By Alison Preece | September 6, 2022 | Legal Consultant Limelights
Before joining Omni Bridgeway in 2015, Matthew Harrison spent 15 years as a litigation associate and partner at Latham & Watkins in San Francisco.
There, his practice focused primarily on representing large corporations in a variety of securities, mergers and acquisitions, and auditor liability litigation matters. “Throughout my career,” says Harrison, “I also gained invaluable experience in a wide variety of other complex commercial cases involving antitrust and competition, trade secrets, intellectual property, false advertising and mass torts.”
He's bringing this extensive experience to bear as Managing Director and Co-Chief Investment Officer (U.S.) of Omni Bridgeway, a leader in the litigation finance space.
Among a number of new initiatives in 2022, Omni Bridgeway recently launched its U.S. Judgment Enforcement Team, which complements the company's already "gold standard" enforcement capabilities across the rest of the globe.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the work being done at Omni Bridgeway?
Matthew Harrison: Broadly speaking, Omni Bridgeway provides legal risk management services to a wide range of litigants and their counsel across the globe. This primarily includes investing non-recourse capital to support the meritorious claims or defenses of individuals, both small and large companies, and law firms. While only a part of what Omni Bridgeway does at present, the company strives to assist those that otherwise do not have access to an often cost-prohibitive U.S. legal system.
LD: What do you enjoy about this work?
MH: I work with a group of immensely talented and thoughtful legal professionals who strive to maintain the highest level of legal and business ethics. I appreciate the enthusiasm and positivity that is often lacking in the context of litigation's adversarial posture. We do deals and help people solve for legal risk. Lawyers are a pleasure to work with in this career because they too are looking for these solutions, both for their clients and their firms.
All of that said, one of the most gratifying things about my job is getting an email from a claimant after a successful resolution that thanks us for our help and acknowledges that they could not have gotten through the onerous litigation gauntlet without us.
LD: What excites you about the industry?
MH: At the risk of sounding pretentious, I believe litigation finance is likely the biggest innovation in the legal industry in decades. It's not often that a major game-changer comes along in a profession that is so deeply rooted in history, tradition and precedent. As with all new concepts, this industry has been met with some level of uncertainty, skepticism and pushback. I'm thrilled to see how far the industry has come already in my seven years. While it will always have its detractors – often underpinned by ulterior motives – it is clearly here to stay and is becoming almost a routine inquiry when contemplating protracted and expensive high-stakes litigation. And there is good reason for that. It is a beneficial, non-recourse solution to the two largest problems that litigants face: risk and expense.
LD: What trends you are seeing in the funding space these days?
MH: To begin with, we are seeing an acceleration of case resolutions as the civil dockets get back on track after Covid-19. We are also seeing a substantial uptick in funding inquiries as various litigation initiatives no longer remain on hold.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, I believe litigation finance is likely the biggest innovation in the legal industry in decades.
One dramatic trend is the general acceptance of litigation finance among large, traditionally defense-side law firms that are often resistant to departing from the billable hour. Of course, a number of partners at almost every large law firm has used or entertained the use of litigation finance. But we are seeing increased adoption and acceptance on an enterprise-wide level.
The same can be said of large companies, whose GCs and CFOs are increasingly recognizing that litigation finance is, at bottom, an important risk-mitigation and cost-reduction tool. Another important trend is the evolution of the secondary market for litigation funding matters, portfolios and slices of portfolios.
LD: What prompted the development of Omni’s U.S. Judgment Enforcement Team?
MH: U.S. litigants often do not fully consider or appreciate potential collectability and enforcement issues at the early stage of an engagement. Our enforcement expertise ensures – both at the pre-judgment and post-judgment stages – that the claimant is in an optimal position to collect on a hard-earned award from a recalcitrant judgment debtor.
The main hurdle is getting both lawyers and claimants to contemplate potential collectability concerns early in the litigation lifecycle – before recalcitrant judgment debtors have an opportunity to dissipate assets. The early focus is typically on how to win the case. But a judgment without payment is a pyrrhic victory.
