After getting what it calls a “high number” of responses to its initial offer of a $100,000 “bounty” to fund claims against Harvey Weinstein, the Peter Thiel-backed startup Legalist has now launched #MeToo Tales. The confidential telephone hotline and online forum offers legal support for victims of sexual harassment.
The move has a business angle. Companies like Legalist often seek to take advantage of headline-making cases (the data breach at Equifax is another recent example) to peddle their services. What’s more, the creation of Legalist and other litigation finance outfits, which fund their operations with shares of winning plaintiffs’ verdicts, has unnerved some journalists in the wake of the Gawker case. While the companies say they level the playing field for those without the financial resources to pursue legal claims, critics contend that Thiel and others with deep pockets have an agenda to sponsor a systematic push-back against legitimate media outlets.
Legalist cofounder and CEO Eva Shang says her motive is simply to provide a venue. “Sexual harassment is endemic not just to the entertainment industry, but to every industry, whether you’re a software engineer or a European model or a receptionist,” she said. “If women don’t have the resources to file a lawsuit, men in power will never feel the consequences of their actions.”
Victims coming forward through the hotline can choose to be referred to an attorney and to receive a confidential assessment of their legal options through one of the boutique law firms affiliated with Legalist. Claimants deemed “eligible” will receive up to $100,000 in funding for their legal fees. The company recoups–usually a one-third contingency, it says–only upon a successful outcome of the case.