Meet the power players of the booming litigation finance industry

Headshots of Ralph Sutton, Aviva Will, Brandon Baier, and Stuart Grant on a background of gavels and dollar bills

Summary List Placement

Paying for someone else’s lawsuit used to be illegal. Now it’s a multibillion-dollar opportunity.

Today, litigation funders have $11.3 billion invested or ready to invest in US commercial litigation, according to a recent estimate by Westfleet Advisors. Westfleet estimates there are at least 46 litigation funders active in the US market.

Heavy-hitting industry players include hedge funds like Fortress Investment Group and D.E. Shaw & Co. Bankers at Stifel and Jefferies have also worked on legal-industry deals. And some of the biggest funders have formed a trade group, the International Legal Finance Association, meant to be a counterweight to groups like the US Chamber of Commerce that would like to see more regulation of their industry.

Insider spoke with dozens of funders, lawyers, and finance professionals to find out who’s shaping the booming litigation finance industry

Read the full list of power players here:

The bankers, brokers, and big money transforming litigation finance from a lawyer’s hustle to a multibillion-dollar asset class

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Why electric planes haven’t taken off yet

Source link

The top 7 law firms advising on marijuana megadeals worth billions

marijuana cannabis industry business v2 4x3

Summary List Placement

The cannabis industry is in the grips of deal mania as companies race for scale. 

In the past year, these deals have taken various forms, including SPAC rollups and mergers between cannabis giants like Aphria and Tilray and Trulieve and Harvest Health & Recreation, among many others.

But cannabis mergers and acquisitions are unlike M&A in other industries because cannabis is federally illegal in the US. That heightens the need for specialized lawyers who understand the intricacies of doing business in the industry.

For some law firms, the cannabis deal rush has proved to be a windfall. It has also been an opportunity for others to push into a rapidly growing industry and create networks — and a pipeline of future deals — while their rivals are still on the sidelines.

Insider has put together its third annual list of the top law firms in the cannabis industry. You can read our 2019 edition here and our 2020 edition here

This year, we used a different methodology. We pulled the 10 largest cannabis-industry deals worldwide since the start of 2020, including M&A, capital raises, and debt financing, and pinpointed which firms worked on them. We used data from Viridian Capital Advisors, CB Insights, and Pitchbook.

From there, we compiled a list of firms that worked on at least two of the deals. While there are many firms that have built extensive cannabis practice groups across intellectual property, litigation, and M&A, this list is focused on those that have advised on the largest deals — so, of course, there are firms that didn’t make the cut this year. 

The firms are ranked by the dollar amount of deals they worked. Read on to see the full list.

DLA Piper

Involved in cannabis since: 2020

Biggest past-year deals:

  • Tilray-Aphria merger ($3.9 billion)
  • Trulieve-Harvest acquisition ($2.1 billion)

Key individuals:

  • Christopher Giordano, partner and cochair of DLA’s New York corporate group (Tilray-Aphria)
  • Jon Venick, corporate partner, New York (Tilray-Aphria)
  • Russel Drew, corporate partner, Toronto (Tilray-Aphria and Trulieve-Harvest)
  • Derek Sigel, partner and cochair of DLA’s Canadian capital markets group (Trulieve-Harvest)

About:

DLA Piper is one of the world’s biggest law firms but is relatively new to the cannabis industry. It worked on 2020’s two biggest cannabis deals, representing Aphria in its merger with Tilray and counseling Trulieve on Canadian legal matters when it acquired Harvest Health & Recreation.

According to its website, DLA has advised clients big and small on transactions, disputes, and the thicket of regulatory and compliance issues that arise for companies in the medical- and recreational-cannabis industries.

Blake, Cassels & Graydon

Involved in cannabis since: 2014 (medical) and 2018 (recreational)

Biggest past-year deals: 

  • Tilray-Aphria merger ($3.9 billion)
  • Subversive Capital’s acquisition of Caliva and Left Coast Ventures ($425 million)

Key Individuals:

  • Kathleen Keilty, partner and cochair of cannabis group (Tilray-Aphria merger)
  • Norbert Knutel, partner and member of investment products and asset-management group and cannabis group (Subversive’s SPAC deal)
  • Jeff Glass, partner and founder of investment products and asset-management practice (Subversive’s SPAC deal)

About: 

Attorneys at Blake, Cassels & Graydon, known as Blakes, have expertise in the details of cannabis legality, including medical marijuana, edibles, concentrates, vaping, CBD, and cultivation.