LD: Has the launch been a success so far?
MH: Based on market feedback – and frankly, the workload of the U.S. Enforcement Team – this service certainly has fulfilled a need in the industry in the U.S. We anticipate expanding our team in the future to satisfy demand for this important solution.
LD: Did any experience from your undergraduate work push you towards the legal world?
MH: I graduated with a B.A. in Business Administration from The University of Washington, with a concentration in marketing and finance. My undergraduate degree was very helpful in my securities litigation practice. And the combination of the finance and marketing background has been ideal in my funding career because those are two major components of this role.
LD: And then your legal background to round it off!
MH: Yes, my legal education and training – especially from such a phenomenal firm – also has been instrumental to my role. This business involves a rare combination of litigation analysis and financial deal-making, as well as educating the legal profession about it. Thus, I feel like I was built for this profession.
LD: Sounds like it. Did you have any inkling that your career would turn out like this?
MH: Not at all, given that it really did not even exist in the U.S. as a standalone industry until about a decade or so ago. In fact, I was only generally aware of it when approached by Omni Bridgeway to join.
LD: What advice do you have now for current students or young professionals who wish to have a similar type of career?
MH: Generally speaking, work hard, hustle, be kind and ethical, and exude enthusiasm and integrity. Even if you are on the receiving end of the worst project imaginable, do your best and convey the impression that you are thrilled to do it. It is incredible how far a good attitude, coachability and ownership can take you in your career. Smile and try to have some semblance of balance in life.
With respect to a litigation finance career, companies typically hire litigators with meaningful experience in the trenches. Get as much experience and knowledge of litigation as possible. Be a "student of the game" and try to understand the entire (and varied) lifecycle of litigation with the view that litigation is an asset class – albeit a very risky one.
One dramatic trend is the general acceptance of litigation finance among large, traditionally defense-side law firms that are often resistant to departing from the billable hour.
LD: Tell us about your law school experience.
MH: I really enjoyed my time at UCLA Law, in large part because of professors who were so passionate about the subject matter that they taught. There were many, but Professors Kirk Stark, John Wiley (now California Court of Appeal Justice), Eugene Volokh and Grant Nelson stick out. In a cynical world where professors are expected to "publish or perish," these folks made pedagogy a huge priority. They ingrained within me the importance of enthusiasm and passion about one's trade. It goes a long way in inspiring others, as these professors did for me.
LD: Did you have other mentors once you started at Latham?
MH: One of my greatest mentors at Latham & Watkins was James Farrell (now at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher). The guy is unflappable. A zealous – yet ethical and collegial – advocate, through and through. He taught me a lot of what I learned about being a lawyer. And he imparted very helpful life lessons along the way. He was never fazed by anything. In fact, he often ribbed me about "erecting 50-foot concrete bunkers for a ping-pong ball attack." I appreciated the calming presence, but also thought we worked well together because of our different personalities.
LD: How has litigation finance changed since you entered the game?
MH: When I joined it in 2015, our services were focused more on David versus Goliath and access to justice propositions. It also was not widely understood in the legal industry. Credit to the reputable players in the industry (including, in large part, Omni Bridgeway) for educating the market about the value proposition while conducting business ethically. Even the largest players in the industry still assist individuals and small companies in getting their day in court, yet it has become much bigger than that. The evolution of the market and the increased demand is a testament to the value it provides to players of all shapes and sizes in the legal industry. In the end, it is a sophisticated risk- and cost-mitigation tool – who wouldn't want that in their toolbelt?
LD: How would you describe your style or philosophy as a legal funder?
MH: I learned at Latham & Watkins that good client service is paramount. Respect, civility and compassion are critical – especially in an industry where people are looking to you for the financial assistance to accomplish their goals. A former colleague and I who worked together on a number of massive, contentious cases abided by the adage that "you catch more flies with honey." We were tough when we needed to be, but life as a lawyer is far more enjoyable with civility – which is why I like this job so much. Setting aside the basic indicia of success in this career (experience, good legal judgment, strong analytical skills, etc.), other very important characteristics are hustle, passion and enthusiasm for what we do. And, of course, a strong sense of teamwork, collaboration, fair play and business ethics are major factors.
