Equifax, one of three major consumer credit reporting agencies, revealed in September that hackers had gained access to company data, compromising Social Security numbers for 143 million American consumers. Lawyers immediately took action, filing multiple class action lawsuits for violation of the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), most of which are currently still pending.
Legalist offered something different. As a litigation funding company that uses technology to transform plaintiff’s side litigation, they’re always thinking about the plaintiff and how to help them recover more, faster. In September, Legalist launched a two-week campaign to help consumers sue Equifax—in small claims court.
Their rationale was that small claims court was cheaper, faster, and more likely to result in a default judgment for the plaintiff. Receiving litigation funding allows consumers to control the course of their own litigation in small claims court. The demand was astounding: almost 2,000 people indicated interest in litigation funding during that time.
While most litigation funders target large cases with astronomical legal fees, that’s not actually where the gap in the market lies. For the vast majority of individuals and small businesses, their lawsuits are worth their life savings, but still not enough to satisfy the appetite of the average litigation funder. That’s why Legalist was focused, as a company, on meeting the needs of vulnerable, at-risk populations.
Litigation finance has strayed away from its roots of empowering David in David vs. Goliath scenarios. As the industry has grown, it’s begun to look more like Goliath than like David, but access to justice is fundamentally where the industry has the potential to change the court system in a permanent way.
Since the Equifax breach, Legalist has launched initiatives such as #MeToo Tales to encourage sexual harassment survivors to report their harassment and to be paired with attorneys. They’ve helped pair off dozens of plaintiffs with attorneys and funded many of the resulting cases. Many of the folks they’ve worked with through Equifax and #MeToo Tales had no idea legal recourse was available to them and would never have sought out their own lawyer. That’s the impact that litigation funding (done right) can have—to encourage and fund vulnerable people to seek their own justice.
If litigation funding is to become a mainstream part of litigation, it needs to reorient itself around access to justice. Attorneys around the country are beginning to counsel their plaintiffs on when to seek litigation funding. Let’s make sure to tell the people who need it the most.