Litigation Finance is Cheaper Than You Might Think! – Litigation Finance Journal
The following was contributed by Matthew Pitchers, Head of Investment Valuation at Augusta Ventures.
I was in conversation the other day with a prospective user of our finance – a law firm who will remain nameless. The conversation was going well, very well in fact, until those seven words came up: “what is it going to cost me?”. I replied that our fee would be based on the higher of a multiple on the funds deployed or a set percentage of damages awarded. After a few seconds of silence which felt like an eternity, the response I got back was “that is very expensive, and I don’t think my client will go for it”.
This left me bemused because whilst there is a general misconception that litigation funding is expensive, when compared to other sources of secured and unsecured funding available on the market, it is in fact very competitive and sometimes even cheap. This left me thinking about how best to explain this to the enquirer at the other end of the phone who would be left explaining all available options to his client.
What is litigation funding?
What I wanted to say was:
Sir, in considering how expensive litigation funding is, one needs to first analyse what litigation funding is. This is easier to think about when considering what litigation isn’t.
It isn’t a traditional debt product. There are no guaranteed cash flows. There is no obligation on the user of the debt to repay it. Any returns that the funder makes are payable from what the defendant pays if the claim is successful, not from the finance user. Furthermore, the entire financial risk of the case is transferred to the funder, and if a case loses, the risk of adverse costs falls to the funder and not the claimant. Therefore, an amount invested upfront in a legal case in order to share in the same risks and rewards as the claimant, feels more akin to a purchase of an equity participation in a start-up than a one-step-removed loan.
To put it another way: If you were going on Dragon’s Den and your great idea was to ask the Dragons for an upfront investment in a legal case for a future share of any available returns which may or may not occur, how much of the case do you think the Dragons would want?
What the market says
In haggling over the value of your idea, the Dragons would probably consider the availability of unsecured loans, and the returns expected from venture capital start-up funding.
If you, as an individual, were to go into the market today and look for an unsecured loan you might find APR’s that range from 10.3% per annum, for those people with excellent credit scores, up to 32.0% per annum for those with poor credit scores, and that is only on amounts up to £25,000.
A good benchmark for the percentage of cases a litigation fund might win, despite all the due diligence that is performed, is around 70%. Loaning out money with only a 70% chance of getting any of it back is not similar to loaning money to a person with an excellent credit score, so litigation funders are firmly in poor credit score territory, where an APR could typically be between 28.5% and 32.0%. And remember, that is only on amounts up to £25,000, an investment in a legal case more-often-than-not, is many multiples of this size.
A such, the IRR that the funder aims for is more akin to those expected by venture capitalists, who might typically look for 30-40% annual returns on a start-up investment.
The tenor of investments
A classical case tenor for litigation funding is usually two to four years. In the interim period the funder will have not received any payments. Their risk exposure goes up over time as more money is deployed as the legal case progresses, and there is limited availability to claw back any investment if the case looks like it isn’t going to win. It is, to all intents and purposes, an investment with a binary outcome and once invested there is no going back.
An investment with an annualised return of 40% over three years would expect to achieve a 2.74X money multiple for the investor at the end of the life of the investment. Over four years the money multiple would be expected to be 3.84X. This would be at the upper end of what a litigation funder might achieve. A normal equity investment in a company has fewer downsides regarding the capital locked up, as covenants would be in place to claw back any investments if the company were mismanaged in the interim period.
In short, litigation funders are able to make worthwhile returns through rigorous diligence, investing in cases that they expect to win and which meet their internal criteria, whilst building up a large enough portfolio that the effect of the unsystematic binary risk of losing an individual case is diluted. In return, a competent litigation funder should expect to achieve on their portfolio a rate of return that is better than a correlated investment, but lower than that achieved in the start-up markets.
A claimant, in using litigation finance, should expect all their costs to be covered, and any risk of adverse costs to be transferred to the funder. In effect it becomes a risk-free investment for the claimant, whilst they still take the larger share of any return. This would be the dream scenario for any owner of a start-up company, selling a small stake in the company and removing all future down-side risk to themselves, whilst removing the burden of future costs.
In summary Sir, this is a great opportunity for your client and it is highly competitive.
Instead, I said to the man on the other end of the phone: ‘I’m sorry yes, it does sound expensive, let me see what we can do’.
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