Tania Sulan is the Chief Investment Officer in Australia and New Zealand for Omni Bridgeway, the global leader in financing and managing legal risks. A former litigator, Sulan was drawn early on to the business development aspects of growing a business, and the strategic dynamics of working with multiple parties to move a matter forward.
She joined the dispute funding industry in 2007, and emerged as a pioneer in the field, working as an Investment Manager for several years before moving to Canada to establish a foothold for the firm and introduce the nascent industry there, where it continues to flourish.
She has since returned to her native Australia, where she is helping shape industry regulations in the country and overseeing an expansion of Omni Bridgeway’s work in New Zealand.
Lawdragon: Will you please give our readers a brief description of the work you do?
Tania Sulan: Omni Bridgeway provides dispute finance from case inception through to post-judgment enforcement and recovery. We work with law firms, individual claimants, corporations, sovereigns and multilateral institutions. I lead a talented team of Investment Managers who source and oversee the company's investments across Australia and New Zealand.
LD: What first drew you to the legal finance industry?
TS: I first became aware of dispute finance in 2006 when I was working as a litigation lawyer in Sydney. I was attending a D&O liability and insurance symposium where one of the directors of Omni Bridgeway (then IMF Bentham) was presenting. His presentation was on the day before the Australian High Court’s seminal decision on litigation funding, Fostif, was delivered. His excitement was contagious.
A year later whilst on my first maternity leave, I approached him for a job, and it turns out my timing was good. I was attracted to the opportunity to be involved in a nascent industry and the access-to-justice focus of the business.
LD: What do you enjoy about this work? Has the career change been satisfying?
TS: My work at Omni Bridgeway has provided with me a myriad of experiences and opportunities that have allowed me to satisfy my entrepreneurial spirit. I was fortunate to spend three years in Canada building Omni Bridgeway’s business and the industry. Commercial dispute finance was new to the country at the time, so we had the opportunity to play a key role in shaping the industry in that jurisdiction. Earlier this year, one of Omni Bridgeway’s funded cases was the subject of the first Canadian Supreme Court consideration of litigation funding.
I enjoy the three-way interactions between our company, clients and their lawyers that are required to find solutions for companies seeking capital and risk management strategies. This always involves a great deal of good will, creativity and lateral thinking.
Finding access-to-justice solutions for those facing stronger opponents is something I’m also passionate about.
LD: How has this last year been for your firm? Any notable trends coming out of the pandemic?
TS: We are currently seeing an uptick in applications for funding from corporates around the globe. They are exploring Omni Bridgeway’s cost and risk mitigation solutions as a way to monetize their litigation assets. In an environment where preserving liquidity is important, alternative ways to resource disputes and enforcement activities is a conversation many companies are interested in having.
LD: Tell us more about the career path that led to your current work. What sort of practice did you have as a litigator? Did you ever clerk?
TS: I began my career in 1995 as an Associate Law Clerk to the Honorable Justice Sheller in the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of New South Wales where I assisted with research and case management. In 1996, I joined Carroll & O'Dea Lawyers, a medium-sized firm specializing predominantly in personal injury litigation. I managed a large portfolio of personal injury and medical negligence cases and was responsible for business development activities in the south coast region of NSW. Looking back, this was the first opportunity I had to build and grow part of a business and, as a young lawyer, I loved it.
Just after the Sydney Olympics in 2000, I moved to London where I worked at global insurance law firm Kennedys, specializing in insurance and reinsurance coverage disputes. In 2006 I moved back to Australia and was involved in establishing Kennedys’ Sydney office. Again, I had an exciting opportunity to be involved in building a new part of the business. I gained much experience which laid the groundwork for my future roles at Omni Bridgeway.
LD: Where did you go to school?
TS: I spent most of my high school years in Hong Kong. I received my Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws, with honors, from Australian National University, Canberra, and my Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from College of Law, Sydney. I’m admitted as a solicitor to the Supreme Court of New South Wales and High Court of Australia, and as a solicitor in the United Kingdom. I have also completed an Executive Management Program for Leading Professional Services Firms at Harvard Business School.
LD: What advice would you give potential clients in terms of how to most productively work with an outside advisor?
TS: Some clients have often already chosen their professional advisers when they seek our finance, but for those who haven’t, we have an extensive world-wide network of leading advisers. Our Investment Managers work closely with professional advisers to achieve success for funded clients. In addition to our capital, we contribute strategic insights, networks, jurisdictional and cultural know-how to maximize success, complementing the relationship between the lawyer and their client.
