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Upholding the Duty of Client Confidentiality During the Funding Process

By John Freund |

The following article was contributed by Jeff Manley, Chief Operating Officer of Armadillo Litigation Funding

In the competitive landscape of litigation, the strategic use of litigation financing has become a vital tool for law firms to manage cash flow, mitigate risk, and level the playing field. However, the infusion of external capital into the legal process brings forth intricate ethical considerations, particularly concerning client confidentiality.

The Imperative of Confidentiality

At the heart of the attorney-client relationship lies the paramount duty of confidentiality, a cornerstone enshrined in the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6. The Rule obligates attorneys to not reveal information related to the representation of a client without the client’s informed consent or unless the disclosure is otherwise permitted by the Rules. This duty persists beyond the attorney-client relationship and extends to all members of a law firm.

Ethical Complexities in Litigation Financing

Litigation financing requires attorneys to navigate a delicate balance: providing sufficient information to secure funding while safeguarding the sanctity of client confidences. The process typically involves disclosing case merits, potential outcomes, and strategies—details that, if not handled correctly, could jeopardize client confidentiality.

Crafting the Safeguards

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs): Prior to any discussion, law firms must insist on stringent NDAs with financing entities. These NDAs must be tailored to explicitly protect any information that may relate to a client’s case.

De-identification of Data: Information shared during the funding process should be stripped of any identifiers that can link it to a specific client. This step ensures that financiers can evaluate the investment on its merits without risking a breach of confidentiality.

Use of Aggregated Data: Where possible, firms should rely on aggregated statistics and data analytics that provide an overview of the firm’s track record and the types of cases they handle, rather than details of individual cases.

Informed Consent: In scenarios where the disclosure of identifiable information is unavoidable, the law firm must obtain explicit, informed consent from the client. This consent should be thorough, documenting the specific information to be disclosed, the purpose of the disclosure, and the parties to whom it will be disclosed.

The ethical obligations surrounding confidentiality are not mere guidelines but are anchored in legal and regulatory frameworks that govern the practice of law. Violations can lead to disciplinary actions by state bar associations, potential disqualification from cases, and even civil liability.

Continuous Ethical Vigilance 

The journey towards ethical compliance in litigation financing is not one that a law firm undertakes alone. It is a collaborative endeavor that greatly benefits from the engagement of a respected and knowledgeable funding partner. Such a partner brings to the table a deep understanding of the legal landscape and the specific nuances of confidentiality laws that govern attorney conduct.

Selecting the Right Partner: A reputable litigation finance partner will have stringent ethical standards in place and will be well-versed in the ABA Model Rules, state bar directives, and relevant case law. This expertise is invaluable in helping to structure financing agreements that are not only beneficial but also fully compliant with legal ethics.

Joint Compliance Efforts: A trusted funding partner contributes to the law firm’s efforts by engaging in joint compliance checks and due diligence. They will proactively work with the firm to ensure that all shared information adheres to the principles of confidentiality and that any potential ethical pitfalls are identified and mitigated early on.

The landscape of legal ethics is not static; it evolves with new rulings and regulations. A knowledgeable funding partner remains abreast of these changes and works alongside the law firm to adapt practices and agreements accordingly. This dynamic approach ensures that the firm’s operations remain compliant over time.

In the intricate process of litigation finance, a law firm’s dedication to maintaining confidentiality must be matched by the acumen of its financial allies. The right funding partner does not merely provide capital; they contribute to the ethical fortitude of the funding process. Through continuous vigilance and a partnership grounded in mutual respect for the law, firms can navigate the complexities of litigation financing while upholding the sacred duty of client confidentiality.

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£878M Opt-Out Claim Brought Against Royal Mail, Backed by £10M in Funding 

By Harry Moran |

A new claim has been brought against International Distribution Services, the owner of Royal Mail, over allegations that it ‘prevented competition for bulk mail delivery services’ which in turn led to end-customers being overcharged for these services. The opt-out claim is being brought on behalf of any customers who purchased bulk mail services since January 2024, with an estimated 290,000 potential class members seeking up to £878 million in compensation for these overcharges.

An article in the Financial Times reveals that the application to bring collective proceedings was filed at the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) on Thursday, with the action being led by the Proposed Class Representative, Robin Aaronson and supported by law firm Lewis Silkin. According to the Bulk Mail Claim website, it has secured £10 million in funding from ‘a specialist litigation funder to bring the claim’ and has ‘put in after the event (ATE) insurance to cover its liability to pay Royal Mail’s costs if the claim is unsuccessful.’

