Business & Practice

Hundreds of Attorneys Join Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund

Jan. 30, 2018, 1:26 PM

In less than a month since it was announced, the Time’s Up legal defense fund has gathered more than 500 lawyers willing to provide free consultations to victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.

“There are lawyers coming forward from all ranges of legal practices, there are large firms, solo, small and mid-size firms,” said Sunu Chandy, legal director of the National Women’s Law Center, which is administering the fund. “We have national firms that can take cases across the country.”

Announced at the beginning of January, the Time’s Up fund will subsidize legal support for victims of workplace sexual harassment and retaliation. The network is made up of lawyers who are willing to do intake and take sexual harassment cases, either using money from the legal defense fund or on a pro bono basis.

The network of attorneys grew naturally out of a legal network for gender equity established by the NWLC in October. In November, the organization joined forces with the women of Hollywood leading the Time’s Up donation drive with the help of civil rights lawyers Robbie Kaplan and Tina Tchen.

Chandy, the legal director of NWLC, said that the concept arose last year.

“We wanted a pre-existing group in part because we wanted to get going as soon as we could,” said Kaplan, who is close friends with Tchen. Tchen was not immediately available for an interview. Kaplan’s role in the Time’s Up initiative is still being finalized. Either she will stay in a leadership role or she will join the roster of lawyers ready to take cases, she said.

The money in the corresponding legal defense fund is intended to help fill a gap in the legal services market by subsidizing the work many attorneys might want to take on, but can’t afford. As of Jan. 29, Time’s Up had raised over $19 million through a GoFundMe page to pay for workplace sexual harassment-related legal services. Donations have ranged from $5 to $10,000, according to Chandy.

There are “a lot of women out there in low paying jobs who basically have been left out because there wasn’t enough upside for lawyers to take their cases,” according to Kaplan.

Indeed, many victims of sexual harassment find that litigation can be prohibitively expensive when their case is complicated or has a low chance of payout.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, settlement advance companies have begun advertising cash advances to plaintiffs at high interest rates, a practice some advocates believe is predatory, The New York Times reported this week .

Also still in the works are the criteria by which the NWLC will distribute the Time’s Up money.

Not all lawyers in the legal defense network will receive money from the fund, according to Chandy.

The fund will likely help solo practitioners and small firms afford the cost of these cases, and lawyers from Big Law firms with a significant pro bono practice will be expected to make do without additional financial support.

“This fund is so more attorneys have incentive to take these cases if they otherwise could not have taken these cases,” she said.

Aside from Tchen and Kaplan, the NWLC declined to name any specific lawyers or Big Law firms involved with the network.

“Obviously, even though this is a large sum of money, it will not support all of the sexual harassment and related retaliation cases, so we have to determine our priority areas,” said Chandy.

When it comes to choosing sexual harassment cases, Chandy said the NWLC will likely center the needs of low-wage women workers, as well as women of color and immigrant women.

Chandy stressed that lawyers can join the network even while the fund selection criteria are being worked out.

“It’s really important that lawyers in large firms know that they can sign up to be an attorney with the Time’s Up legal defense fund or the legal network for gender equity,” said Chandy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft in New York at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

To contact the editor on this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com.

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