocked. When that case came back for retrial in May 2013, Thompson just clicked his way through his iPad to refresh his memory. The jury for the retrial deliberated only 30 minutes before returning a verdict for Thompson’s client.

“It was then I realized paperless was the way to go,” says Thompson.

In addition to the decreased outlay of money on paper and storage supplies, Thompson even saves on postage. He emails opposing counsel instead of sending letters through the US mail, so no envelopes to lick, either.

Gong paperless has also helped Thompson be far more stay organized than he once was.

“I buy digital code books for far less than the hard copies cost and I don’t have to store those big books. I have a law library on my phone. Set up is easy and I refer to it often, and that saves me time,” he says.

On a personal level, Thompson says that since going paperless, he is far more efficient and relaxed. “It doesn’t take as much time to get the same amount of work done,” he says.

It’s not easy being green

There are challenges to going paperless, says BJ Johnson, vice president of Archive Systems, a document management company in Fairfield, New Jersey.

According to Johnson, also a member of the business’s Solutions Team, a law firm should consider the cost-effectiveness of going paperless before adapting that practice. If the firm owns a huge number of inactive files that are merely living in storage cabinets, would it make sense financially to have all those documents scanned and stored remotely? If so, what might it cost to find something in one of those electronic files, should the need arise?

“The cost to scan a large amount of paper might not save money versus paying to store them,” he says.


Tami Kamin MeyerTami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and freelance writer. She writes profiles, features, blog posts and press releases.

Her byline has appeared in a broad spectrum of publications including Better Homes and Gardens, Corporate Secretary, The Rotarian, Ohio Super Lawyers, GC Mid-Atlantic, Plaintiff Mag, Columbus Monthly, Cleveland Magazine, Ohio Magazine, Driving Vacations, Ohio Lawyers Weekly, Columbus CEO, Business First and Registered Rep. I am currently a columnist for two web sites owned by the Progressive Media Group: Progressive Law Practice and Successful Business News.

She wrote a study guide about filing personal bankruptcy, published by a division of Barnes and Noble, in 2007. I also edited a book about the American health care system published in 2008 by Rowman and Littlefield.

Gloria Allred, Civil Rights Lawyer

gloria allread, legal news, law news, verdict, settlement

“I am a constant warrior,” says Allred, whose legal career spans 40 years.

By Tami Kamin Meyer

A familiar scene played out in early March when noted civil lawyer Gloria Allred appeared next to a client on NBC’s The Today Show. That morning, she sat alongside Edwin Meises, the motorcyclist paralyzed last October when an SUV driver ran over him as a throng of motorcyclists surrounded the vehicle.

Allred said she and her client had not yet decided if they will file suit for Meises’s injuries that fateful day. Meanwhile, neither Meises nor the SUV driver have been charged in the mishap. That morning Allred explained, “He never did anything to the driver except basically had his back to the car when he was run over.”

“What we hope is that the prosecutor does not look at public opinion, that the prosecutor looks at the facts, looks at the law, (and) decides whether or not the driver of the SUV who ran over Edwin and paralyzed him for life…was in reasonable fear and had any kind of justification for running over Edwin,” said Allred.

The occasion marked one of Allred’s latest appearances on TV advocating the rights of unpopular victims, undocumented workers and women who suffered discrimination. She has devoted over 38 years as a self-described “fearless lawyer, feminist, activist, television and radio commentator, advocate and winner.”

“I am a constant warrior,” says Allred, who will celebrate her 73rd birthday on July 3

Victims of sexual attacks

She is well aware of naysayers who depict her as a celebrity-chasing, camera-loving opportunist. She denies running to the media for every client. To detractors, she says, “If I think a case involves a matter of public interest and importance and if it helps my client achieve their objective, I speak out.”

A recent high-profile example of Allred’s zealous pursuit of her client’s civil rights involves filing a Title 9 sex discrimination complaint on behalf of seven women at the University of Connecticut (UConn). The university “has failed to abide by the federal law which guarantees students the right to an education free from the violation of their human and civil rights,” she says.

