Willkie, Longford ink $50 million litigation finance deal

Signage is seen at the legal offices of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York City, New York
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Funding will be available for Willkie clients in commercial litigation
  • Rare public agreement between Big Law firm and funder

(Reuters) - A new $50 million funding agreement between law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher and litigation finance company Longford Capital Management LP can be boiled down to one thing, according to leaders at the firms: giving clients more options.

"Its fundamentally about empowering our clients with choice with respect to alternative arrangements to finance litigation," Craig Martin, Willkie's Midwest chairman, said after the deal was announced on Wednesday. Martin has also been appointed as an independent advisor to Longford.

Under the $50 million agreement, Chicago-based Longford will provide equity capital to finance attorneys' fees and litigation costs and monetize legal claims for Willkie clients in commercial disputes.

The funds will be available to clients involved in cases handled by Willkie's Chicago-based trial team, which Martin leads, the firm said. The team focuses on late-stage cases heading to trial and antitrust, patent, and trade secrets cases, among others, Martin said.

"We don't have any intention to become plaintiffs' class action lawyers, or engage in things that are not business-to-business commercial disputes, Martin said.

The agreement "applies to contingency cases and matters involving a statutory fee, with specific arrangements remaining subject to consent of Willkie clients," Willkie said in its announcement.

Martin, formerly the chair of Jenner & Block, joined Willkie to launch the Chicago office in March 2020 along with other Jenner attorneys. The office now has more than 40 lawyers, while New York-founded Willkie overall has about 850 lawyers, the firm said.

Litigation funders have long touted their experience working with large law firms, but Willkie's $50 million deal with Longford stands out as one of the few major publicly announced partnerships with a Big Law firm.

"Litigation funding is here," Martin said. "We wanted to be innovative and leading the pack with regard to giving our clients choice and opportunities for these types of arrangements."

William Farrell, co-founder, managing director and general counsel of Longford, also painted the agreement as offering corporate and private equity clients more flexibility.

"General counsel and chief financial officers of sophisticated clients involved in commercial disputes really appreciate options and alternative methods for financing the costs, the attorneys' fees and the related out-of-pocket expenses incurred in large-scale litigation," Farrell said.

Prior to joining Chicago-based Longford, Farrell was a partner at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg. Longford provides companies, law firms, universities and other entities capital for disputes involving $25 million to more than $1 billion at stake, according to its website.

The litigation funding industry has grown in size and clout over the last decade in the U.S., generating opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other critics and spurring Longford and other funders to form a trade group, the International Legal Finance Association, last year.

Disclosure of funding deals in cases has been a disputed issue, with New Jersey just this week adopting a new requirement for litigants in federal court to reveal certain information about third-party litigation finance agreements.

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Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at sara.merken@thomsonreuters.com