Among the rewards of working in litigation finance for Kirstin Dodge is the ability to assess a large number of different cases that other lawyers will spend months or years litigating. In fact, it’s that zest for diversity of experience – a desire to try “something new” – that led Dodge to litigation finance after 25 years as a big firm litigator in the United States and then Switzerland, where she remains based. Earlier this year, Dodge joined European firm Nivalion AG as the leader of its Americas group – a position that provides exciting new challenges while also returning to her U.S. commercial litigation roots.
Lawdragon: Can you talk a little bit about Nivalion AG and the services it provides?
Kirstin Dodge: Nivalion AG is one of Europe’s leading providers of litigation and arbitration finance and also offers legal finance solutions in the United States, Canada, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. Nivalion supports parties in the pursuit of strong arbitration and litigation claims and defenses by underwriting all costs of the proceedings, including adverse cost risk. We focus on funding business-to-business disputes, including complex commercial litigation and arbitration, patent infringement litigation and investment treaty disputes. We also fund antitrust proceedings, insolvency litigation and collective consumer actions.
We work closely with clients and their legal counsel during the time we are assessing the strength of claims and deciding whether to provide funding. Once a case or case portfolio has been accepted for funding, Nivalion’s experienced legal and financial teams are available to clients and their counsel as a resource, but Nivalion does not interfere with case strategy, management or decision making.
LD: How did you first become interested in litigation finance?
KD: I became aware of the litigation financing industry over a decade ago after I started working for a Swiss law firm, when I was involved in seeking funding for a client’s case. I followed developments casually after that, and then with more focus when I co-authored the chapter on Switzerland for the comprehensive Handbook on Third-Party Funding in International Arbitration. Two of my former law firm colleagues eventually landed at Nivalion, providing me with further insights from the funder perspective. The more I learned about litigation finance, the more convinced I became that it would provide an excellent opportunity to combine and apply my years of experience as a U.S. commercial litigator and as an international arbitration practitioner within a business and finance setting.
LD: What do you like about this type of work?
KD: It has been very interesting to return to my roots as a U.S. litigator, getting back up to speed on recent developments in civil procedure as well as the substantive areas of law at issue in the matters we consider funding. It is also satisfying to be able to apply my years of experience in international commercial and treaty arbitrations in assessing a wide variety of cases – quite a change after spending years focusing on a small number of cases at a time as they proceed from the filing of the arbitration request to the evidentiary hearing and post-hearing briefs. I enjoy meeting and discussing cases with potential clients, their legal counsel and the external experts Nivalion retains to assist us in our due diligence prior to agreeing to fund a matter.
LD: Please discuss your career path. What earlier led to an interest in litigation?
KD: While in law school, I had little interest in joining a corporate law firm. After a U.S. Federal District Court clerkship, I went to a small law firm that specialized in bringing discrimination claims. That gave me the chance to immediately second-chair trials, but I eventually missed the breadth of cases I had seen while clerking. I also had significant undergraduate and law school debt. The result was what I thought would be a couple of years in the commercial litigation group of a large firm, but I quickly found that I loved the work, my colleagues and our clients. I stayed, became a partner, and would have remained if not for personal circumstances (a binational relationship) that motivated me to look for work in Switzerland. As an experienced U.S. litigator, I found my skills were in demand at a large Swiss law firm that had a thriving international arbitration practice, with many cases involving U.S. or UK opposing counsel. Again, I found I loved the work, and I stayed. Yet after over a decade working in international arbitration, I realized I was not ready to end my career without trying something new. Litigation finance – as Head of the Americas for Nivalion – was a perfect next step, allowing me to combine the experience and skills gained throughout my career.
LD: What advice do you have now for current students or young professionals?
KD: Keep in mind that your career will span decades. Long-term goals may require experience that can only be gained by accepting positions you may not think are an ideal fit. Alternatively, a position you think may not be ideal may surprise you, either because it turns out to be a good fit or because it opens doors to new opportunities you had not considered. Even if you don’t see yourself working in a law firm forever, hands-on experience in the trenches will likely be invaluable in later in-house legal or corporate positions, including in litigation finance.
LD: What advice would you give potential clients in terms of how to most productively work with an outside advisor?
KD: Litigation funders lose their investment if the case does not succeed, so a case has to be strong to be eligible for funding. Parties and lawyers who are seeking litigation financing should be prepared to “sell” the matter with a solid case analysis (including quantum and enforceability), a convincing litigation strategy and a realistic estimated budget. This may require retaining technical or damages experts prior to obtaining funding, for example in patent infringement cases. Applicants should also welcome probing questions: the process sometimes reveals weaknesses in the case or issues that had not been considered while there is still time to remedy them.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
KD: In my daily life, I enjoy cooking or gardening after a day spent in front of a computer screen. A perfect winter weekend includes Alpine skiing or snowshoeing. In the summer, you’ll find me swimming in a nearby lake or in the Aare river under the Swiss Parliament building in Berne.