Litigation funding companies are finding new ways to provide finance and related legal risk management services to companies, law firms and other professional advisers, individuals, governments and more around the world. Omni Bridgeway’s Managing Director and Co-Chief Investment Officer in the Asia-Pacific region, Oliver Gayner, has a deep passion for the work, having worked in the industry since its nascency.
Gayner previously worked for leading law firms Freshfields and Olswang as a lawyer, and Burford Capital and IMF Bentham as a funder. “I learned huge amounts from each experience,” he says. In 2019, ASX-listed IMF Bentham and Europe-based Omni Bridgeway merged, combining enforcement and merits funding specialists, and civil as well as common law expertise.
At the time of the merger, Gayner was IMF Bentham's Head of EMEA, and was a key player in the deal. He now has his sights set on a new development that will improve efficiencies and increase funding opportunities for lower value claims the world over.
“Much of our work is public interest, particularly when it aligns with ESG principles, “says Gayner.
“Our business enables clients of any description to enter the justice system on an equal footing,” he says. “No individual can save the world, but at least I can help improve things case by case!”
Lawdragon: What drew you to litigation finance?
Oliver Gayner: I practiced law for a decade in London before moving into litigation finance in 2012. At that point, litigation finance was in its infancy in the UK and I thought there was huge potential for growth. The legal sector has historically not been explored by the banks, and I thought there was a huge untapped asset class. I also liked the idea of working in a hedge fund type environment, after 10 years at the coalface in law firms!
LD: What do you like most about the work?
OG: For me the most satisfying projects are those that combine important points of principle with generating investment returns. In an ideal world, everyone should have equal access to the civil justice system, and if they did their cases would be decided purely on legal merit and not according to who has the best connections or deepest pockets. I find that a very motivating goal, and we are very fortunate that our business can combine both principle and profit.
LD: Is there one case you’ve been able to fund that stands out as particularly memorable?
OG: As a funder I have been fortunate to work with a wide range of meritorious claimants in the UK, Asia and Australia. When I first moved to Australia in 2015, I started work on my first ever class action, for a small community in regional New South Wales that had woken up one morning to a nightmare: Their homes and businesses had been declared part of a contamination "red zone," resulting from decades of firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals called PFAS which had polluted the groundwater around the Williamtown Air Force Base.
Groundwater is a precious resource in Australia, but our clients were faced with more immediate problems – as well as the health risks, they could not sell or mortgage their homes, or farm their land, or fish their waters. Four years later, we achieved a settlement of $212.5M for Williamtown and two other regional communities. The outcome was a game changer for the clients – it gave them a voice as well as enabling them to move on with their lives. It was legally, politically and socially a fascinating and important matter.
No individual can save the world, but at least I can help improve things case by case!
LD: Those are the ones where it’s all worth it. What trends are you seeing in litigation finance these days?
OG: Litigation finance is continuing to grow and evolve in the core litigation markets around the world such as London and New York. Within Omni Bridgeway, I am responsible for managing the Asia Pacific region along with my friend and colleague Tom Glasgow. In terms of trends we are seeing in our region, in Australia litigation finance has traditionally been associated with insolvency and class action cases, but is now being taken up by the corporate market (SMEs and even large multinationals). Across South East Asia, there is huge potential for growth as jurisdictions like Singapore have permitted funding of international arbitrations and insolvency litigation, and other jurisdictions look to follow suit. There are also many judgments and awards going unpaid, which creates the need for our enforcement finance business.
LD: How has your firm changed since the merger between IMF Bentham and Omni Bridgeway in 2019?
OG: The result is a uniquely global and full-service platform. At the time of the merger, I was IMF Bentham's Head of EMEA and I worked intensively on the M&A process, which was a new but ultimately very rewarding experience for me.
Since the merger, we can now provide assistance to clients facing legal issues at any stage of their process – from pre-litigation to post-judgment, and across each of our three main operating regions (North and South America, EMEA and APAC). That breadth is a very valuable and distinguishing factor.
LD: What do you see coming down the line for the industry? Any predictions?
OG: I am reluctant to try and predict the future! My focus is very much on being the first-choice funder across Asia Pacific, which involves spotting and developing opportunities, employing and developing the best people, and partnering with the right firms and clients.
LD: How did you first decide to pursue a career in the legal industry?
OG: I came to law relatively late, having graduated with a degree in English literature and started out in journalism. I find a good deal of overlap between the professions – legal cases involve a degree of narrative and storytelling, and whilst many of our cases are confidential there are some which are socially important and end up being reported by the media. We also in some cases use social media campaigns where it assists the strategic goal. You sometimes need to be creative as a legal financier – I was taught from an early age that you can't win a race just by following everyone else!
LD: What advice do you have for current law school students?
OG: My advice is to try a few different options when you are young and see what fits best. Shadow some senior people, which will help you figure out where you want to end up with your career – Judge, partner in a law firm, board director or whatever. And then work backwards – what are the necessary steps to achieve that goal?
LD: How has your profession changed since the early part of your career?
OG: When I entered legal finance in 2012, it was a startup industry, in the UK at least. Now it is mainstream and global. The journey has been fascinating.
LD: What characteristics does it take to thrive in this industry?
OG: My clients tend to value a hard work ethic and determination for them to succeed. However, legal finance is a high risk and unpredictable asset class, and you need optimum risk analysis and decision-making processes. As Barack Obama has said, a sound, consultative and logical decision-making process allows you to make difficult decisions and still sleep at night.
In an ideal world, everyone should have equal access to the civil justice system, and their cases would be decided purely on legal merit and not according to who has the best connections or deepest pockets.
LD: What advice would you give potential clients in terms of how to most productively work with a funder?
OG: Bring the funder in as early as possible, so that you jointly devise the case theory and strategy to pursue.
LD: Can you share some strategic plans for your firm in the coming months or years?
OG: I have been working on a global project to help improve the efficiencies in our investment process. One aspect of that is devising a more streamlined, tech enabled and time efficient way to provide funding for higher volume, lower value claims – this is something we hope to take to market by the end of this calendar year.
LD: How have management challenges changed since the start of your career?
OG: There is now increased competition, both from other funders operating in the same markets, and for the most talented employees.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
OG: I am fortunate to live in Sydney, a beautiful city and a great place to bring up a young family. On Friday nights after work I go sailing around Sydney Harbour with a team of mates who have a racing boat – it is an amazing way to close off the week.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the law?
OG: Yes – "Exposure" by the U.S. attorney Rob Bilott, which was turned into the movie "Dark Waters" starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway. Bilott first exposed PFAS contamination in the U.S. and his story is heroic.
LD: If you weren’t in the legal industry, what would you be doing now?
OG: As a kid I dreamed of playing football or cricket for England, but now am very happy coaching my children and their local teams in Sydney!