One of the younger players in commercial plaintiff financing, Lake Whillans Litigation Finance, is only about eighteen months old and is already making a dent in the industry. We recently spoke with Lake Whillans’ co-founders, Lee Drucker and Boaz Weinstein, about the firm’s history and success.
Weinstein – a graduate of Columbia Law School – was a litigator at Cleary Gottlieb and at Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman before working in litigation finance at BlackRobe Capital Partners.
Drucker, who worked at Burford Advisors while completing NYU’s JD/MBA program, came to litigation finance full-time when he joined BlackRobe in 2011. The two left BlackRobe to found Lake Whillans in April 2013.
Like other commercial litigation financing companies, Lake Whillans – named after an Antarctic subglacial lake – support small and medium sized businesses against larger defendants with deeper pockets. So far, according to Weinstein, these plaintiffs have generally been developers of “emerging technologies… who have been railroaded by larger competitors.”
The company has enjoyed early success, with three of its initial investments concluding successfully within its first year of business.
Though Lake Whillans shies away from pure patent claims, Drucker and Weinstein have seen cases involving breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of fiduciary, and more.
“We’re involved in cases where clients have really been wronged,” said Weinstein, “and the outcome should be determined by the merit of their case rather than the money in their pocket.”
This reflects the philosophy driving plaintiff financing at large: to give the harmed what they need to be made whole again. It’s a simple and necessary idea, but the practice of law evolves slowly.
“The greatest challenge to the [plaintiff financing] industry,” said Drucker, “is developing the muscle memory… what happens now is that a lawyer might get a great case from a company they believe in. But they charge a thousand dollars an hour. The standard is for firms to say ‘Sorry, I can’t help you,’ but the policy should be recommending the client to a financing partner.”
Related to the challenge of developing standards and practices is the issue of public attitudes toward plaintiff financing.
“Lawyers are a bit scared of it,” Drucker went on. “They don’t understand the process and they don’t know how to advise their clients.”
Lake Whillans has taken numerous steps to ease these fears. In addition to publishing regular columns in legal periodicals, the company offers continuing legal education courses at major law firms. Of chief importance is dispelling ethical concerns, and making the financing process itself more transparent.
Recalling his early days in plaintiff financing, Drucker said, “When I first told people about it, their response was ‘Can you do that?’ By the time I started at BlackRobe, people had maybe heard of it. Now they’re excited about it, and they’re excited about what it can do.”
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