According to Allred, despite being informed about the rapes and sexual attacks, administrators at the University did nothing. Furthermore, Allred charges that the university “failed to keep them (the victims) safe and betrayed them once they reported what happened to them to college administrators.”

In one instance, a former student at UConn alleged she was raped by a classmate in her on-campus dorm. At a hearing, she was told the perpetrator had been found guilty of several charges, including sexual misconduct. As punishment, he was to be expelled immediately. However, several weeks later, when the woman sat in a campus dining hall, she looked up to find the aggressor sitting next to her.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced a formal investigation into the allegations raised in that complaint. The OCR will seek to determine whether the University of Connecticut failed to respond promptly and effectively to the women’s contentions they had been subjected to rape and sexual violence.

Mayor of San Diego

Allred has also represented women who were sexually assaulted by former San Diego mayor Bob Filner. The victims played central roles in his resignation August 30. Partly due to Allred’s efforts to publicize the civil rights violations suffered by her clients, the city of San Diego recently honored one of the victims for speaking out by naming a day in her honor. “This may be the first city in this nation — maybe even the world — that has publicly commended a citizen for standing up against sexual harassment. So I commend the city of San Diego for that now- historic act,” Allred says.

The San Diego City Council approved a $250,000 payment on Feb. 10, 2014 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by another Allred client, Filner’s former communications director. It was the negotiations in that litigation that led Filner to step down after repeated refusals to do so.

In December, Filner pleaded guilty to one felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery. He was sentenced to three years probation, including three months of home confinement

Meanwhile, it’s unlikely rapper Kanye West is a fan of Gloria Allred. That’s because Allred represents Daniel Ramos, a photographer whom West punched last summer after he photographer asked West a question. The incident, caught on video at Los Angeles International Airport, led to West being charged with criminal battery. Disappointed with the misdemeanor charges, Allred filed a civil suit seeking damages. During an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show last October, West made it clear he think he has the right to attack anyone who antagonizes him. In response, Allred expresses dismay that West behaves as if “paparazzi are fair game.”

In October, West was sentenced to probation and ordered to stand no closer than ten yards of Ramos.

Allred also involves herself in employment discrimination cases. One of her current clients is Teri James, who was fired by San Diego Christian College because she became pregnant, making it obvious that she had engaged in pre-marital sex. A condition of employment at the San Diego school was signing a two-page “community covenant” forbidding sex before marriage. Not only did she lose her job and health insurance during her pregnancy, she alleges she was humiliated in front of her coworkers. In a bizarre twist, the school offered the same job to her infant son’s father (now her husband) despite the fact he had engaged in the same conduct she had.

legal news, law news, Gloria Allred, verdict, settlement

Gloria Allred is presented with the National Trial Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award by Michelle Swanner, NTL Executive Director.

A humble beginning

Women have played strong roles in Allred’s life. Born Gloria Rachel Bloom on July 3, 1941, into a humble beginning, Allred was raised in Philadelphia by her father, a door-to-door salesman with an eighth-grade education and a British mother who toiled to care for her family. In her book ‘‘Fight Back and Win: My Thirty-Year Fight Against Injustice–and How You Can Win Your Own Battles,” Allred says that the importance of a good education was her mother’s mantra.

Good fortune shined on young Gloria as she was selected to attend the all-academic, all-female Philadelphia High School for Girls. The faculty members instilled confidence and self-worth in its students, encouraging them to tell their future husbands that they, not the man, should be the one attending post-graduate school. In her book, Allred wrote how rebellious that statement was for the times.

Allred excelled in high school and became both a class officer and a cheerleader. She recalls an incident when a boy derided her position as a cheerleader for her school’s female basketball team. “He thought that it was only worthwhile to cheer for boys because girls were of no value or importance. In many ways, I still am a cheerleader for girls, and now for women, too,’” she wrote.

She attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she married, became pregnant and got divorced.  Now a single mother, she applied for a variety of jobs after college, including one at an advertising agency. When she was asked if she could type, she said “no” and was not hired. Allred retrospectively wrote that if she could have typed, she might still be in that job today rather than attending law school. How ironic that that same woman evolved into a self-described techie who owns three PCs. She also carries two laptops with her wherever she goes and is a devotee of both her Blackberry and iPhone.

“I couldn’t type and was the last one in our office to use computers. I resisted a long time but finally gave in and now I’m probably the single most connected person in our office,” she says

While pursuing a master’s degree at New York University, she began teaching African American students at a Philadelphia high school. Allred found that the kids had come from the same poor background as she had. She believed they deserved an education and opportunities that grew from it, just as she had enjoyed, and was determined to give it to them.

Later she moved to teach English in an inner city school in Los Angeles, becoming the first full-time female staff member of the Los Angeles Teachers Association.

A life-changing event

Allred survived a life-altering experience in 1966 that ultimately solidified her decision to become a lawyer and champion women’s rights. She was raped at gunpoint while on vacation in Acapulco. When she returned to the US, she discovered she was pregnant. In those days before Roe vs. Wade, abortion was a crime. She underwent an illegal abortion and almost hemorrhaged to death.

Her own rape fuels the passion with which Allred seeks to restore justice to those who have been victimized. “Being raped in college is the classic example of a woman’s right to an education being interfered with. My personal experience as a rape survivor has an impact on my passion for women’s rights and helping them vindicate their rights. Many women sacrificed a lot for women to have rights and I am one of the lawyers who helps women enforce and assert those rights,” she says.

After marrying her second husband in 1968 (they divorced in 1980), she enrolled in Southwestern University School of Law and later transferred to Loyola University School of Law in Los Angeles. She became friendly with two fellow students, Michael Maroko and Nathan Goldberg. The trio got along well and discussed opening a law firm together upon graduation. This past January marked the 38th anniversary of Allred, Maroko and Goldberg.

Today, that law firm employs ten attorneys. “I work nights, holidays and weekends. I love it. We’re very busy. We do more women’s rights cases than any other law firm in the United States,” says Allred.

Honored by the National Trial Lawyers

Her nearly 40-year legal career has garnered Allred several awards and accolades. She has rallied with abortion rights advocates, made countless television appearances on behalf of clients and promoted gay rights on the red carpet at the 2014 Oscars. She was also recently honored by the National Trial Lawyers with the Lifetime Achievement Award. But her exhausting schedule is about helping others, not promoting herself. “It’s not about me,” she says, adding that what brings her joy is when her work results in “positive results for clients. Power has to be met with power and we level the playing field.”

So where does this Type A personality go on vacation? “Anywhere I can access the Internet and telephone,” she responds emphatically. She spends her free time with her family. Her daughter, Lisa Bloom, is an attorney, author and legal correspondent on NBC’s Today Show and lives in New York City. Her grandson is 22 and her granddaughter, 24, is in her second year at Fordham Law School. Allred beams with pride when she reveals that next year, her family will include three generations of female attorneys.

Retirement is not in Allred’s plans. “Every day is an adventure. You never know” what excitement will unfold every day, she says.  Asked where she gets her zest for life, the 72-year-old Allred is unwavering. “I am most proud of my clients who have spoken truth to power. They have fought back. Stood up. Asserted their legal rights and we work to vindicate those rights. We represent the Davids and the Davidas who find the strength and courage to face those who have inflicted injustice on them. I love assisting them become empowered.”


Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney who practices in consumer bankruptcy area. She is also Of Counsel to the Consumer Attorneys of America. The author is also a freelance writer whose byline has appeared in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens, The Rotarian, Ohio Lawyer, Ohio Super Lawyer and Ohio Lawyers Weekly. She is also a columnist for the websites of Progressive Law Practice and Successful Business News.