As it appeared on High Performance Counsel
WHO ARE YOU AND HOW DID YOU END UP IN THE LEGAL BUSINESS?
J. ROSS WALLIN: Before co-founding Curiam, I worked as a litigator in New York for nearly two decades, first at two white shoe firms where I did mostly defense-side work, and later as a partner at a litigation boutique, where I represented mostly plaintiffs. That experience gave me a lot of insight into how parties on each side of the “v.” think about complex litigation. I was exposed to litigation finance as a practicing lawyer for many years before I co-founded Curiam. And it has been obvious for several decades that financing options for litigants and law firms were too limited. All those factors made it the ideal time to switch my focus from litigation to litigation finance.
OWEN L. CYRULNIK: I started practicing law at Cravath straight out of law school. It was an excellent place to learn how to practice law, but most of the younger lawyers at large, established firms are insulated from the business of law. That changed when I became a partner in a small boutique litigation firm where the business realities of running a law firm were as important as the mechanics and strategies of the litigation. That experience translates well into the litigation finance industry, which over the past decade has begun to transform the way that law firms and lawsuits are financed and has the potential over the next decade radically to transform the economic foundations of the legal industry.
MOLLY L. PEASE: Like many who go to law school, I started my career at a large white-shoe law firm. But I soon became frustrated by the big firm mantra of doing things the way they had always been done and resisting efforts towards effciency or innovation. As a junior associate, I joined two partners who were starting their own litigation boutique with an eye towards doing things differently. After a successful decade of pursuing financial crisis litigation our own way, I was offered the opportunity to join Curiam – a new investment firm in the growing and innovative world of litigation finance. I was drawn in by the challenge of helping to build another business in a world that requires creative financial thinking, strong client relationships, and deep legal expertise.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION YOU’RE A PART OF. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOU IN JOINING THE ORGANIZATION? WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT MOST?
J. ROSS WALLIN: Owen and I founded Curiam because we saw an opportunity to start our own business in an innovative and growing extension of the more traditional legal industry. As practicing lawyers, we had first-hand experience with litigation finance and knew how much value the right financing partner could add to strong claims. And we saw real opportunity to build a client-focused investment firm that could assess litigation risk based on decades of experience prosecuting some of the largest commercial cases in the United States.
OWEN L. CYRULNIK: What drew me to this industry was the chance to use my traditional litigation skills in a more dynamic and innovative field. Litigation finance is exciting work, and we’re happy to be building our name in it.
DESCRIBE YOUR TEAM. WHAT DO YOU (EACH) BRING TO THE TABLE? WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF THE TEAM DYNAMIC YOU EXPERIENCE?
MOLLY L. PEASE: Recently, our team met with a claimant and his lawyer to discuss a nancing opportunity, and after the meeting, the lawyer called me to say that he really liked the rapport that the three of us had and could tell that we worked well together. We take that as high praise and think our team dynamic is critical to our success.
OWEN L. CYRULNIK: Ross and I worked together at the start of our legal careers at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. We then reconnected again at Grais & Ellsworth LLP, where we also met and worked with Molly. So we’ve known each other for years and were enthusiastic about building a new business together. We understand each other’s work habits and strengths, so we’ve really been able to move quickly in dividing up responsibilities, maximizing our efficiency, and moving the business forward. We also just have a lot of fun working together.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL CLIENT LOOK LIKE – WHAT ARE THE ISSUES THEY’RE FACING?
J. ROSS WALLIN: It varies. Some are relatively new to the world of litigation finance. Those clients have more questions about how financing works. And they often need comfort on basic questions like whether we will control, or try to control, the litigation. (The answer is no.) Others are extremely experienced with the industry and have specific terms in mind before they call us. But the one constant is that all clients want a finance partner that they can trust. When a counterparty is comfortable with our initial financing terms, it can still take a lot of effort to get the deal finished. Parties expect us to be – and we aspire to be – straightforward, efficient, and reliable in our dealings both before the deal closes and afterwards through the life of the investment.
IN YOUR WORDS, WHAT NEW OR BETTER OPPORTUNITY DO YOU CREATE FOR LEGAL INDUSTRY CLIENTS?
MOLLY L. PEASE: When we work with clients on financing opportunities, we are very candid. What we say is what you get. We do not mislead or try to renegotiate terms at the last minute on the assumption that time pressure will force our counterparties to cave. We are looking to build a reputation for an efficient, straightforward, and user-friendly due diligence process.
