This new form of lawsuit funding is called litigation finance. It lies at the crossroads of two Anglo-American tendencies. The first is our litigious side, in which we celebrate our equality before the law by dragging those who have wronged us before a judge. The second is our ingenious mercantilism, as demonstrated by our penchant for turning everything from church raffles to mortgages into marketable securities to be chopped up, bundled and resold. Like the celebrity bonds backed by royalties and popularized by David Bowie during the 1990s, litigation finance represents the expansion of securitization into hitherto virgin territory.It caught my eye because a mate of mine, the excellent John Sherriff, was a pioneer in this field. ('Was', because he died earlier this year, an untimely loss. You can still get his fine book Lucky and Good, which covers this and many other entertaining, intelligent and useful things besides.)
OK, so relatively new, then; except that (apparently)
litigation finance actually has its roots in antiquity. According to Max Radin, a historian of ancient city-states, members of Athenian political clubs would back each other in lawsuits against their rivals. Apollodorus, a wealthy banker’s son, bought shares of lawsuits and hired professional orators — some of the earliest lawyers in Western history — to write his court speeches ... In medieval England, litigants could hire ‘‘champions’’ to represent them in ‘‘trial by battle.’’ By the late 13th century, these strongmen were being compared to prostitutes, and their prevalence hastened the movement of dispute resolution to the courtroom. During the Middle Ages, this concept of ‘‘champerty’’ — assisting another person’s lawsuit in exchange for a share of the proceeds — emerged as part of the larger ecclesiastical taboo against usury.Yup, nothing new under the sun.