In last week’s Advisen webinar on 2012 D&O claims trends, one of the audience questions related to the growth and relevance of litigation funding in the U.S. In responding to the question I noted, among other things, the rise of litigation funding outside the U.S., particularly in Australia and Canada – a point I underscored in a blog post late last week noting the growing importance of litigation funding in Canadian class action litigation.
Consistent with this litigation funding theme, on February 1, 2013 the Am Law Litigation Daily ran an interesting interview of Christopher Bogart, the CEO of Burford Group LLC, one of several firms in the vanguard of the growth of litigation funding in the U.S. Burford Group is the investment advisor for Burford Capital, which according to its website is “the world’s largest provider of investment capital and risk solutions for litigation.” (The formal relationship of the various Burford entities is described here.) Burford’s shares are listed on the London AIM exchange. Bogart helped co-found Burford in 2009, after serving as an attorney for the Cravath, Swaine & Moore law firm and as general counsel of Time Warner.
The Am Law Litigation Daily article asks the rhetorical question whether the “litigation funding moment” may have arrived, based on Burford’s reported results for 2012. Among other things, the article notes that Burford took in $47 million in recoveries from 12 investments (which may consist of either a single case or a portfolio of cases for a single client). The article also notes that overall Burford has provided $373 million in financing for over 46 investments. According to a January 24, 2013 Financial News article (here), Burford reported a return on investment for the completed cases of 61%, with further recoveries pending. The Financial News article suggests that this may be the period where litigation funding “comes of age.”
In another sign of the firm’s apparent progress, in a January 21, 2013 press release (here), Burford announced the addition to its U.S. operations of several new hires, including the addition of Georgetown University Law Professor Jonathan Molot as Chief Investment Officer.
Burford is only one of several litigation funding firms now operating in the U.S. and elsewhere. Juridica Investments is another investment fund that is publicly traded in the U.K. and that has U.S. operations engaged in U.S. litigation funding. IMF Australia Ltd, another litigation funder that is listed in Australia, is the corporate parent of Bentham Capital LLC, which is also in the business of funding U.S. litigation.
The success of companies like Burford has attracted additional competition. For example, in January 2012, Parabellum Capital spin-out from Credit Suisse for purposes on litigation funding investments in the U.S. And, as discussed in a prior post (here) in April 2012, former Simpson Thacher partner Michael Chepiga and former Bernstein Litowitz Partner Sean Coffey announced the formation of Black Robe Capital Partners, as yet another firm formed for purposed of litigation funding investment.
In short, there are now a number of firms active in litigation funding in the U.S. Most of these firms have only just been formed within the last few years, but signs are that these firms could take on an increasingly important role in the U.S. litigation scene. Indeed, in Canada and Australia, where the litigation funding track record is longer, litigation funding has become a significant part of the litigation landscape, particularly with respect to class action litigation. For example, in its 2010 study of securities class action litigation in Australia (refer here), NERA Economic Consulting identified the emergence of litigation funding as the most significant development behind the increase in securities class action litigation that country. Similarly, in its recent study of Canadian class action lawsuit developments (discussed here), the Osler Hoskin & Harcourt firm documented how litigation funding arrangements increasingly are accepted by the courts, a development that the firm worries could spark further class litigation there.
These developments outside the U.S raise the question of what the growth (and success) of litigation funding may mean for litigation in the U.S. The more positive spin may be that the availability of litigation funding levels the playing field for smaller litigants taking on much larger adversaries. At the same time, however, litigation funding raises a host of questions. First and foremost are the concerns about the possible conflicts between the litigation investors and the actual litigants. The funders’ investment objectives may diverge from the actual litigant’s litigation objectives – differences that could lead to diverging views about litigation tactics and even case resolution approaches and objectives.
Similarly, there is the question whether litigation funding is appropriate in the class action context. While the litigation funding unquestionably may help facilitate a recovery for the class, the amount to be paid to the litigation funder, in the form of commission or other payment, will reduce the amount of the recovery for the class. The absent class members cannot all be consulted in advance about such arrangements, which may or may not look fair after the fact.