Blakes works with businesses directly involved in cannabis — from manufacturers and retailers to financiers — as well as those affected by its legalization. 

The firm was involved in two of the 10 major deals Insider looked at in 2020: Tilray’s merger with Aphria and Subversive Capital’s acquisition of Caliva and Left Coast Ventures. 

Cooley

Involved in cannabis since: at least 2018

Biggest past-year deals:

  • Tilray-Aphria merger ($3.9 billion)
  • Subversive Capital’s acquisition of Caliva and Left Coast Ventures ($425 million)

Key individuals:

  • Steven Tonsfeldt, mergers and acquisitions partner (Tilray-Aphria merger)
  • Alan Hambelton, partner and leader of Cooley’s Seattle corporate practice (Tilray-Aphria merger)
  • John Robertson, partner in charge of the Seattle office (Subversive’s SPAC)
  • Laura Medina, emerging-growth company and venture-capital partner (Subversive’s SPAC)

About:

Cooley was involved in two of the past year’s biggest deals: it represented Tilray in its tie-up with Aphria and California-based Left Coast Ventures in its complex merger with Subversive Capital Acquisition Corp.

Cooley is known for representing major tech companies, but it has represented cannabis companies and investors in deals, disputes, and regulatory issues. Tilray in particular is a repeat client, having worked with Cooley’s lawyers since its 2018 initial public offering.

Bennett Jones

Involved in cannabis since: 2013

Biggest past-year deals: 

  • Trulieve-Harvest acquisition ($2.1 billion)
  • Cresco’s acquisition of Origin House ($496 million)
  • Subversive Capital’s acquisition of Caliva and Left Coast ventures ($425 million)

Key Individuals:

  • Sander Grieve, partner, head of mining industry team (Trulieve-Harvest deal)
  • Aaron Sonshine, partner and head of cannabis law practice (Cresco-Origin House deal)
  • Curtis Cusinato, vice chair and partner, cohead of mergers and acquisitions practice (Subversive’s SPAC deal)

About: 

Bennett Jones was one of the first major law firms in Canada to enter the cannabis sector.

Since then, the firm’s cannabis practice has worked with hundreds of cannabis businesses, focusing on both US multistate operators and Canadian companies. Bennett Jones offers services including exchange listings, capital raises, and M&A transactions.

The firm was involved in three of the major deals Insider looked at: Trulieve’s acquisition of Harvest Health & Recreation, Cresco’s acquisition of Origin House, and Subversive Capital’s acquisition of Caliva and Left Coast Ventures. 

Stikeman Elliott

Involved in cannabis since: at least 2015

Biggest past-year deals:

  • Curaleaf’s acquisition of Grassroots Cannabis ($830 million)
  • Subversive Capital’s acquisition of Caliva and Left Coast Ventures ($425 million)
  • Curaleaf’s acquisition of Emmac Life Sciences ($290 million)
  • Ayr Wellness’ acquisition of Liberty Health Sciences ($290 million)

Key individuals:

The firm declined to specify the lawyers who led its engagements for Curaleaf, Subversive, and Ayr Wellness.

About:

Stikeman Elliott is one of Canada’s largest business law firms. The firm’s lawyers worked with Curaleaf on two acquisitions, walked Ayr Wellness through its purchase of Liberty, and represented Canaccord Genuity, the financial advisor to the cannabis SPAC Subversive Capital Acquisition Corp., in its complex merger

From 2015 to 2018, Stikeman regularly worked with Aphria, with The Globe and Mail reporting that the two parted ways after a transaction that drew short-seller scrutiny. The firm declined to comment.

Cassels Brock & Blackwell

Involved in cannabis since: The firm started practicing in the cannabis industry in 2014 and founded its cannabis practice group in 2016.

