A study published by the Legal Services Board (LSB) in Britain has urged lawyers to be cautious about acting in crowd-funded legal actions aimed at changing government or corporate policy.
It warns that such actions could become “the inversion of SLAPPs” (strategic lawsuits against public participation) – and potentially just as damaging to the rule of law.
The study on ethical risks, reported by the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales, was carried out by Professor Richard Moorhead, Professor Steven Vaughan and Kenta Tsuda of Exeter and London universities.
As an example of ‘inversion of SLAPPs’, the report cites The People’s Lawyers' case against the British Government over COVID-related policies, which the High Court eventually found to be “totally without merit”.
The development of crowd-funded litigation “heightens the risk … of suits that, in funders’ eyes, offer apparent public-interest benefits, but are simultaneously meritless as a legal matter”, the authors state.
They add that the mere lack of an improper motive in bringing a meritless claim “would not render it unproblematic”, as such claims may waste judicial time or drive unwarranted settlements.
“Even where the motivations of clients and third-party funders are altruistic, duties to the rule of law necessitate that lawyers exercise independent judgement on them,” the report concludes.
According to the Gazette, LSB chief executive Matthew Hill hinted at a more activist approach by regulators as he launched the report.
He said that the research “gives us a greater understanding of the importance of the rule of law in underpinning rules and guidance for the profession, and builds on our evidence base for how the profession can target negative behaviours”