Susan Dunn On Pioneering Litigation Funding In The UK

Chancery Lane Chats

12-07-2021 • 34 mins

Susan Dunn, the founder of Harbour Litigation Funding, is one of the most experienced and well-known professionals in the global litigation funding sector, in particular, for pioneering the way for litigation funding in the UK.

Susan has been instrumental in shaping public policy about funding, and was a founding member of the Association of Litigation Funders of which she was appointed chair in September 2019.

Susan had planned to be the senior partner of the law firm she joined as a trainee, but life intervened. In what she describes as her ‘Sliding Doors’ moment, a chance meeting with a barrister on a tube train in 2002 set her on the path into litigation funding, and she hasn’t looked back.

The change in opinion around funding

For a long time, the upper echelons of the legal market believed that funding wasn't something they needed to trouble themselves with, believing that their clients would pay their bills. Today, the lawyers who don’t access funding are the ones who are behind the curve.

“In the beginning it was very much, ‘please have some of my money, wouldn't you like to have my money?’ I found it weird that I was having to ask people, ‘who wants to take money from me?’ Now there isn't any type of client or any type of law firm that isn't using funding.”

The cases she’s most proud of

Susan is very proud that Harbour was involved in the funding of the business interruption insurance claims brought last year, for businesses where the insurers weren’t paying out at a time when they needed cash for survival.

“Now we're seeing those claims being paid, hopefully these businesses will then emerge from lockdown and survive.”

  • Harbour also helped 15,000 Indonesian seaweed farmers when a negligently maintained oil rig spilt oil that destroyed their seaweed crop.
  • They are funding the high profile employment status claims on behalf of Uber drivers who have not been paid minimum wage or holiday pay.
  • They are also funding the equal pay claims on behalf of thousands of women working for supermarkets who are not being paid the same as their male colleagues in the warehouses.

What she looks for in a claim

When Susan started in litigation funding, Harbour was the only funder in the market. Now it’s a complex arena with lots of players. So what is it that she looks for in a claim, in the current environment?

“The criteria for what makes a good case hasn't changed in 20 years. You always have the same starting points: Who is the party you're asking to pay and their ability to pay? Where are they located? What's the value of the claim? What's the realistic minimum value of the claim? What's the realistic budget for the claim?”

Essentially, how you’re going to get paid is the key concern in a case, it’s only once you’ve established that, do you dig into the legal strengths and weaknesses of the case. Because if a case ends up costing more than initially thought, no one will be happy.

They’ve turned down cases where they think they’ll win, but they know there won’t be sufficient funds for everybody to walk away happy.

The class action space

How are Harbour prepared for the class action space that is coming, with data breach cases, cases around privacy and other similar issues?  How will they get people to join classes when there are multiple claims being run to choose from?

Cautiously, says Susan, while the case law is developing. They don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket.

“We receive many applications for funding every month. That puts us in the luxurious position of being able to choose which cases we want to do.”

How to get funding from Harbour

If you’re a lawyer, listening to this episode and wondering what you need to do to get funding from Harbour, Susan has this advice for you:

She will know nothing about your case, so give her your shortest elevator pitch:

  • A short summary of the claim,
  • is it against someone who can pay?,
  • why you think the claim is worth what you say?,
  • how much funding you need?,
  • what the legal strengths and weaknesses of the claim are.

Do not, under any circumstances, present her with huge reams of documents, and remember, her least favourite words are: “Here’s a link to my data room”. Make it interesting, and don’t give her bad cases hoping Harbour will make them good.

“I can't make a 20% chance of success case better. That's not what we do. So think about it. From our point of view. If you wouldn’t fund this case, if you were a funder, we're probably going to agree with you.”

Discussed in this podcast episode:

  • Changing opinion around litigation funding
  • The cases Susan’s most proud of
  • What Harbour look for in a claim
  • The class action space
  • How to get funding from Harbour