Biggest past-year deals:

  • Canopy Growth’s term loan financing ($750 million)
  • Subversive Capital’s acquisition of Caliva and Left Coast Ventures ($425 million)
  • RIV Capital’s spinout from Canopy Growth ($450 million)

Key individuals:

  • Jonathan Sherman, partner, securities group, and cochair, cannabis group
  • Jamie Litchen, partner, securities group (and active in cannabis and mining groups)

About:

Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Calgary, Alberta, and Toronto, Cassels has represented some of the largest cannabis companies on the biggest deals since dipping its toes into the industry in 2014.

The firm put together the framework for Canopy Growth’s paradigm-shifting deal to acquire Acreage Holdings in 2019 and has built up an extensive cannabis practice group.

“At Cassels, we have been fortunate to be at the forefront of cannabis M&A activity since inception of the Canadian cannabis industry. As the market continues to develop, both in Canada and the United States, companies are actively looking for accretive acquisition opportunities,” Sherman and Litchen said in a statement.

“In addition, with U.S. cannabis legalization efforts continuing to progress, many companies are looking at opportunities to cement themselves as market leaders in advance of the inevitable competition.”

Editor’s note: The correct value for the RIV Capital spinout is $450 million, not $170 million.

Loeb & Loeb

Involved in cannabis since: at least 2014

Biggest past-year deals: 

  • Curaleaf’s acquisition of Grassroots Cannabis ($830 million)
  • Curaleaf’s acquisition of Cura Partners ($390 million)

Key Individuals:

About: 

Loeb & Loeb was involved in two of the 10 major deals Insider looked at in 2020: Curaleaf’s acquisition of Cura Partners and Curaleaf’s acquisition of Grassroots. The firm does not appear to have an official cannabis practice, according to its website, but attorneys from many of its other practice groups have been involved in deals in the cannabis space over the past few years. 

Loeb & Loeb declined to comment on their work on specific cannabis deals.

Source link

Utah is running an experiment to let non-lawyers provide legal services. Here's a look at 4 companies trying to upend centuries of tradition in the law.

Robotic arms holding shovels building a sand gavel in a sandbox on a yellow background

Summary List Placement

An experiment that could fundamentally reshape the legal industry is underway in Utah.

In 2020, Utah became the first state to let non-lawyers provide legal services through a so-called regulatory sandbox program.

The program lets companies experiment with different models of practicing law in a “sandbox” overseen by the Utah Supreme Court. It was designed to spur innovation and increase access to justice by lowering the regulatory barriers to practicing law, according to the Office of Legal Services Innovation, which reports to the state’s Supreme Court.

Traditionally in the US, only licensed lawyers who have a law degree and have passed the bar can practice law and own law firms.

This “anachronistic” structure is “meant to protect lawyers, not clients,” according to Dan Reed, CEO of UnitedLex, a technology and legal services company. Reed and other sandbox supporters argue that law firms’ near-monopolistic power makes legal help largely inaccessible to large segments of the American population. According to state studies, 80% of low-income people in the US can’t afford the legal services they need.

Under Utah’s sandbox program, non-lawyers can own law firms and provide legal help to clients, either directly or through automated technology.

“Law is the last bastion where it’s very much a guild that’s out-of-touch with what consumers need,” said Reed. “It’s ripe for reconsideration.”

A ‘huge win’ for legal-tech startups

Legal-tech startups like Rocket Lawyer and LawGeex, as well as accounting and nontraditional law firms, have jumped at the opportunity to join the experimental sandbox. So far, the Utah Supreme Court has received 47 applications and authorized 26 entities to participate in the program..

The Utah sandbox is “clearly a huge win” for these legal-tech startups, said Scott Mozarsky, who focuses on legal and compliance markets as a managing director at the investment bank JEGI. The deregulation opens up the possibilities of what a company can do in the realm of law.

Before joining the sandbox in May, LawGeex, which uses artificial intelligence to automate the contract review process, could only work within the parameters of clients’ legal playbooks, since anything beyond that would be considered practicing law.

“If anything was outside the policies set by the client’s playbook, we would have to escalate to the client and have them resolve the issue,” said Noory Bechor, CEO and founder of LawGeex. 

Now, in Utah, the startup can make legal judgment calls when reviewing contracts, according to Bechor. LawGeex is hiring lawyers in Utah to make sure it’s issuing proper legal advice and managing contract-related risk.

