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    April 12, 2021

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    Crowdfunding: A Way to Help Those Who Can’t Afford an Attorney

    people in money symbol

    In “A Primer: Crowdfunding for Legal Fees” (Wisconsin Lawyer, March 2021), State Bar ethics counsel Aviva Kaiser wrote about the phenomenon of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically through the internet. Kaiser noted that “donation crowdfunding,” which is used to pay for life events and causes, is the second largest type of crowdfunding. In fact, funds raised through crowdfunding grew 33.7 percent in 2020.

    Kaiser asked whether a lawyer legally and ethically can engage in crowdfunding as a way to finance legal services for those who might not otherwise afford these services. The answer? Although the ethics rules do not prohibit crowdfunding, lawyers must proceed with caution. She explained the ethical and practical considerations lawyers must keep in mind if thinking about using crowdfunding to finance a client’s legal representation.

    A reader posted a reaction:

    Reader: Thank you for this excellent primer about crowdfunding and attorneys. Crowdfunding provides the opportunity to raise funds for individuals who are in need of help in affording an attorney and provides law firms the ability to represent clients they might not have been able to assist in the past, because of financial constraints.

    The thought occurred to me that one avenue that attorneys could consider is forming an exempt organization – a charity. It could be a private foundation or 501 nonprofit, for instance, for the purpose of organizing and handling crowdfunding and the donations. The charity raises and administers the funds, at the direction of the exempt organization’s board of directors.

    The exempt organization could provide the buffer between the law firm and the fundraising activity but still provide a way for the law firm to be able to represent clients in need of financial assistance to afford the representation.

    I started a nonprofit, Health, Education & Welfare, a couple of years ago. Here are some links to information on charities and nonprofits that I found useful:

    Jennifer Lee Edmondson
    Appleton

    Earth Day: 50 Years, and More Work to Do

    earth day picture

    As we celebrate another Earth Day this April, it’s appropriate to remember the part a famous Wisconsin lawyer and political leader played in establishing the original Earth Day. Gaylord Nelson wore many hats – lawyer, state senator, governor, U.S. senator. But well before he was a lawyer or politician (and well after), he wore another hat – environmentalist. And, as an environmental activist at heart, he championed what became the first Earth Day.

    That first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) seems so long ago. For me, it feels like the old days (when I was a senior at UW-Madison, getting ready to head to the East Coast for law school). But there’s a general rule for those of us with 50-year-ago memories: Don’t talk about the old days. Except for gray hair and wrinkles, doing so will date you more quickly than anything, and it will shut down discussion (unless you’re talking to yourself or grumbling to people in your own demographic). But as with all rules, there are exceptions. And one of them is to remember things that are still important and to recall history that is foundational for today. Some things need to be remembered, because they still mean as much now as they did way back when. Some things should be recalled and repeated.

    Although Sen. Nelson deserved credit for establishing Earth Day and the environmental movement built on its foundation, he was reticent about taking that credit, pointing instead to millions and millions of people who took to the streets as the catalyst. He said that he’d tried for many years to stir his fellow senators and the Washington political establishment to the environmental cause, but he’d hit a dead end. So he took his message to the public, drawing on the example and momentum of the anti-war movement. He lit the fire, but the fire burned from coast to coast. Something remarkable. Something to remember.

    Earth Day could be framed as part of the “old days,” a matter of history now getting a bit dated. After all, it’s been more than five decades since the first Earth Day was willed into being by Gaylord Nelson. Over the years, Sen. Nelson spoke at many commemorations of Earth Day, and he always talked about the work still needing to be done, the call to action that each generation must feel. Earth Day is not about the old days, he would tell you; it’s about right now. And it’s about the future. The future of the world we live in. Our future together.

    Bill Thedinga
    Retired. Weymouth, Mass.

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