A barrister for over two decades, you’ve recently joined Burford from Matrix Chambers. What convinced you to make the switch?
In the past decade, litigation funding has developed from being an outrageous idea to being an integral part of the litigation mainstream—and Burford has been at the heart, and indeed the vanguard, of the growth of the industry. Joining the largest, and arguably the most sophisticated player, in the space gives me the opportunity to use my skillset in new challenges and in a new setting. But by no means least importantly, everyone has been so open, friendly and welcoming. I really am delighted to be joining Burford.
Was there a defining moment that inspired you to focus your legal practice on fraud, asset tracing, money laundering (and the like)?
I wouldn't say it was a defining moment. My practice evolved from the criminal bar over a period of about a decade through public law and into financial crime, and from there into the proceeds of crime and into commercial litigation. When I started focusing on fraud and asset tracing, I found it to be a very interesting field, and one that has grown exponentially in the last decade. And I personally find it very easy to focus on, because the legal and factual challenges are woven together, making for an intellectual stimulus.
For many people, the concept of asset recovery remains something of a mystery—how would you describe what you and Burford do to a layperson?
Asset recovery is the process of turning an obligation into hard cash by investigating and proving the links between the debtor and the assets or money they enjoy. I say enjoy rather than own. I once heard a judge respond to a defense submission by saying, "Do you know my world seems to be full of assets that nobody seems to own…" Burford makes sure the right resources are put in place and deployed correctly in order to prove the link between the debtor and the asset most effectively.
Unenforced judgments account for billions of dollars worldwide. What is the biggest hurdle for clients facing recalcitrant debtors? Is there a realistic solution?
The diversity of the human race is matched only by the variety of ways in which recalcitrant debtors will avoid and evade their liabilities. Common to all of them, however, is the hope that the claimant will eventually give up. The number of defendants that are convinced that if they talked long enough and convolutedly enough they would eventually get their way is beyond belief. It takes patience, determination and having the right strategy in place to eventually persuade the recalcitrant debtor that their plan won't work. We at Burford have the experience of having seen a great many of the ways that recalcitrant debtors will try to avoid their debts, so we can help finance and structure the strategy to make sure the recovery takes place.
What region is most interesting to you from an asset recovery perspective—either because of the opportunities available or the particular challenges posed by the area?
The biggest challenge for the future is the cyberworld and cryptoassets. They throw up complex, difficult problems of a legal, technical and practical nature for asset recovery lawyers, problems that range from what they are—in the matter of property law—through to how they can be realized against somebody who doesn't want to cooperate. All of those issues are only just beginning to be discussed and identified, and very few—if any—have been resolved yet. I think the cyberworld is possibly the most interesting area for any asset recovery specialist, funder or practitioner.
Top 5 favorite…
- Film: Pulp Fiction
- Book: The Da Vinci Code
- Album: Metallica’s Black Album
- TV show: Fawlty Towers
- Newspaper: The Times