Rocket Lawyer is another legal-tech startup that’s grown and scaled its services in the sandbox. The online platform, which helps consumers create legal documents and connects them with a network of independent attorneys, already had a client base in Utah. But it’s now able to hire local lawyers as part of its staff, said Charley Moore, CEO and founder of Rocket Lawyer. He declined to disclose the total number of attorneys hired since the company joined the sandbox program in September last year.

ClearMyRecord.org is a platform that automates the record-clearing process for eligible, low-level offenders under Utah’s Clean Slate Law, which went into effect in May 2020. The website is a joint venture between Sudbury Consulting and Code for America. Before the sandbox program, they couldn’t have any lawyers on staff, significantly limiting the scope of their work, according to Noella Sudbury, founder of Sudbury Consulting.

“A lot of people don’t remember when this criminal activity on their record occurred, and there are wait times and different things so it’s pretty hard without hiring an attorney to figure out if you’ve benefitted,” Sudbury said.

Now, the platform can determine who’s eligible for record expungement, and provide individualized advice — just like a licensed, human lawyer would, according to Sudbury.

Critics worry about the ethical implications of non-lawyer ownership

The regulatory sandbox has also spawned businesses that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Law on Call, touted as the first entirely non-lawyer-owned law firm in the US, was launched in Utah in March. Clients pay just $9 a month for unlimited and immediate phone access to licensed lawyers in Utah — a departure from the traditional legal services world, where potential clients often have a tough time reaching a lawyer, according to a company press release.

Under its non-lawyer ownership, the firm has done away with the notorious billable-hour model that most law firms operate under, which clients often say drives up legal costs.

“I used to be so concerned with getting my billable-hour requirements fulfilled,” said Daniel Wilde, an attorney for Law on Call. “The great thing about being owned by non-lawyers is that our ownership group does the marketing, the billing, the collections. All the lawyers have to do is practice law.”

Critics of the sandbox say these alternative legal business models pose ethical questions, since non-lawyer owners might have conflicting interests that put clients — and the traditional legal industry — at risk.

“If a law firm must answer to the profit interests of investors, will lawyers be able to fulfill their ethical duty of exercising independent legal judgment for the sole benefit of the client?” asked Karen Rubin, a lawyer and member of the Ohio State Bar Associations’ Ethics Committee.

But sandbox participants say that’s not the case. “I just don’t see it that way,” said Wilde. “I wouldn’t let our owners try to influence me… I’d quit before that happened.”

“It is not our place, business, purpose, or desire to replace the traditional practice of law,” Wilde said. “Traditional law caters to those who can afford to pay for it. We’re helping to bridge the gap.”

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: How the 1999 Russian apartment bombings led to Putin’s rise to power

Source link

Feds investigate alleged plot by some Ukrainian officials to help Trump win in 2020, New York Times reports

AP21145697681497

Summary List Placement

Federal investigators are now looking into whether current and former Ukrainian government officials — some appearing to act on behalf of Russian state interests — used then-President Donald Trump’s personal attorney to spread disinformation ahead of the 2020 election, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Prosecutors in Brooklyn are said to be examining whether the officials passed false corruption claims involving Joe Biden to Rudy Giuliani, who is the subject of a separate federal criminal inquiry from prosecutors in Manhattan.

Giuliani traveled to Ukraine in 2019, where he has been accused of helping to orchestrate the firing of US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. The FBI is looking into whether the former New York City mayor broke any laws by working with Ukrainian officials on that effort.

One subject of the newly reported investigation, according to The Times, is Andriy Derkach, a member of Ukraine’s parliament. The Trump administration had been warned by US intelligence officials that Derkach “was seeking to spread disinformation,” The Times reported.

In September, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach for intervening in the 2020 election, declaring that he “has been an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services.”

Federal prosecutors could bring charges that Ukrainian officials failed to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires disclosing efforts to lobby in the US on behalf of a foreign government.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Why some Coca-Cola bottles have a yellow cap

Source link

Meet Donald Trump's next nemeses: The 16 New York prosecutors peppering the ex-president with history-making criminal probes

Letitia James Donald Trump Cyrus Vance

Summary List Placement

Donald Trump is no longer president and, as such, he no longer enjoys the unique legal shields that the office provides him.

