The following is contributed by Rory Donadio, CEO of www.tribecalawsuitloans.com
There are many ways to look at what those of us who fund litigation do. Is this a pre-settlement cash advance or a non-recourse loan? Is it really a loan or an investment? But far more important than what we call our work is what we actually do. According to a September 2021 Bloomberg Law investigation into litigation funding88% of responding lawyers believe that litigation funding allows better access to justice.
Without justice for all, democracy fails. So I argue that litigation funding is an investment in democracy.
Since the inception of this industry, when it was ripe for opportunity and unregulated like the Wild West, I have been enthusiastic and motivated to help real people in their pursuit of justice. We help level the playing field between big, powerful corporations and financially damaged people who have been wronged. A pre-settlement loan robs the insurance company of the plaintiff’s economic desperation it is so eager to weaponize as it strives to protect its customers from liability.
Through the litigation funding we provide, ordinary Americans can do the extraordinary – hold the most powerful entities in our society accountable for their actions. What could be more fundamental for democracy than that?
We invest in democracy. Believe it and never let go.
Advice to others in litigation funding
When Tribeca advises newcomers to the industry, I tell them to diversify their portfolios to invest in a wide range of cases. I encourage them to prioritize relationships with everyone – with the customers, the lawyers, the postman, the person checking your groceries at your local store, that stranger who looks like he needs a friend. and, of course, other funders and brokers. Most importantly, I advise them to never lose sight of the real good you can do with litigation funding. Never forget that we help real people in need — that we invest in democracy.
Allow me to share the story of one of our clients, who I am now proud to call my friend. The case of Derrick Hamilton is one – of many – that has clarified how litigation funding actually invests in democracy.
When democracy falters
In 2011 Derrick Hamilton was released from prison after serving 21 years for a murder he did not commit. He was fully exonerated in 2015. In this country, it is said that it is better to let ten culprits go free than to convict a single innocent. Yet our justice system snatched more than two decades from this man’s life. Our justice system failed him.
As bad as his wrongful imprisonment was, the way he was treated after his release was almost worse. He was released from prison in poverty with no support structure. And when he sued the state for compensation for the wrongful imprisonment — you know what happened next — the state’s attorneys blocked. Despite knowing that the state wrongfully locked this man away from his family, friends and life, knowing that the state owed him compensation for this vast injustice, attorneys representing New York and Connecticut still dragged out its compensation negotiations for six years.
Think about it for a moment. There were no complex issues to analyze or painstaking research required. Nevertheless, more than two decades of this man’s life have been stolen – a fact recognized by all parties. They delayed his compensation — for six whole years – because they could. They hoped that his financial difficulties would force him to accept far less money than he was owed, just to make the pain stop. It almost worked.
Luckily, we were able to help fund his wrongful incarceration lawsuit. I gained more than a business deal from this experience.
All money looks alike
If you’re desperate and can’t muster the funds to keep a roof over your family’s head or provide necessary medical care, then every dollar is precious. But when you have enough money to cover all your needs and wants, then every dollar is like any other.
Always looking for money just adds to bigger piles of paper. But when we invest in people, we create opportunities to thrive. Unfortunately, these opportunities are sometimes wasted. But through passion, hard work, and faith in God, some people turn their chance to thrive into a way to uplift those around them. When this happens, you know your investment has paid rich dividends.
Investing in people pays huge dividends
Supporting cases like Derrick’s has crystallized my sense of the work we do. I recognized that, in a small way, I was investing in him and in our democracy by helping him continue his fight for justice. First I helped a man. Then, with the pre-installation financing we provided, Derrick opened his own business and invested in someone else’s restaurant. He raised the money he needed to hire other exonerated people to work with him, to get justice for others still behind bars. He did it while continuing to fight for the compensation he deserved.
When I look at all Derrick has accomplished with the lawsuit loan I provided – just a cash advance on the money he was owed – I am both humbled and impressed. I helped Derrick Hamilton, but he, in turn, helped his family start a business and grow another. He employed other men in his same situation, others wrongfully imprisoned, and together they help even more people.
Each dollar is a duplicate of another, but a single life that is upgraded extends far, improving the lives of others. That someone we help plant a garden, raise a child, or create opportunity for others our society has left behind is a beautiful thing. And each of these lives is singular, irreplaceable and utterly unique.
Calculating how one life can improve so many others, strengthen our society, and make our democracy work a little better is much messier than standard accounting, and more difficult. The math is harder, but it’s so much more rewarding!
Build a team and move forward
More advice for those new to litigation funding — surround yourself with quality people who share your vision. After 28 years in the industry, I now have an amazing staff doing just that. They are open-minded, caring and hardworking. They explore how legal funding invests in people and strengthens our democracy. They never shy away from the messy bookkeeping involved.
What’s different for me today is that I’m not afraid to admit I made a mistake, I can own it and I can learn from it. When I was one of the pioneers of the litigation funding industry in the 90s, there were no safeguards or guidelines. In many ways, we invented the industry as we worked. Together we’ve helped a lot of people, but I’ve also made a lot of mistakes. I lost contracts and made loans that I should have walked away from, but those mistakes helped shape the man and investor I have become today. My faith has given me the comfort of knowing that there is enough for my warehouse. I don’t need to have all the chords.
I consider self-reflection, passion, work ethic and my relationship with God as the secrets of my success.
Moreover, the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them—to grow—is as essential to success in this field as in any other. Each case is so different from the next; there is a lot of trial and error involved. So when mistakes happen, the truth is better revealed because you see the problem more clearly. The goal should not be to avoid failure but to learn from it and move forward.
My mantra has become, “Yesterday’s denials are today’s approvals.”
I find my passion for litigation funding redoubled. I feel honored to be able to invest in the justice system of our democracy.
Where is the litigation funding industry headed?
As long as we have positive market regulation, the litigation funding industry will continue to grow. We need to be proactive with legislation to keep businesses honest and keep the industry available for those who need it.
I see legal funding as a truly noble endeavor, where we use our money to help vulnerable people in distress meet their needs and get the compensation they deserve. Unfortunately, some see nothing but an opportunity to further victimize these people and reap quick benefits regardless of the damage they inflict.
Our industry needs sensible regulations that do the following:
- Curbing predatory lending practices
- Enabling consumers to get the help they need
- Protect the funder’s investment in the deal
Currently, there are bills in Kentucky, North Carolina, New Jersey, Colorado and New York that we are watching closely. Currently, most appear to be positive laws that can benefit our industry and our customers. Too often legislators don’t understand our industry, or they paint good and bad actors with the same brush, so it’s essential to be proactive when legislation is drafted and debated.
Litigation funding can serve a variety of clients and needs. Sometimes it helps individuals pay their rent while settlement negotiations drag on. Other times, it can provide a litigant with the funds they need to hire an expert witness or obtain an expensive analysis that can make their case. It can also be used for working capital of business entities during litigation to cover their costs. Get creative with how you approach legal funding and you will always find people who will benefit from your support.
I’m the CEO of Tribeca Lawsuit Loans. We fund a wide variety of personal injury and mass tort litigation. Cases I’m watching closely in 2022 include:
Finally, cases of wrongful imprisonment will be forever dear to my heart. As a result, I’ll be fascinated to see how the class action lawsuit against Hertz — for its shameful practice of falsely accusing customers of rental vehicle theft — pans out.
The author of this article is Rory Donadio. Rory can be reached by email: [email protected]
Follow us on social networks