As an undergraduate studying biology at the University of Illinois, Cindy S. Ahn had no plans to become a lawyer and started her career at a lab bench at Abbott Laboratories, a multinational life sciences company based in Illinois. But after hearing regular talk among her co-workers about how significant patents could be to a company’s competitive position, she began mapping out a new direction for her career.
Twenty-two years later, Ahn has no regrets about making the jump into IP law and, more recently, litigation finance. As a Director at Longford Capital, a private equity-styled-investment company that invests in meritorious commercial legal claims, Ahn’s experience litigating complex intellectual property matters has positioned her to assist countless firms and clients. With demand for Longford’s capital steadily on the rise, she stays busy. Longford Capital has attracted more than $1.2 billion in assets under management, making it one of the largest players in litigation finance. Though Covid-19 has changed much about the business of law, Ahn sees nothing but growth ahead for litigation finance.
Lawdragon: What do you do at Longford Capital?
Cindy Ahn: I’m a Director at Longford with my duties generally divisible into three main categories: due diligence, monitoring, and business development. Due diligence involves analyzing the potential matters for funding. Monitoring requires me to keep up to date on the cases that Longford has funded. Business development, which is exactly what it says on the tin, involves reaching out to claim owners and counsel to educate them about litigation funding.
LD: Tell us about your background. How did you come to litigation finance?
CA: I think I came to litigation funding in the most circuitous fashion possible. At the beginning of my career, I practiced law in a boutique IP law firm and then moved to a general practice firm in its IP litigation department. From there, after several successful cases for an existing client, I was asked to join the client as its general counsel. It was while I was in-house that it was made clear to me that the adage is true – companies are not in business to litigate. Litigation is a distraction. It’s costly and the pressure in-house is immense.
That company was eventually bought out, and I moved on to become a consultant for a medical device company before returning to a Chicago IP boutique law firm specializing in the monetization of patents. That’s where I met Mike Nicolas and Bill Farrell, who were just starting Longford.
Mike and Bill reached out to me in 2017 after Longford had just closed its second fund for $500 million. They realized they needed more help, and they knew they wanted to continue to fund IP cases, so they approached me. I couldn’t say no – and I’m so glad I didn’t.
LD: What do you enjoy about your work? What is the most fulfilling aspect, or what do you find most rewarding?
CA: I really like the fact that every case is different, which means I get the opportunity to consider new cases and arguments almost every day -- and work with top-tier attorneys. And because our due diligence is such an intense, in-depth dive, it’s intellectually satisfying, and never boring. This coupled with the fact that I no longer deal with discovery, meet-and-confers, or the non-stop travel really makes this just about the best job I've had.
LD: Why do law firms and claim owners bring their matters to Longford?
CA: While not every case is right for funding, funding is something that every attorney and claim owner should consider. Even when the merits are on your side, the risks and the resource drain associated with litigation can be insurmountable. Litigation funding can help fund a claim when a company’s resources otherwise wouldn’t allow it. For example, when I was in-house, I was supervising multiple cases when my boss told me that if I blew my legal budget that year, Christmas bonuses would be in jeopardy. It was an awful thing to hear at the time but sitting where I am now, it underscores the value that litigation funding can offer, and could have offered me back then.
As for why law firms and their clients come to Longford specifically, I think our people can’t be beat. Most of the team at Longford had over 20 years of experience as litigators or as senior executives before joining the firm. I think our experience and work ethic really shines through compared to others that may not have the breadth or depth of the same talent.
Our success is evident in the fact that we have many repeat clients, and people who didn’t get funding from us the first time often approach us multiple times. Money is the definition of a fungible good, so they shouldn't care where they go. But they do.
LD: What sorts of problems are clients and law firms bringing forward now? How do you help solve them?
CA: Clients and law firms are approaching us with very personalized/unique situations. And even though we have more than $1.2 billion of assets under management, we are philosophically a small organization. Because of that, we get to be creative, and flexible and we're not hamstrung by a lot of red tape. So if for example, a client needs revenue right away, we can suggest claims monetization. We are flexible when it comes to crafting solutions that will be best suited to the claim owners as well as the law firms.
LD: What are some other innovative options available at Longford that folks may not think of? You mentioned monetization.
CA: Monetization is certainly a big one, and many claim owners have taken advantage of this option. Monetization is where we make a lump-sum payment or series of payments directly to a client in exchange for a portion of the client’s future litigation recovery, if any.
A newer one is what we refer to as an umbrella agreement, which was inspired by conversations we’ve had with law firms about business development and client service, as well as our own experiences in big law. Our umbrella agreements employ creative techniques to help lawyers deal with that issue.
LD: You’ve talked about how being a general counsel informs your work. What about your time at law firms?
CA: I think that shared experiences can really help cement a relationship. When lawyers come to us with potential matters because my colleagues and I have decades of experience in that same environment, we absolutely understand and speak the same language. This not only helps us regarding legal aspects of a case but also with any logistical issues as our extensive private practice experience allows us to quickly identify and understand what concerns firms may have, if any, especially if it’s a first-time funding experience.
LD: What trends, if any, do you see coming out of the pandemic?
CA: Law, in general, is a read-and-write kind of profession. From a litigation funding point of view, I think that the pandemic has not forced very many changes over the past 18 months. If anything, people were more open to pursuing litigation finance than they have in the past.
But certainly, I have observed some day-to-day practices that have changed in the practice of law. Remote depositions, hearings, and witness preparation that are now common would have never been accepted in a pre-COVID world. I think that will continue when we eventually emerge from the pandemic.
LD: In your view, what distinguishes Longford from other providers of litigation finance?
CA: It's absolutely the people. No doubt. And that sounds incredibly trite and cliché, but I do not hesitate to say that I think our team is world-class.
Moreover, at Longford, a director is with our claim owners and attorneys every step of the way, from first introductory conversation, through due diligence, papering the deal, monitoring and ultimately to final resolution. This is structured to mirror our philosophy that we are partners with the claim owners and attorneys we work with. As a result, we are as invested as our clients in each matter we shepherd through and ultimately, this makes us better partners.