The fact that trainee solicitors are qualifying with a litigation funder shows how the industry has expanded over the last 12 years, a senior director at Harbour has said.
Mark King, who is also Harbour Litigation Funding’s training principal, said part of the training involved understanding the “more commercial aspect of claims” and wanting a role “more as an asset manager than a solicitor”.
He said: “Litigation funding 12 years ago was more about insolvency claims and cases which lacked funding. No funder was thinking about in-house training contracts.
“It is because of the strength and breadth of litigation funding and the way it has grown that we can do things like this, which have not been done before.”
Mr King said Harbour’s decision to train solicitors was originally taken because the firm had a paralegal, Diogo Gouveia, who had secured a training place at a law firm, and Harbour wanted to keep him.
Mr Gouveia completed his training in 2019 and is now an associate director of litigation funding.
The second trainee, Felix Curtis, came in autumn 2019 and is currently on secondment with Eversheds before returning to Harbour next week.
Mr Curtis told Litigation Futures that he had “conflicting interests in law and finance” when he was a law student at Newcastle University.
He worked as a paralegal in a medium-sized City firm when he applied to be a trainee at Harbour.
He started in September 2019, and so had six months in the office before the pandemic began, followed by what has almost been a year of working from home.
Mr Curtis said training in a pandemic had been “exacting and testing at times”, but he never felt he could not ask for help and “people would volunteer to call me up and discuss work”.
Fund-raising was the “main project” when he joined Harbour, followed by “going out and finding cases”, managing cases, drafting commercial agreements and managing intellectual property.
Mr Curtis said he was given a lot of responsibility, rare even for a newly qualified lawyer at some law firms, and had to develop his skills quickly. “It was a baptism of fire that suited me.”
Last autumn, he was seconded to Eversheds Sutherland, but he spent only a day in the office before the second national lockdown began. His first three months at Eversheds focused on financial disputes and investigations, the second three on construction litigation.
Mr King said with three seats in legal operations, finance and the investment team, Harbour wanted to offer a secondment, which had the benefit too of helping the law firm understand what went on at Harbour.
He said that no trainee was taken on last autumn and there was no decision yet on whether to take one this year. Mr King said the idea was that Harbour would take a trainee “as and when required”.
He said it helped that Mr Curtis was the only trainee at the firm and allowed for “very close supervision” during the pandemic.
Mr King said the virus had not produced a “dip” in demand for litigation funding and the impact of Brexit would probably be greater on the firm, particularly in terms of the enforceability of judgments and impact on competition and anti-trust disputes previously driven by the European Commission.
On the positive side, he said general counsel and chief financial officers at large corporations were increasingly interested in litigation funding to avoid having to spend their legal budget on expensive litigation.