What is LawFunder and when did you launch?
“Lawfunder is Australia’s first online crowdfunding platform for litigation and legal causes. It offers two models: 1) Free fundraising for Australian community legal centres; and 2) Investor-return peer-to-peer litigation funding. It launched in June 2015.”
LawFunder helps to solve an important problem regarding access to justice for many Australians who earn too much to qualify for legal aid assistance, but who do not earn enough to afford expensive legal fees. How did you first identify this widespread problem regarding access to justice and what made you turn to crowdfunding as the solution?
“Problem 1 – Free fundraising for Australian community legal centres: The idea occurred to me at the QPILCH annual Queensland Legal Walk on 12 May 2015. I realised that funds for that event ($17,000.00) were being raised through a well-known platform, Everydayhero. Everydayhero charges an annual fee of over $400/yr + 6.5% commission per transaction + 2.5-3.5% transaction fees.
Considering the funds raised were for charitable purposes, charging commission didn’t sit right with me. Being a bit of a tech-nerd, I knew I could put something together which could serve the same purpose and not need to charge non-profit organisations a cent, therefore providing community legal centres with 100% of their donations.
Crowdfunding will never be the solution to the current problem regarding access to justice however it can exist to supplement and alleviate funding constraints.”
“Problem 2 – Investor-return peer-to-peer litigation funding: The problem with access to justice is that justice is often denied not only to Australia’s disadvantaged, but also those who do not qualify for legal aid yet cannot afford to take a matter to court due to the vast expense of litigation.
This is where our ‘David and Goliath’ tag-line comes in.
In order to gain access, a litigant may need to seek a loan from a financial institution which can have hefty interest rates and repayment terms.
There is strict lending criteria which means funding will only be provided if your case has a very high chance of success and the terms of the financing agreement will leave you with as little as 40% of your settlement. To most, being able to sue to recover 40% of what is owed to them compared to not being able to afford litigation at all is an attractive proposition. But to Lawfunder, it’s not good enough.
Investors are continually seeking new and lucrative investment opportunities and, through Lawfunder, your court case could potentially provide them with a means to invest with their social conscience and provide extremely attractive returns whilst leaving the litigant with the majority of their settlement.”
What impact are you hoping to make with this initiative?
“The goal of Lawfunder is to become a centralised point of charitable legal fundraising initiatives to somewhat make up for the shortfall in much needed legal aid funding. Whilst crowdfunding may not be appropriate for general fundraising, should community legal centres have an urgent or specific cause, our platform serves as a tried and true means of raising funds and changing people’s lives. Our very first campaign raised its target funds in six days to reunite a refugee woman with her family.
We are also introducing litigation as an attractive asset class to potential investors. The impact we are hoping to have is to provide the public with a new means of accessing justice on their own terms without being taken advantage of by commercial litigation lenders.”
Do you have plans for expansion? In particular, will you allow individuals to start their own campaigns or will campaigns continue to be launched by Community Legal Centres on behalf of individuals?
“There are big plans for expansion. The primary focus is still on assisting CLCs with funding goals however the platform has already expanded to allow individuals to run their own campaigns, subject to public interest based criteria. Allowing individuals to run their own campaigns is how Lawfunder plans to be self-sustainable in order to keep the service free for CLCs long-term.
In the medium-term horizon, we are further exploring the commercial peer-to-peer litigation lending model which is intended to provide litigation investors with a return on case settlements. This is still in development and we are presently inviting investors and potential sponsors to get in touch.”
You make launching a successful website seem very simple, particularly since you conceived LawFunder while still at Queensland College Of Law. How long did it take for LawFunder to grow from idea to reality?
“Lawfunder was conceptualised over the space of 24 hours. The reason this was possible is because crowdfunding is not a new idea – the model is well established and there are hundreds of websites that offer crowdfunding online. The only difference is that it had never been applied to the law or more specifically, to litigation.
Taking the concept and turning it into a functioning website was also very quick – approximately one week to get it up and another week to set up payment gateways to get it ready for its first real test (being a live campaign). So from concept to reality: two weeks.
I have always had a passion for web development throughout high school. So by teaching myself from a young age, I now possess a skill set which is uncommon for most lawyers or law students. It’s what has enabled the rapid development of the platform because I haven’t had to spend time (or money) briefing IT programmers or designers.
Working full-time at a law firm whilst also studying PLT meant that I didn’t get a great deal of sleep during Lawfunder’s development. But building things like this can be incredibly fun and losing time to it in the evenings was hard to notice.”
Many of our Gen Y readers have a keen interest in starting their own business or launching a project that is meaningful and creates positive social change but are unsure where to start. As a young social entrepreneur, what is one piece of advice you would give to others who are passionate about pursuing their dreams?
“I think the best thing you can do is to find someone else who either has a similar dream or firmly believes in yours and partner up. No person can do everything themselves so having someone else to bounce ideas off, motivate and be motivated by, will see you take action much more quickly than you would solo. Many hands certainly make light work, but also remember the other saying ‘two’s a party…’”
Do you think the legal industry has a responsibility to focus more on using their legal training to create a positive social impact?
“My understanding is that the legal industry already has an incredibly strong focus on creating a positive social impact with an unprecedented amount of pro bono hours every year. I also feel that many lawyers enter the industry to create social change – it’s one of the main things you read about in any solicitor’s journal or magazine. I think the problem is that whilst the legal industry wants to create a positive social impact, funding to do so is severely lacking which hinders any significant development in that sector.
Innovative ways need to be found to increase access to justice for the person in the street. I believe that technology will have a significant impact over time as certain areas of law are commoditised which will help drive legal fees down for process orientated tasks, leaving lawyers to focus their skillset on giving quality legal advice and assistance to those in need.”
What is your favourite law or life hack at the moment?
“A family member of mine has been working hard on a legal directory which promotes word of mouth reviews of law firms and free referrals to lawyers. Some have billed it as the TripAdvisor of the legal industry which is pretty cool.”
What is on LawFunder’s Christmas Wishlist?
“We have recently been shortlisted to participate in iLab’s 8th Germinate program which provides up to $20,000.00 and services over a 3 month period for tech entrepreneurs and business ideas. Once we attend the bootcamp later this month, hopefully our Christmas will come early in order to further develop and market our platform!”
BucketOrange Magazine / November 2015