Though you wouldn’t know it from his self-deprecating humor and humble attitude, Andy Lundberg has always been two steps ahead. Intellectually talented and ever-curious, after collecting his bachelor’s in Philosophy from Stanford, Lundberg graduated with honors from Harvard Law School before landing a clerking position with the Hon. George E. MacKinnon on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
With credentials like that, Lundberg was quickly scooped up by the international legal behemoth Latham & Watkins (by today’s standards, then a veritable boutique of “only” 200 lawyers), where he spent three-and-a-half decades handling complex commercial litigation cases with a speciality in the insurance sector. He rose through the ranks at Latham, serving as Chair of its Los Angeles Litigation Department and, ultimately, as Global Chair of the firm’s Insurance Coverage Litigation Practice.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that after an illustrious career at one of the most profitable law firms in the world, Lundberg retired from law for about 37 seconds, only to start anew as a managing director of the legal finance powerhouse Burford Capital.
LD: What drew you to the world of litigation finance, Andy?
AL: As with my prior career as a Big Law litigator, I owe both my interest and my success in large part to my colleagues and mentors. Three of my litigation partners from Latham & Watkins, who were a generation ahead of me at the firm, have had significant roles at Burford for some years. When I retired from practice, after an almost-respectful interval, they approached me about joining another team-oriented, entrepreneurial firm. I wasn’t going to turn down the second job offer I got from those guys.
LD: Smart move! What’s your day-to-day like now?
AL: I have three roles at Burford. Principally, I’m a member of the nine-person Commitment Committee, which reviews and ultimately approves the investments we make in legal claims. I also work with our underwriters and case managers on matters that fall within my expertise. I write the occasional article on certain aspects of legal finance. And, of course, I answer the phone when someone calls me directly with a new opportunity for us to consider.
LD: What do you like about your new career path? Do you ever miss being a litigator?
AL: The great thing about my Burford role is how it captures my favorite parts of practicing law – the intellectual challenge, the collegiality, the satisfaction of adding value while relieving me of a lot of the overburden that partnership in a global law firm imposes at this point in history. Brainstorming with a group of really smart, gung-ho lawyers, in pursuit of taking an already great institution to an even higher level, was the most fun I had at Latham, and I have the same fun today – without timesheets, bills, collections, and the rest of the overhead time and stress. The only thing I truly miss from practice is cross-examination. For a lawyer there’s nothing quite like it – looking across at that witness is High Noon or the Wimbledon final.
I graduated high school at 16 and law school at 23, clerked for a year, and then settled down to 35 years of practice at Latham & Watkins. In hindsight, that was an unnecessarily hurried path, especially for a guy who started out always sleeping late, procrastinating, and watching a great deal of TV. But I always wanted to see what was over the next hill sooner rather than later. Burford satisfies that need for me today.
LD: Did you consider any paths other than law school back then?
AL: I was a philosophy major, and gave serious consideration to going into academia – both my parents were academics, and life on a university campus, solving intellectual puzzles, is not a bad gig. But, as I’ve put it before, when I graduated from college in 1978, the big downtown philosophy firms were not hiring. Plus, I was always interested in having a nice car and choosing a place to live where it didn’t snow and rain.
I’ve never regretted my choice. Philosophy was of course an excellent grounding in logic, epistemology, and rigorous thought and expression in general. But it’s really the opportunity to work with a committed team of smart people toward a clear objective and a definite result that has provided my greatest professional satisfaction, and I’m not sure the academy would have given me all of that.
LD: Do you think that that young philosophy major would be surprised at where your career has ended up?
AL: Even the law-firm partner is a little surprised. Obviously, legal finance didn’t exist at all for most of my years in practice. As I started thinking about retiring from the law firm, I saw myself keeping a hand in the legal game as an arbitrator and mediator (I am an AAA arbitrator and Master Mediator), a fairly common path for recovering litigators. I do have that shingle hanging, but the legal finance business is something new for me to explore, and very exciting for all involved.
LD: Are there particular courses or professors from law school that stand out as memorable to you, in terms of your approach to the law?
AL: There were many, but the one I put at the top is Arthur Miller, the king of Civil Procedure. He made procedure – the rules of the game – incredibly interesting. I have long told people that there are two kinds of litigators, poker players and chess players, and I was the latter: give me a set of rules, let me collect all of the information my opponent has, and then let’s see who can think more moves ahead. Learning those rules from Professor Miller was like taking a guitar lesson from Eddie Van Halen three days a week – even if you mastered only a tiny fragment at the time, it showed you the possibilities.
LD: Do you have any advice for current law school students or young professionals who may wish to have a similar type of career?
AL: I have a long list of do’s and don’ts that I inflict on young people, but the big three are: First, be a straight shooter, every minute. Next, if you care more than the other guy or gal about it, whatever “it” is, you are going to rise to the top. Finally, whatever else you do, find a way to make yourself indispensable.
LD: Litigation financing is a booming area, but it’s not always well understood. Do you think the industry is starting to catch on to how useful it can be?
AL: Only after joining Burford did I realize myself just how little I actually knew about legal finance while I was in practice, and how much more I wish I’d known. It could really have benefited both my practice and my clients’ and potential clients’ interests. So, in the same way that law school may not teach you all the answers, but can at least equip you to be a competent issue-spotter, I think some real basic education in how legal finance works can give lawyers and clients an entrée to a huge range of options for structuring their relationships and their cases. A big part of my focus is just trying to get the Legal Finance 101 message out and make it part of the discussion that clients and lawyers have every time they look at a new case.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
AL: My wife and I are avid travelers, especially off the beaten track – our honeymoon included a five-day trek through the Himalaya in Bhutan – so we are always on the lookout for new adventures like that. We’ve also upped our game on the ski hill the past few years, and now have a real chance at getting in several dozen days a year.
Using “fun” very loosely, I made the mistake of taking up golf recently. From that, I deduced that there is nothing harder than learning golf, so I just got myself a guitar. The difference is, if I can play a C chord on Monday, it’s very unlikely I won’t be able to play it on Thursday. For the past few years, I’ve also been in pursuit of the grand prize in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which recognizes the composition of the first sentence of the worst of all possible novels. Writing badly is hard work – I’ve been a runner-up eleven times – but maybe 2021 will be my year.
LD: Ha! Good luck. Do you have a favorite book or movie about the law?
AL: I should probably say “Witness for the Prosecution,” which is marvelous, but if I’m being honest, I have to confess that I’m a sucker for “A Few Good Men.” That cross – “You can’t handle the truth!” – gets me every time. Plus, of course, it illustrates one of my top three pieces of advice to young lawyers: If you care more than your opponent does, you’ll prevail. Only when Tom Cruise finally really cares about his clients does he get the best out of himself – and the better of Jack Nicholson, too.