After offering a $100,000 bounty to women with valid claims against Harvey Weinstein in mid-October, the litigation finance company Legalist has launched a telephone and online hotline for accusers to report claims and learn their eligibility for angel funding in sexual-harassment lawsuits.
The hotline, called #MeToo Tales, was launched Wednesday. #MeToo Tales promises a 24/7 phone operator to take claims from women in any industry (or what the company calls "industry agnostic"), and a confidential process that maintains an accuser's privacy. Should Legalist determine the case to be actionable, Legalist will pair accusers with an attorney for a free consultation; any accuser who wants to pursue litigation can seek legal funding through Legalist. As a litigation finance company, Legalist is paid a percentage of damages received from successful lawsuits. Legalist usually receives between 25 and 30 percent of damages received, according to New Yorker reporter Joshua Hunt.
Eva Shang, a co-founder and chief executive officer of Legalist, says the company initially offered a bounty for Weinstein accusers because "As a female founder in Silicon Valley—Silicon Valley had its own summer of scandals a few months ago—I felt particularly strongly about this issue, especially after I read the news stories about all the horrific things that have been going on."
Shang says the #MeToo Tales initiative was conceived after the company received 12 inquiries from accusers who have not gone public about funding litigation against Weinstein following Legalist's announcement last month that it would be supporting claims against the former movie mogul. Since #MeToo Tales launched Wednesday morning, Shang says that she has received a "few" inquiries.
Legalist was last in the headlines during the Equifax data breach, when the company offered to pay filing fees for customers seeking to bring lawsuits against Equifax in small claims courts. When asked if Legalist often looks to the headlines for cases that may bring in new customers, Shang called these two cases "pretty one-off." Shang adds that she saw in the Weinstein case "an opportunity to make a difference."
She maintains that Legalist looks simply to empower the little guy in expensive lawsuits. "So many people, when they've been through a dramatic experience like this, they just don't know what legal options are available to them," Shang says. "Everybody should know that they have access to a legal recourse."
Legalist was launched in 2016 with a $100,000 grant from Peter Thiel, after Shang became a Thiel Fellow as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Legalist's ties to Thiel have been the subject of criticism from several journalists, who see the company as a means of producing new damages lawsuits like the one Thiel funded against the now-defunct website Gawker. Shang says that, after the initial funding, Thiel was not involved in the operation in any way.