DESCRIBE YOUR SOLUTION – FROM A CLIENT’S PERSPECTIVE – NOT YOURS. HOW DOES IT HELP YOUR CLIENTS?
J. ROSS WALLIN: The main way we help is by giving clients and law firms financial options. For example, our financing might allow a plaintiff to hire a lawyer who is unwilling or unable to work on a straight contingency. Or it might help a plaintiff to keep more of the recovery from a lawsuit than it otherwise would be able to keep if it had to hire a lawyer on a straight contingency. On the law firm side, our financing can relieve uncertainty about cash flow and give firms the capital they need to develop new cases or expand operations.
WHAT STAGE ARE YOU AT? HOW’S IT GOING? GIVE US A SENSE OF THINGS – THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.
OWEN L. CYRULNIK: Curiam offcially launched in early 2018, so we are nearing the end of our first year. We have been pleased by the demand for our financing and we have been able to deploy capital a bit more quickly than we expected. Building a reputation in the industry takes time, but we are starting to see the results of our efforts. We now receive phone calls from interested parties saying they have heard about Curiam’s reputation for straightforward and ecient business dealings, which is the best feedback we can get.
J. ROSS WALLIN: To date, we’ve already reviewed over 80 opportunities for financing, which has also helped us develop our own internal sense of the types of deals we want to do and those that generally do not fit our risk profile. This allows us to make underwriting decisions even more efficiently as we move forward.
WHAT ASPECT(S) DO YOU FIND BUYERS ARE MOST RECEPTIVE TO?
MOLLY L. PEASE: When lawyers or claimants work with Curiam, they know that, at every step of the process, they will be talking to the people who have the authority to make final investment decisions. In other words, claimants and lawyers have direct access to Curiam’s ultimate decision-makers, which makes the process more transparent and efficient.
WHERE DO YOU SEE MORE QUESTIONS OR PUSHBACK?
OWEN L. CYRULNIK: There are still many lawyers who have misconceptions about litigation finance and how it works. The industry needs to continue to educate lawyers and business people about the benefits of financing complex commercial litigation.
DO YOU FIND LEGAL INDUSTRY BUYERS TO BE RECEPTIVE TO INNOVATION? HOW READY FOR CHANGE DO YOU THINK THE LEGAL INDUSTRY IS?
OWEN L. CYRULNIK: The short answer is – it depends. Certain players in the legal industry are very forward thinking. Others are very cautious about making significant changes unless they can be reassured that most of their peers are doing the same thing. The legal profession tends to change more slowly than other professions. But with the increased competition from non-law firm legal businesses, the law firms that will succeed are those that are willing to innovate and think creatively.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS BEING THE GREATEST CHANGE IN THE LEGAL INDUSTRY IN THE NEXT DECADE?
J. ROSS WALLIN: The next decade in the legal industry is likely to see the biggest changes in the use of technology to increase accuracy and effciency in legal work. Whichever law firm or legal business figures out how best to do that is likely to see initial resistance from others but then hurried imitation once a proof of concept has been established.
AND A LITTLE FUN:
FANCY RESTAURANT OR GASTRO FOOD TRUCK. WHAT’S YOUR GO-TO FAVORITE FOOD?
J. ROSS WALLIN: Even though I love food and cooking, my patience for three-hour restaurant meals has waned over the years, so I guess I’ll go with gastro food truck. But I never pass up a chance to go to a truly great restaurant.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE? JUST ONE. AND WHY?
OWEN L. CYRULNIK: A Few Good Men. Indisputably the best movie ever made. What do you want to discuss now? My favorite color?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE HOBBY WHEN YOU’RE NOT BUSY IMPROVING THE LEGAL INDUSTRY?
MOLLY L. PEASE: I’ve recently taken up platform tennis. Since it’s an outdoor winter sport, it’s a great way to get some exercise and fresh air during the time of year when most people are otherwise indoors. And it’s also humbling to play a competitive sport that reminds me that I’m not twenty years old anymore.
IF YOU WERE STRANDED ON A DESERT ISLAND, WHAT ONE BOOK WOULD YOU WANT?
OWEN L. CYRULNIK: Make It Out Alive on a Desert Island by Claudia Martin.
A FERRARI, A PRIUS OR A BICYCLE. WHICH WOULD YOU PICK?
J. ROSS WALLIN: Bicycle. I aspire to never own a car for as long as I live in New York.