Latham & Watkins offices in Washington, D.C. The firm is one of many in Big Law that have seen attorneys defect to the litigation finance industry. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
There are a few pretty well-established routes when leaving Big Law. Going in-house is one. Joining Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation team is another that’s in vogue. But more and more, it seems that joining the litigation funding industry is a popular “door number three.”
Take this week’s news that London-based Vannin Capital has launched in New York City. It pulled in three converts from Big Law, all associate-level, from such venerated firms as Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and Dentons.
The funder’s other U.S.-based lawyer, in Washington, D.C., is Jeffery Commission—also a former senior associate at Freshfields. He joined in 2016.
You don’t have to look very far afield to see other evidence of funders growing their operations by raiding Big Law. U.K.-headquartered Therium in June expanded its New York office by picking off another lawyer from Proskauer Rose. Homegrown U.S. funder Lake Whillans in April hired an associate from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to help it vet investments.
The list goes on. Chicago-based Longford hired a Paul Hastings lawyer in June to help source bankruptcy deals. A look at the ranks of Burford Capital and Bentham IMF shows resumes stacked with Big Law experience, from firms like Latham & Watkins, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, McKool Smith, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
From the perspective of the funders, it’s easy to see why enlisting folks from Big Law would be attractive. They get the dual benefit of hiring someone who can quickly point out the strengths and weaknesses of a case, and who can source deals from former colleagues. Funders have sought to court Big Law in a big way, increasingly funding entire portfolios of litigation.
But what’s the draw for the attorneys themselves? Is it just another way to get away from the demands of the billable hour? Not necessarily.
“I think that any time a Big Law firm litigator is considering leaving that law firm, either for a government job or more traditional in-house role, the expectation is that you’re going to work less hours. Because you can’t work any more,” said Priya Pai, legal counsel at Bentham IMF’s San Francisco office, who was formerly an associate at Latham & Watkins.
But Pai underscored that, for her, the jump was motivated by the idea of joining a risk-taking enterprise that is shaking things up. She also noted that litigation finance is a way to apply legal skills in a different business setting and view litigation through a lens of an investor.
“[Litigation finance] is very disruptive to the traditional legal industry,” she said, “and it’s exciting to be an early entrant into that field and watch it become more mainstream.”
While the hours may be better than those on offer in Big Law firm life, those who are considering joining the field shouldn’t expect it to be too relaxed either.
“We all still have our phones on constantly,” Pai said. “I have friends who are in-house, and when they leave at five, they leave at five. I don’t think that’s the litigation finance experience.”