His post-presidency is plagued by investigations and other legal problems. He’s already gone through the rigamarole of a second impeachment trial.

But Trump’s legal issues aren’t just at the federal level. Even if President Joe Biden’s Justice Department backs off, he will have New York’s top prosecutors to worry about.

The now-former president has publicly acknowledged he’s worried about this scenario. Trump was long said to mull issuing pardons that would shield himself and his family members from federal prosecution. In the end, he declined to use this power this way, but even if he had, it wouldn’t have mattered for some of the most serious investigations underway.

Read more: Donald Trump is facing legal jeopardy on multiple fronts. Here are the lawyers in his corner.

Even before he left the White House, New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. had active ongoing investigations into Trump’s personal finances and the Trump Organization’s finances. James’s office announced Tuesday that the teams were joining forces and that her office turned the investigation into a criminal probe.

They have already notched some wins. Vance won a Supreme Court ruling that confirmed he could obtain Trump’s tax returns and other financial documents. James secured a settlement that forced Trump and his children to pay $2 million for breaking charity laws. Some of the members of that team have moved on to another probe into Trump’s tax filings and forced Eric Trump, who oversees the Trump organization, to sit for a deposition.

While Trump attacked members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Twitter as “13 angry Democrats” (Mueller is a Republican), he no longer has an account after Twitter suspended him for inciting violence after egging on rioters on January 6. Vance and James’ staffers are considerably more obscure than the likes of Andrew Weissmann, the Mueller deputy who took down mob bosses and Enron, or Peter Strzok, who led the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.

Some of the members of the New York prosecutorial teams, like Carey Dunne, have long track records but generated little controversy. Trump would also have trouble interfering in the investigations. James, a Democrat, is at little risk of losing reelection in a deep-blue state in 2022. And Vance plans to retire at the end of the year.

We’ve looked through court documents to figure out which lawyers James and Vance have put on the case. Here are the New York prosecutors Trump should be worried about.

SEE ALSO: Trump could be slammed with a pile of personal lawsuits once he leaves office. Here are 9 major ones he’ll have to face.

Cyrus Vance Jr.

The Manhattan District Attorney is one of Trump’s most powerful foes — but he’s also in a precarious position.

Vance Jr., the son of Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, has been the DA since 2010. But in the #MeToo era, some of his office’s earlier actions have come under scrutiny. It bungled an investigation into rape accusations against Harvey Weinstein and Robert Hadden, argued for a lower sex offender status for Jeffrey Epstein, and reportedly backed off a criminal investigation into Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. after their lawyer donated to Vance’s reelection campaign.

Vance still handily won reelection in 2017, running as a Democrat in Manhattan. Stories about his office’s earlier work broke too late for other candidates to run against him in the primary.

Since The New York Times and the New Yorker brought Vance’s handling of the Weinstein case under scrutiny, he’s changed tactics. His office brought rape charges against Weinstein and secured a 23-year conviction.

He has also gone to greater lengths than any other prosecutor in investigating Trump. His office has won a battle Trump took to the Supreme Court to obtain his and his company’s tax records, pursuing a wide-ranging grand jury investigation into possible financial fraud and tax fraud from Trump himself and his businesses.

Vance has announced he’s retiring at the end of 2021. He’s widely expected to bring his investigation to some sort of conclusion before he leaves office.

Carey Dunne

Dunne, the General Counsel of the Manhattan DA office, served as the chief lawyer of the team that took his office’s investigation into Trump’s finances to the US Supreme Court. And he’s heading up other legal battles in federal court as Trump’s lawyers try to challenge the investigation on other grounds.

During the court battles over subpoenaing Trump’s tax returns, Dunne fought vigorously against the president’s attempts to drag out the legal wrangling for as long as possible.

“No legal basis exists for the extraordinary relief that Applicant requests — or remotely justifies the further delay it entails,” Dunne wrote in a filing asking the Supreme Court to deny Trump’s attempts to hide his tax return.

He has deep ties to New York City’s legal world and may remain in his role even if Vance loses reelection in 2021. He was president of the New York City Bar Association from 2012 to 2014 and has held various other roles in New York judicial commissions for decades.