At Omni Bridgeway we work with many outside advisers in relation to our own business issues. In my view, the best relationships are based on excellent communication, high levels of trust, goodwill and a dose of good fun.
LD: Omni Bridgeway has always been a market leader and innovator. Can you talk to us a bit about that history, and perhaps any new innovations on the horizon?
TS: Omni Bridgeway has been at the forefront of dispute resolution finance for over 30 years, as the founder of the global industry as we know it today. From our beginnings in 1986 when dispute finance was in its infancy to present day, we continue to develop innovative finance solutions and risk management strategies to support clients.
Our solutions are particularly relevant in today’s challenging and dynamic environment given the world events of 2020 and beyond.
For example, we are developing a world-first global ATE insurance arrangement which provides funded parties, in cost-shifting jurisdictions, coverage for their adverse costs without requiring a separate ATE insurance policy.
We were one of the first funders to finance insolvency and arbitration proceedings in Asia. We are the only dispute financier selected by IFC World Bank to finance non-performing loans in the MENA region.
We have developed our own proprietary systems for capturing, managing and analyzing client information and data for our funded class actions.
And of course, we have introduced dispute finance to new markets around the world. This includes Canada where from 2016-2019, I led the establishment and growth of Omni Bridgeway's Canadian operations as its Chief Investment Officer. Today our Canadian team has grown a diverse investment portfolio and has offices in Toronto and Montreal.
From the impecunious to solvent companies, our non-recourse funding is designed to provide clients with an alternate source of capital to pursue legal claims and recover awards and judgments without diverting or risking their own funds. Our funding also enables lawyers to offer clients innovative financial solutions, demonstrating they understand their commercial needs and solidifying their role as a trusted adviser.
LD: Given your leadership role with the firm, are you able to share some recent or forthcoming strategic business plans for Omni?
TS: We are a leading business in a growing industry, so the landscape is dynamic and leaderships roles are exciting. Having executed a successful merger in 2019, we are busily integrating our business across the world. Regulatory environments are adapting to our innovative industry in various jurisdictions and we are currently involved in regulatory reform in Australia – my domain.
Here in Australia, last year we saw a Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into the class action industry and regulation of litigation funding, with a lengthy report being delivered just before the end of the year. We are a strong supporter of sensible regulation in Australia to ensure the proper oversight and longevity of the industry.
We are also expanding in New Zealand in response to increasing financing inquiries from that market. We now have on-the-ground expertise in New Zealand and are already funding a number of matters.
LD: Omni is a clear leader in this space, but as litigation funding picks up speed as an industry and new players emerge, what would you say separates Omni Bridgeway from the pack?
TS: Omni Bridgeway is the world’s largest and most experienced funder and the global leader in financing and managing legal risks. We have a unique offering for several reasons. We have a long and successful track record, with over 30 years’ experience and an enviable success rate over hundreds of completed cases. We’re committed to transparency as one of our core values, as demonstrated by being a publicly listed company since 2001 with strong and transparent financials.
We have unmatched enforcement capabilities, having successfully recovered against counterparties in ‘challenging’ jurisdictions, including against sovereign States and quasi-sovereign entities since 1986. We have truly global coverage, with operations around the world. Unlike other funders, our global Investment Management team are permanently deployed on the ground in each of the jurisdictions without having to outsource any of our capabilities, offering jurisdictional expertise, local contacts and cultural awareness to identify new cases and add value to current cases.
Our talent is, in my opinion, unparalleled. We have over 165 specialists in law, intelligence and finance with expertise in civil and common law legal and recovery systems. Our multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, multilingual team of investment managers and enforcement specialists includes seasoned litigators and recovery experts from premier international law firms, corporate counsel, business leaders, economists, financial experts, business intelligence and asset tracing professionals, educated at the world’s leading institutions. We are a highly collaborative group, have a collective strong ethical compass and are energized by the work we do.
That type of talent feeds into our rigorous investment decision-making, through our formidable investment committees who are responsible for selecting Omni Bridgeway’s investments. The committees comprise former judges, founders of the dispute finance industry and highly experienced legal practitioners whose expertise in assessing cases has led to our enviable track record of success.
Finally, we have significant relationships across commerce, finance, insurance, academia, government, media and all layers of the legal industry, which are essential to developing and executing winning strategies on behalf of claimants.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
TS: I like to spend as much time as I can in nature with my husband and three daughters.
LD: Are you involved in any community or public interest activities?
TS: I am on the Board of JusticeNet, South Australia’s pro bono clearing house which provide a referral service for low-income and disadvantaged South Australians experiencing civil law issues. Through its work, JusticeNet also provides law firms with the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to CSR through pro bono work.