Director Christine Azar is responsible for Burford’s business growth among US-based law firms and companies. She also plays a significant role in championing Burford’s Equity Project initiative, aimed at closing the gender gap in law, and was recently named a 2021 Lawdragon Global 100 leader in Legal Finance and one of Law360’s 25 Most Influential Women in Securities Law.
What is one shift you’ve noticed among users of legal finance over the years?
One major shift has been an increase in business coming directly from corporate contacts at very large household name companies. Just a few years ago, most corporate requests came to us via their outside law firms. Now, in-house counsel and finance teams often come to us early in the process, and sometimes even before they have retained outside counsel.
There is also a shift in the way corporates consider legal finance—they may have used it in one-off cases but are now starting to think of their legal claims as assets. Legal finance is another source of capital for corporates who are building affirmative recovery programs, which is why Burford works with companies to fully understand their business and create a holistic solution across their existing and potential legal claims.
What does The Equity Project provide for women lawyers looking for solutions to gender bias?
We all want to see equity in the law because it’s the right thing to do, but the reality is that law firms also need a business imperative to make significant change. Women law firm partners recognize that to rise internally and be fairly compensated, they must not only be great lawyers but also generate new business. Women face historical challenges in developing business — including the tendency for firm clients to be passed down from male partner to male partner—which is why the ability to offer client-friendly financial terms can go a long way in overcoming those hurdles.
Capital from The Equity Project provides women lawyers with the opportunity to take cases on contingency without creating undue risk for their firms. It’s a win-win situation for the client, the firm and the partner, giving women the ability to grow a book of business and gather the leverage they need to be fairly and equally compensated.
With an expected rise in securities cases post-pandemic—especially when it comes to corporate fraud—what is the first step for institutional investors considering pursuing litigation against large companies?
The first step when considering whether to file a claim is getting an initial sense of what the damages are in that security during the relevant time frame. It’s crucial to understand not just the allegations of fraud or malfeasance, but the time period during which the conduct occurred. Due to the timing of trades, not every investor will have a significant loss even in circumstances where the conduct is egregious, therefore a firm understanding of trading data is key. Making the determination of whether the damages are impactful enough to justify pursuing a claim is complicated, and Burford can assist in that review for institutional investors.
What advice can you offer to law firms that want to attract more clients?
The best piece of advice is to know your client or prospective client. Understand their business, including trends and any headwinds they may be facing. There’s a real disconnect between in-house counsel and their outside law firms over meeting client needs. While this is a challenge, law firms should take this as an opportunity to step up and provide innovative solutions. Those that do so will become the “go to” firms moving forward.
In December 2020, you spoke with several law firm leaders on the impact of Covid-19 and what to expect in the coming year. What is one trend that has played out as discussed, and what change does it bring to the legal industry?
One theme we heard consistently in 2020 was the need to strengthen communications with clients. While part of that was technology focused—the pandemic required a transition to virtual communication—maintaining and growing relationships is crucial to meeting client needs going forward. Clients are now also increasingly concerned with cost and risk.
An obvious way law firms can close the gap in client satisfaction is to provide financial terms that are beneficial to the client, including contingency arrangements. This is where Burford’s role as a legal finance provider comes in—we can bridge the gap between a full hourly model and a full contingency model, helping firms to provide flexible arrangements without taking on too much risk. This allows law firms to handle more cases while providing clients with the great service they are looking for.
Five… favorite attractions in Southeastern Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania is a massive state with many different pockets of culture to explore. My favorite attractions include:
- Longwood Gardens at Kenneth Square for the beautiful botanical gardens with live outdoor music and fountain shows.
- Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia for any food you can think of, as well as a classic Philly cheesesteak.
- Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford — the museum itself is as picturesque as the paintings inside.
- The Brandywine river for canoeing and disconnecting from the bustle of city life.
- Ridley Creek State Park in Media for miles and miles of hiking through the woods.