In a press release announcing the filing of the claim, Robin Aaronson said:

“Where there has been an abuse of dominant position, as has occurred in this case, it is important that those suffering loss are able to obtain redress. A collective claim is the only fair and efficient form of redress in this case, given that there are hundreds of thousands of affected customers and it would be commercially unviable for them to bring individual proceedings.”

Andrew Wanambwa, Partner in the Dispute Resolution team at Lewis Silkin, also provided the following comment:

“Royal Mail abused its dominant position, resulting in hundreds of thousands of bulk mail customers being overcharged. The purpose of this claim is to hold Royal Mail accountable for its actions and secure compensation for affected customers.”

Responding to the announcement of the filing, Royal Mail confirmed that it had received the application and said, “We consider [the claim] to be without merit and we will defend it robustly.” The draft Collective Proceedings Order can be read here.

Rockhopper Exploration Announces Receipt of Tranche 1 Funds for the Ombrina Mare Monetisation Transaction

By Harry Moran |

Rockhopper Exploration plc is pleased to provide the following update in relation to the monetisation of its Ombrina Mare Arbitration Award (the "Transaction") announced on 20 December 2023.

Having satisfied all precedent conditions to the Transaction as announced on 17 June 2024, the Company confirms that the Tranche 1 payment has been received.

Rockhopper has received €19 million of the €45 million Tranche 1 payment. As previously disclosed, Rockhopper entered into a litigation funding agreement in 2017 under which all costs relating to the Arbitration from commencement to the rendering of the Award were paid on its behalf by a separate specialist arbitration funder (the "Original Arbitration Funder"). That agreement entitles the Original Arbitration Funder to a proportion of any proceeds from the Award or any monetisation of the Award. The balance of €26 million has gone to Original Arbitration Funder in order to fully discharge the Company of all of its liabilities under the agreement with the Original Arbitration Funder. Tranches 2 and 3 of the Award remain payable to Rockhopper upon a successful annulment outcome.

As previously disclosed, success fees of approximately €4 million are owed to Rockhopper's legal representatives if Rockhopper win the claim, meaning liability is established and Italy is required to pay more than a nominal sum in damages (either by way of award or settlement in an amount equal to or more than €25 million).

Following receipt of the Tranche 1 payment, Rockhopper's cash balance is approximately $27 million.

Please refer to the Company's announcement on 20 December 2023 for further details on the Ombrina Mare Arbitration Award. Capitalised terms shall have the same meaning as in the 20 December 2023 announcement.

Samuel Moody, CEO, commented:

"We are delighted to have received the Tranche 1 payment under the Ombrina Mare monetisation agreement.  This cash gives us the strongest balance sheet we have had for a number of years, and we remain confident in the merits of our legal case as we await the decision of the Ad Hoc Panel on the annulment request from the Italian Republic."

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Industry Leaders React to House Committee Hearing on Funding Disclosure

By Harry Moran |

As LFJ covered earlier this week, a recent hearing in the US House Judiciary Committee reignited arguments around the appropriate level of disclosure required when third-party funders are involved in patent lawsuits. Whilst the hearing largely highlighted the arguments in favour of more stringent disclosure requirements, legal professionals and funders are now offering their own differing perspectives on these contentious issues.

An article in IAM looks at last week’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, focusing on the testimonies from witnesses called before the committee and examining the counter-arguments from industry professionals who are opposed to the introduction of excessively broad disclosure rules for litigation funders. As the article explains, the main point of contention around this issue relates to the level of disclosure required, with most third-party funding participants being open to the disclosure of a funder’s identity, but opposed to the disclosure of the financial details of funding agreements.

Erick Robinson, attorney at Spencer Fane, told IAM that mandating disclosure of the particulars of any funding agreement would be incredibly damaging for plaintiffs in patent infringement lawsuits. Robinson argued well-resourced defendants would “run modeling and be able to reverse engineer the budget based on their knowledge of funding agreements”, which would lead to these defendants dragging out the lawsuit to deplete the funder’s budget. Robinson also questioned the justification for providing defendants with this level of detail, claiming that “there's no legitimate reason any defendant should ever get strategic financial information.”

Anup Misra, managing director at Curiam Capital, concurred with Robinson’s arguments and acknowledged that whilst they would be open to allowing a judge to review the funding agreement, “we just wouldn’t want the economics of a funding agreement to be sent to the defence counsel.” Misra went on to question the idea that third-party funding introduces ‘unknown unknowns’ to the court, as it was described by one witness at the hearing. Misra argued that it should be left to the judge in any given case to decide if they require more information around the involvement of funders, suggesting that “if something were to happen during pending litigation, I'm sure those judges would then determine whether they wanted to see a funding agreement.”