LD: Do you have any negative experiences in advising lawyers that taught you new approaches, or caused you to reconsider working with lawyers?
MH: Litigation is adversarial and cutthroat. In my prior legal life, I encountered lawyers who were trained in a much different environment than I was at Latham & Watkins. While some lawyers may thrive in an uncivil environment, it's wholly unnecessary and taxing on the soul. My former UCLA Law professor, the Honorable John Wiley of the California Court of Appeal, authored a must-read opinion on this issue in Karton v. Ari Design & Construction. Among other things, he advised, "Excellent lawyers deserve higher fees, and excellent lawyers are civil. Sound logic and bitter experience support these points."
In the end, it is a sophisticated risk- and cost-mitigation tool – who wouldn't want that in their toolbelt?
Thankfully, we rarely (if ever) get into an adversarial posture in the litigation finance world. Lawyers come to us seeking solutions for themselves and their clients. We serve as trusted partners in the inherently unpredictable world of high-stakes litigation. The relationships I have established with members of the legal profession in this role are thoroughly rewarding.
LD: You serve as Managing Director and Co-Chief Investment Officer at Omni Bridgeway. What are some current challenges you face in your leadership role?
MH: One challenge is the increased competitive landscape, though perhaps not for the reason one might think. There certainly are many more players in the industry than in 2015 when I started. But we are confident that Omni Bridgeway offers superior capabilities on many levels. To me, the challenge of inexperienced entrants is ensuring that our industry does things the right way – ethically, fairly and above board.
Unfortunately, there will always be bad actors in every profession. We are hopeful that new market entrants ensure that transactions are fair to their counterparties and avoid deals that fall into gray areas of propriety. Our goal is to be the gold standard of legal finance ethical practices and we hope others in the industry will follow suit.
LD: Can you talk more about what sets Omni Bridgeway apart?
MH: The reputation and history of Omni Bridgeway speaks for itself. We have the most robust experience of anyone in our industry, having done it for decades in Australia, the U.S. and across the globe. We have encountered almost every issue that comes up in a litigation funding relationship and know how to resolve it favorably. Moreover, we offer the deepest bench of bright, experienced and innovative legal professionals out there.
We have increased our client service by engaging an investment team with a broad array of specialized legal expertise, including in the areas of patent, international arbitration, antitrust, insurance coverage, judgment enforcement, employment, trade secrets and other soft IP, securities, appellate and more. We know how to ask the right questions and serve as a good partner to both the claimant and the lawyers throughout the lifecycle of complex litigation.
As a public company for over 20 years, we have the capital to weather any storm and our transparency is readily apparent in our public filings. We know that a successful relationship in the unpredictable world of complex litigation depends on setting expectations early and sticking to them, thus extending our transparency to our relationships with the lawyers and claimants with whom we work.
We are both nimble and creative. We strive to get to a funding decision as fast as possible because we know that speed is important to our counterparties. And if the initial answer is no, we work diligently to get to yes if at all feasible by devising innovative deal structures to address the risk profiles at hand.
Lastly, we come back to the key ingredient: integrity. We do things the right way, with our counterparties' interests in mind. If we are ever presented with a transaction that has the potential to be unfair to the claimant in reasonably foreseeable outcomes, we simply will not do it.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
MH: My Co-Chief Investment Officer, Jim Batson, would readily agree that this is my favorite question when we interview prospective candidates. I have three amazing children between the ages of 12-17, so I spend seemingly every waking hour outside of work with them. This roughly translates to many thoroughly enjoyable hours as a chauffeur, spectator and coach of various sporting activities.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the law?
MH: My favorite legal book is “Writing to Win” by Steven D. Stark. Every litigator should read it, highlight it and refer back to it often. As for movies, “My Cousin Vinny” is amazing.
LD: If you weren’t in your current job, what would you be doing now?
MH: This is a tough one because I really love my job. Perhaps being a ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho.