Tuesday, October 2, 2018
I'm at a conference on litigation funding and realized it might be useful, especially for journalists, to think through what we mean when we talk about litigation funding or litigation finance.
Journalists and others tend to describe all forms of investment that support litigation under one umbrella: “litigation funding.” But in fact the litigation funding market is highly specialized. Types of litigation funding should be considered separately because they are very different financial products with different costs and benefits. This is my stab at setting out the parameters of this space:
- Commercial litigation funding. This type of litigation funding is offered by investors and can be used by either plaintiffs or defendants. The funding agreements involve sophisticated parties on both sides, either firms or clients. It well recognized in international arbitration and is increasingly used in other types of commercial cases. Funding may be for an individual litigation or for a portfolio of suits.
- Appeals funding. This type of funding is given to lawyers against fees (often contingency) and to clients against expected recoveries.
- Patent litigation funding. These involve three types of entities. First, some entities purchase patents and prosecute patent infringers but have no relationship to the inventors. Second, a company may sue the infringers and give a small percentage of the recovery to the inventors. Third, universities or companies may monetize their patent portfolios using a funder.
- Law firm financing. Law firms may obtain financing usually structured as a loan with their receivables as collateral.
- Consumer litigation funding. These funders provide small retail level non-recourse loans to individual tort or contract plaintiffs, typically under $5,000. This type of funding is the most like “payday” loans.
- Mass tort monetizations. These types of funders may advance money to lawyers against future earned fees and to clients against expected recoveries in aggregate tort litigation such as multidistrict litigation after a settlement matrix is in place. Depending on how it is used, this may be more like law firm financing for a portfolio of cases of a particular type (cases filed against a particular defendant for example) or consumer litigation funding, directly offered to the client. These funders specialize in mass torts, but loans to lawyers should be differentiated from advances to clients because lawyers are sophisticated market actors who can protect themselves, whereas tort clients tend to be more vulnerable.
(This was edited to correct the amount that individuals usually obtain from consumer funding).