Gabriela Bersuder is a Vice President who works with Burford’s clients and prospects as part of its legal finance investment team.
You recently moved from Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler to Burford. What excites you the most about the transition?
The thing I love most about being a litigator is the client service focus of lawyering. So, as a trusted advisor to both corporates and law firms, Burford was a great professional fit for me. I can now also think outside the typical litigator’s box.
Because Burford sits as the intersection of law and finance, it is more acutely aware of clients’ business needs as a matter of course. Burford cares not only about the merits of the legal claims, but also about how a particular litigation and the damages arising from it affect the business overall. We also think about the client’s broader vision: Does the company, for example, require capital to launch a new product or fund operational expenses? Is a law firm trying to start a new practice area? And, most exciting for me, how can Burford help? These are questions I now address on a regular basis while still drawing on the exceptional legal training I received at Patterson.
Having worked with large Fortune 500 companies in your prior role, what is one pain point you observed among corporates—and how can legal finance help?
At Patterson, I had the pleasure of working with market leaders in their respective fields. As household names, our clients often became the targets of nuisance litigation. Being on the receiving end of unmeritorious litigation is frustrating to say the least and is a constant exercise in damage control. While in-house lawyers are attuned to business needs, they are aware that defense litigation can detract from business goals.
While nuisance litigation may be unavoidable, financing for affirmative litigation offers in-house lawyers a way to evolve the conversation about legal expenses and the stature of the in-house legal department with their internal constituencies. Burford can help in-house departments contribute to a company’s bottom line while providing resources for in-house lawyers to do what they do best—serve as stewards of household brands and companies.
According to the 2021 Legal Asset Report, just over half (53%) of food and beverage companies report having extensive affirmative recovery programs. From your own experience working with corporates in the industry, what benefit can food and beverage companies derive from meritorious litigation?
Food and beverage companies tend to attract many unmeritorious suits, so I can only imagine how cathartic it will be for these companies to leverage their untapped legal assets by either monetizing those assets outright or de-risking the investment in legal fees and expenses. Separate from the catharsis of being on the other side of the “v”, corporates also have significant business interest in defending legal and contract claims. In certain instances, companies in a defensive posture may be able to use affirmative litigation to offset their liability. For example, companies that have been hit with a lawsuit over false labeling may defray defense expenses by using legal finance to bring suit against counterparties who failed to meet contractual obligations. In today’s post-pandemic climate, we also know that many companies will experience supply chain issues. Companies need not bear those risks alone.
You’re a graduate of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s Pathfinder Program. What’s one takeaway from your experience with LCLD?
The main takeaway that I will keep with me was the realization that I was not alone. So many like me—a first generation college educated, racially diverse attorney and a mother—face the same challenges as I have in a profession that still lags in diversity. The lawyers I met through the program inspire me on a regular basis; many have become law firm partners while others are rising in their in-house organizations. We have stayed in touch after the program and share ideas, network and provide referrals—small acts that add up to systemic change.
The legal industry has made good strides towards becoming more inclusive and more diverse, but there is still so much work left to be done. Knowing that other LCLD alumni are pushing the industry forward on these issues make me very hopeful about the future of our profession.
What role does an economic incentive like The Equity Project play in enabling women or racially diverse lawyers to take on substantial matters and grow within their firms?
Law firms already routinely think about diversity in recruitment, but the main challenges come from retention, promotion and succession planning. The Equity Project provides a concrete way to address at least two of those challenges. Burford aims to spur the careers of female and racially diverse attorneys by providing capital and empowering exceptionally talented lawyers to achieve recognition that could otherwise take much longer to achieve.
Having lived the law firm life, we all know that money speaks and origination credit reigns supreme. Legal finance provides a way to develop relationships with new clients who may lack the resources of large institutional clients. And, because Burford takes on the risk, many of these diverse attorneys can cement their standing internally at their firms and build significant books of business. It’s exactly the boost that many diverse rising stars in their respective fields need.
Five…favorite parks in the United States?
My husband and I enjoy spending time outdoors, so we have several places to recommend. Here are a few destinations:
- Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak on the eastern escarpment of Blue Ridge
- Chimney Rock State Park for the best view of Lake Lure
- Central Park—a strangely underrated luxury for NYC residents
- Rockefeller Preserve with its crushed stone carriage roads
- Weir Farm, so you can see woods that inspired world-class artists