A more fundamental question has to do with the possible effect of growing amounts of litigation funding on the litigation system. Will the availability of litigation funding encourage an increase in litigation? Will it encourage adversaries -- who might otherwise be able to reach a business resolution of their dispute – to litigate rather than negotiate? And then there are the concerns about a field in which there apparently are huge sums to be made but no apparent barriers to entry -- will the outsize profits that are now being reported attract less scrupulous competitors who attempt to extract outsized returns at the expense of litigants?
There are, in short, a host of unanswered questions about the growing presence of litigation funding on the U.S. litigation scene. There is no doubt in light of the outsized returns that the early entrants to the field are reporting that there will be increasing activity in the litigation funding arena and that litigation funding could become an increasingly important part of commercial litigation in the U.S. I fully expect that we will be hearing a lot more on this topic in the months ahead. But the point is –litigation funding is here, now. We had better recognize that, get used to it, and try to understand what it means.
One final note. The last time I ran a blog post about litigation funding, I immediately got a host of phone calls from would-be litigants looking for funding. Friends, I am just a blogger. I am not involved in litigation funding nor am I in the business of referring others to litigation funders. If you are a prospective litigant looking for litigation funding, please do not call or email me. I have linked above to the websites for the firms that are involved in litigation funding. Please contact them, not me. Thank you.
In the Current Environment, D&O Insurance Remains Critically Important: As numerous observers have noted (refer, for example, here), litigation related to mergers and acquisitions activity declined in 2012 relative to 2011, at least in part due to the decline in the number of M&A deals. The question remains what this development means for litigation activity in 2013. A January 25, 2011 CFO.com article entitled “If Mergers Pick Up, Can Lawsuits Be Far Behind?” (here), notes a number of factors suggesting that M&A activity could improve in 2013, which could lead to a resurgence of M&A claims – a development that could make the D&O insurance for the companies involved increasingly important.
The CFO.com article states the M&A related lawsuits “have been in decline because of waning M&A activity.” However, other observers have been reluctant to ascribe the decline in M&A litigation just to the reduced M&A activity alone. For example, and as discussed here, in its recent study of 2012 D&O claims, Advisen noted the number of new merger objection suits declined 24 percent in 2012 compared to the all-time high levels in 2011. The report attributed the decline in merger objection suit filings in part to the decreased M&A activity. However, the report also noted, the ten percent decline in M&A activity “does not fully explain the large decrease in suits.”
Whatever may be the reasons for the relative decline in M&A-related litigation in 2012, circumstances suggest that companies may be poised for a rebound of M&A activity in 2013. The CFO.com article notes that corporate cash levels, currently over $1.1 trillion for the S&P 500, may support strong M&A activity this year. Should M&A activity levels rebound in 2013, the likelihood is that the companies involved in the deals will also become involved in litigation related to the transaction.
The likelihood of litigation in turn underscores the importance of the D&O insurance available for the companies involved. The CFO.com article emphasizes that because of the likelihood of claims it is more important than ever for all companies – both publicly traded and privately held – to take steps and make inquiries “to make sure they’re adequately covered.” As one commentator quoted in the article notes, company officials should examine their coverage regularly, because “what’s available in the market changes, the forms change and the exclusions change.”
Readers who review the CFO.com article will note that the article cites results from the most recent Towers Watson D&O Liability Insurance Survey report. Readers interesting in reviewing the survey report itself should refer here.
The Week Ahead at the PLUS D&O Symposium: This week I will be attending the PLUS D&O Symposium at the Marriott Marquis hotel in New York. On Tuesday, February 6, 2013, I will be moderating a panel at the Symposium entitled “Financial Institutions Underwriting: Is it Safe to Come Out Now? Part 2” which is a follow-up to a panel on the same topic that I moderated at last year’s Symposium. Joining me on the panel will be Laurie Banez, Senior Vice President, Chief Underwriting Officer, Argo Pro; Jack Flug, Managing Director, Marsh; Paul Ferrillo, Litigation Counsel , Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP; and Sandy Crystal, Executive Vice President, Crystal & Company. I hope everyone will plan on attending our panel, which should be great.
I will be around the Symposium venue throughout the conference, and I look forward to seeing everyone there. I hope that if you see me at the Symposium that you will take a moment to say hello, particularly if we have never met before. I look forward to seeing everyone there.