TRANSCRIPT: "Funding Access to Justice" panel discussion at Pro Bono Net's 20th Anniversary event

SHIRA SCHEINDLIN: Legal finance companies are driving innovation in private law practice.  But today, we also focus on a different question:  How can new capital increase access to justice for the poor and other vulnerable populations? 

We intend to address this in three segments.  First, we will present an overview of the legal finance market and why companies access this funding.

Second, we will describe the many ways in which public impact litigation is funded today. 

Third, we will look to the future and discuss what different models have or might emerge from various sources of funders, focusing in particular on litigation funders.

RALPH SUTTON: The simple definition of litigation finance, what it is, what it isn't and so on.  What it is, the simplest way to say it is David vs. Goliath and law firm portfolios that permit David vs. Goliath funding. 

Now, for a more technical definition, if you'll follow me here.  It's non-recourse investment of capital to a company or a law firm to assist with commercial litigation fees and costs, in exchange for a pre-negotiated return from the proceeds.  Typically, 20-25%, and of course, non-recourse means if we lose the case, we lose any possibility of a return. So that's clear.

We're usually on the plaintiff's side, almost always, and we're doing single cases and portfolios of cases with law firms.

BEN ELGA: A good deal of what I think the public interest litigation that is happening right now is, is being financed, essentially on a contingency basis by plaintiffs firms and I think that we tend to be somewhat rigid in our thinking about what counts as a matter that merits pro bono attention and what counts as a matter that merits contingency work, and I think there's a lot that gets missed in between the two.

I also think that that leads a lot of the people in the current philanthropic ecosystem to not think about damages as a potential tool for change, and I think working with non-profits to think about how damages can be part of their strategy is a really important step to making sure we don't miss very important things that are happening but don't fit neatly into one of those two categories.

HEIDI DOROW: Obviously, we want to help the individual who has been harmed, or individuals who have been harmed, but I think that, how do we use accountability mechanisms to change the course of history and future choices if there is accountability for the separation of children in historical record.  If a family gets compensated for that, or the process of seeking that compensation, and all the records and the documents that are FOIA'd because of that, to me, that changes our future or it has the potential to change our future.

So thank you for what you're doing, it's great to be here with you this evening.