Christopher Conroy

Conroy, one of the top officials in the Manhattan DA office, serves with Dunne on the team looking into Trump’s tax returns. He’s one of Vance’s top deputies and runs the Manhattan DA’s investigations division. He also oversaw a two-year Manhattan DA mortgage fraud case into Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman sentenced to more than 7 years in federal prison for various crimes stemming from the Mueller investigation.

He specializes in investigating economic crimes and oversees the department’s Counterterrorism program, cybercrime and identity theft, financial fraud, public corruption, and asset forfeiture, according to the Manhattan DA website.

Julieta V. Lozano

Lozano has run the Major Economic Crimes Bureau and Financial Intelligence Unit at the Manhattan DA office, handling complex financial criminal investigations, according to an online bio.

She may play a key role in coordinating between the Manhattan DA office and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, who reportedly have several of their own investigations into Trump’s finances but their work could be complicated by the president’s pardon powers.

Lozano also serves as a special assistant to federal prosecutors at SDNY and has been involved in several financial crime prosecutions that involved both the local and federal offices. She also spent seven years at the New York State Attorney General’s office before joining the Manhattan DA’s office in 2010.

Solomon Shinerock

Shinerock investigates major economic crimes for the Manhattan DA office. According to the New York Law Journal, Shinerock spelled out the nature of the grand jury investigation into Trump’s finances, which enabled the office to secure a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns.

Trump’s lawyers singled out Shinerock in a failed countersuit filed in 2019 against Vance.

He’s handled other high-profile fraud cases, including a money-laundering investigation into the former owners of Newsweek.

Shinerock worked as a US Attorney in Albany from 2015 to 2017 before joining the Manhattan DA office.

James H. Graham

Graham is one of the lower-profile members of Vance’s team looking into Trump’s finances. He also participated in the DA’s Manafort investigation.

Graham joined the Manhattan DA office in January 2017, the same month of Trump’s  presidential inauguration, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to that, he worked for five years as an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton. The large law firm is home to Michael Mukasey, the George W. Bush-era Attorney General whose son Marc is a lawyer for the Trump family business.

Sarah Walsh

Walsh is another member of the team who litigated the Trump tax return case to the US Supreme Court. She’s worked at the Manhattan DA’s major economic crimes bureau since April 2019, according to her LinkedIn, and the office’s trial bureau for six years before that.

According to a 2015 interview with Walsh on the Brooklyn Law School website, she also interned for the major economic crimes bureau while in law school.

Allen J. Vickey

Vickey is another member of Vance’s team with a low profile. He’s a career employee at the Manhattan DA office who worked on the legal team bringing their subpoena of Trump’s tax returns to the Supreme Court. He’s pursued numerous criminal embezzlement cases, according to press releases on the Manhattan DA website.

Letitia James

New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James is one of the most persistent thorns in the president’s side.

Under her watch, the state of New York has sued the administration dozens of times for everything from Trump’s attempts to rescind DACA to his attempt to roll back lightbulb energy efficiency standards. Her office has even compiled a list of administrative actions for President-elect Joe Biden to undo.

She took over the office in 2019, winning the 2018 election to succeed Barbara Underwood, who was appointed to the role of New York AG after Eric Schneiderman resigned amid physical assault accusations.

James’ office is also investigating Trump and the Trump organization’s financial dealings. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, triggered the probe when he delivered Congressional testimony in February 2019 claiming Trump kept different sets of books for obtaining loans, obtaining insurance coverage, and paying taxes.

Her office forced Eric Trump to sit for an October 2020 deposition and is investigating numerous Trump organization properties.

She’s secured several wins against Trump already, forcing his charity foundation to shutter and pay out $2 million in settlement money after it misused funds.

In May, James’s office announced that her office’s investigation was investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity and that it would work with the Manhattan DA’s office.

The New York Times additionally reported that two assistant attorneys general from her team would join the Manhattan DA’s team for the investigation. Both the New York AG’s office and Manhattan DA’s office declined to identify those two attorneys.

