Burford Capital, the largest litigation finance firm, is setting up a new $50 million pool of capital earmarked for women-led litigation matters.
Outside financing for litigation has grown by leaps and bounds, but few women litigators—who make less than 10 percent of all requests—were seeking money to finance commercial litigation.
Burford is setting up the fund, to be called the Equity Project, to give more women lawyers a chance to run their own legal show.
“There is a significant gender gap in the law, and diversity and mentoring are not enough. To change outcomes more quickly, the economics need to be changed,” said Christopher Bogart, Burford’s chief executive, who announced the fund.
Outside litigation funding, in which third parties finance a legal matter hoping to make a return on successful litigation, is growing in popularity as corporations and firms seek to reduce exposure to the expensive costs of lengthy, complex legal matters.
Burford, the largest litigation financing company, invested $540.3 million in the first half of this year.
Women lawyers typically have not been in positions to seek such funding, in large part because they often are not in charge of major legal matters. But more corporate counsel are seeking to field legal teams that better reflect a cross-section of society, and are making such diversity a requirement when they choose among competing lawyers to represent them.
Though slightly more than half of recent law school graduates are women, they make up only about one-third of the attorneys at law firms. And they hold only about 20 percent of equity partnerships, which means they occupy fewer lead firm positions and leading—called first chair—positions in litigation.
A dedicated funding pool would give women the opportunity to pitch clients and offer attractive alternative fee arrangements as part of the proposal package, said Aviva Will, senior managing director of Burford’s investment team. She was formerly an assistant general counsel at Time Warner Inc., and prior to that was a lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore—two institutions where Bogart also worked.
“We think this capital commitment can have an immediate impact on women lawyers’ ability to generate business,” said Will, who will lead the fund.
“This is filling in a gap where women can propose to handle a piece of legal business and know that she has financial backing. We are taking a risk along with the lawyers and their client,” Will said.
The Equity Project is backed by a roster of notable women litigators. Burford is calling them “champions,” and said they will work to make the funding pool better known.
Among them is Katherine B. Forrest, who recently returned as a partner to Cravath, Swaine & Moore after a seven-year stint as a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York.
The Equity Project is “a critical step in opening the door for more women to rise in the ranks of their respective firms and win the confidence of clients across industries,” she said in an email to Big Law Business.
Other “champions” include Wendy J. Miles, partner at Debevoise & Plimpton; Tara Lee, chair of the Transnational Litigation Group at Quinn Emanuel; Sue Prevezer, chair of the International Trial Practice at Quinn Emanuel; Sophie J. Lamb, global co-chair, International Arbitration Practice at Latham & Watkins; and Roberta D. Liebenberg, senior partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black, and co-chair of the ABA Presidential Initiative on Achieving Long-term Careers for Women in Law.
Burford plans to track the data generated by the fund’s investments to see if there are differences in outcomes and efficiencies in matters that are led by women, Will said.
“We should be able to calculate within 18 to 24 months whether, for example, cases are run more efficiently or resolved more satisfactorily,” she said.
Burford reported in March that it earned a 31 percent return on $773 million in completed investments in 2017.
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