Lawsuits are flying in the aftermath of Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion investment fraud, but legal experts don’t expect to see investors recovering large amounts of their lost funds.
“There are going to be claims, but it’s not going to be billion-dollar litigation,” said John C. Coffee, a Columbia Law School professor who specializes in corporate law. “This is medium-sized litigation that will probably go to relatively small firms. I don’t think there are enough assets left [in the now-defunct Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities]. It’s a lean and starved corpse.”
Coffee said he doesn’t anticipate any Madoff-related financial recovery to top $20 million, making it relatively small potatoes compared to other legal issues that firms are dealing with involving the meltdown of the financial markets.
With the Madoff funds looking like something of a recovery dead-end for investors who lost millions, several litigators have said that they plan to try to recover investor funds from the third-party institutions that funneled money to Madoff, such as banks, hedge funds and investment firms.
That creates an opportunity for litigation, although it remains to be seen how lucrative such third-party suits will be. Stanford Law professor Robert Weisberg said litigation over the Madoff fraud may prove to be a “loss leader,” meaning firms won’t make much money trying to recover investors’ funds. Still, Weisberg said, the publicity of being involved in such a high-profile case could make it worthwhile for firms in the long run.
“I think there are firms that are doing this on spec. They are circulating their businesses cards,” Weisberg said. “Getting your name out there is important, even if there isn’t much potential for recovery.”
There is no shortage of legal action surrounding the Madoff case. Several lawsuits have been filed already on behalf of investors who lost money in the alleged scheme, and a number of law firms have quickly assembled Madoff teams to investigate the litigation possibilities and legal defenses to such litigation.
Greenberg Traurig formed such a team, which is being headed by partner Brad D. Kaufman in the West Palm Beach, Fla., office. Kaufman said that the firm formed the team to help educate their clients about the situation and how they can defend themselves.
“Whether or not it leads to a significant amount of business, we wanted to have a place where people could come to understand what’s going on,” Kaufman said.
Like other newly formed Madoff teams at law firms, Greenberg Traurig is focusing primarily on serving its institutional clients that may be third-party targets of investor lawsuits.
A team of attorneys at Holland & Knight is looking into the Madoff case to determine the potential for litigation and the extent to which their clients could be exposed to such suits.
“We have clients that are concerned that [investors] will fault them,” said John H. Hogan, a partner in Holland & Knight’s Miami office who heads its Madoff team. “There are a lot of hedge funds and banks that dealt directly with Madoff. These companies have assets. The question is, ‘is there responsibility there? Did they do the appropriate due diligence?’”