Gary Fishman

Fishman is one of the key members of James’s team working on the Trump investigation. Along with Colleen Faherty, he’s interviewed Jennifer Weisselberg, a key cooperating witness, and has pored over Trump Organization-related documents she’s supplied to prosecutors.

A graduate of St. John’s University law school, Fishman served as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office between 1995 and 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In 2012, he joined the New York State Attorney General’s office and became the head of its Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, a role that oversees large-scale financial crimes, in 2014.

Colleen K. Faherty

Faherty is one of the assistant attorneys general working under James as her office puts Trump and his family under scrutiny.

She graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2014 and spent nearly two and a half years as an attorney for the New York-based defense firm Fischetti & Malgieri LLP.

In addition to her work for the AG’s office, Faherty is the vice president of the Sonia and Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program, which was founded by the Supreme Court associate justice to help students from underprivileged backgrounds win legal internships around New York.

Along with Fishman, Faherty has interviewed Jennifer Weisselberg as part of the investigation.

Alex Finkelstein

Finkelstein graduated from Columbia Law School in 2017 and has spent more than three years in the New York attorney general’s office.

The project attorney has worked on the state’s successful legal battle against the Trump administration’s attempts to exclude undocumented people from the 2020 census count.

Eric Haren

Haren joined the New York Attorney General’s office at the start of Trump’s term, as then-AG Eric Schneiderman prepared to ramp up investigations into the new president.

He had been the chief counsel for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Haren graduated from Harvard Law School in 2006.

Louis Solomon

Solomon is the chief of enforcement at the Attorney General’s office and is part of the team investigating the Trump Organization.

Kevin Wallace

Wallace joined the AG’s office in 2018 as the head of its Investor Protection Bureau, according to his LinkedIn. Prior to that, he spent nearly two decades in private law firms handling complex financial affairs.

Austin Thompson

Thompson is an assistant attorney general and a member of James’ team investigating the Trump Organization’s financial dealings.

He spent seven years at the international law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP before joining the NYAG’s office in 2017, as the office was ramping up its early investigations into Trump.

Matthew Colangelo recently left the office

Colangelo withdrew from the case in January, according to court filings reviewed by Insider. He was one of the AG office’s top litigators and had overseen the litigation in trying to get the Trump Organization to comply with subpoenas.

He also headed up the state’s legal team trying to secure the Affordable Care Act in federal court. Prior to joining the NYAG’s office, he taught at Georgetown University Law Center, held various roles in the Obama administration including at the White House and Justice Department, directed the Economic Justice Group at the NAACP, and clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor while she was a federal appeals court judge.

Colangelo was also a member of the team that took down the Trump Foundation, exposing how Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump used charity funds for personal and political gain.

Source link

The bankers, brokers, and big money transforming litigation finance from a lawyer's hustle to a multibillion-dollar asset class

Headshots of Ralph Sutton, Aviva Will, Brandon Baier, and Stuart Grant on a background of gavels and dollar bills

Summary List Placement

Paying for someone else’s lawsuit used to be illegal. Now it’s a multibillion-dollar opportunity.

Commercial litigation funders make money by advancing money to businesses that lack the resources or the patience for a lawsuit. In return, they get a multiple of what they invested (often double or triple) or a return anchored to an interest rate. Litigation funders now have $11.3 billion invested or ready to invest in US commercial litigation, according to a recent estimate by Westfleet Advisors. 

The original litigation financiers in the US were often plaintiffs’ lawyers, whose contingency-fee model — “no fee unless we win” — is a form of self-funding. A simple slip and fall might  net just a $10,000 fee, but complex and risky cases can be lucrative; the lawyers hired by states to sue tobacco companies in the 1990s made billions.

Today, litigation finance is much more specialized, even corporate. While funders still back large groups of little guys, like drivers who bought a dirty diesel from Volkswagen or shops that say Visa and Mastercard charged excessive fees, they also cut deals with big businesses, like supermarket chains that overpaid for broiler chickens and manufacturers that believe their trade secrets have been stolen.

“This asset class is growing and maturing and becoming an accepted part of the litigation industry,” said Bill Farrell, a managing director at Longford Capital, a private-litigation funder.

Westfleet Advisors, the source of the $11.3 billion estimate, has said there are at least 46 litigation funders active in the US market.

Heavy-hitting industry players include hedge funds like Fortress Investment Group and D.E. Shaw & Co. Bankers at Stifel and Jefferies have also worked on legal-industry deals. And some of the biggest funders have formed a trade group, the International Legal Finance Association, meant to be a counterweight to groups like the US Chamber of Commerce that would like to see more regulation of their industry.

Commercial-litigation finance is fraught with risk. In many cases, the money is nonrecourse, meaning that if a case is unsuccessful, investors suffer a total loss. But many funders have made investments in portfolios of cases, in which a win against one adversary can offset a loss against another. And some companies specialize in making loans to law firms that are backed by guarantees, though such companies aren’t the focus of this article.

Since 2020, Insider has spoken with dozens of funders, lawyers, and finance professionals about the commercial-litigation finance industry, with a focus on the US and on investments in categories other than patent litigation. Below are some of the companies and individuals they singled out for their influence and savvy.

Billion-dollar behemoths

Aviva Will, co-chief operating officer of Burford Capital.

Burford Capital, which reported a $4.5 billion portfolio in its last annual report, is one of the top dogs in litigation finance. It pursues a mix of strategies, funding single cases and groups of cases while also cutting deals directly with corporations that might have large legal claims but lack the bandwidth to pursue them. Its co-chief operating officer Aviva Will is involved with underwriting major deals, with support from a large staff with expertise in insurance, IP, and other areas.

One of Burford’s biggest cases is the so-called Peterson case, which started as a claim against the Argentinian government that Burford paid €15 million ($18 million) to acquire. Its value has risen as the case has progressed, and the company sold 10% of the claim for $100 million in 2019. Burford has also been targeted by the short-seller Muddy Waters.

Omni Bridgeway, with locations around the globe, manages about AU$2.2 billion ($1.7 billion), according to its most recent annual report. With roots in Australia, it still has major cases there, like a firefighting-foam contamination case that settled for AU$213 million ($167 million) last year. But it also has dozens of employees in the US, including Jim Batson in New York and Matthew Harrison in San Francisco. Chief Investment Officer Allison Chock gets involved in big deals.

Eric Blinderman of Therium Capital Management.Therium Capital Management is another major funder, though unlike Burford and Omni, it isn’t publicly traded. It says it’s raised $1.1 billion, including a £325 million ($460 million) raise in 2019 from institutional investors and an unspecified sovereign wealth fund. While its work in the US is somewhat under wraps, it has worked on several major cases in Europe, including funding claims against Volkswagen in its 2015 emissions scandal.

Neil Purslow runs the group, and Eric Blindermann runs the Therium Inc. team in the US. He said the US investments run the gamut, from a recent $5 million investment in an antitrust lawsuit to a $10 million-plus investment in a portfolio of insurance cases brought by a major international law firm.

Ellora MacPherson of Harbour Litigation Funding.Harbour Litigation Funding is well known in its base in Europe, but it has been looking for opportunities in the US, which amounts for about 10% of its investment portfolio, according to Chief Investment Officer Ellora Macpherson. The company, which is privately held, says on its website that it has raised more than $1.5 billion and has financed litigation against Uber in Australia, arbitration against Italy’s government and numerous shareholder lawsuits around the world. Its US representative is Kory Parkhurst.

Longford Capital is another major player and has made headlines with an effort to team up with schools like the University of California, Santa Barbara to monetize the patents developed by its researchers. Longford has raised more than $1.1 billion, including $435 million earlier this year. A recent regulatory filing lists a Fund P with more than $119 million in gross assets whose existence hasn’t previously been reported. Bill Farrell, Tim Farrell and Michael Nicolas are its leaders.

Pure-play private funders

Stuart Grant of Bench Walk Advisors.Bench Walk Advisors was cofounded in 2018 by Stuart Grant, a former lawyer at Skadden who also cofounded Grant & Eisenhofer, a top firm for shareholders litigation. Grant said in an interview with Reuters that he shifted focus to litigation finance after a few adverse court rulings because “I don’t like losing.” His litigation-funding shop claimed a 93% win rate as of the end of last year. It says it’s invested more than $300 million.

Brandon Baer of Contingency CapitalContingency Capital was launched in November by Brandon Baer, an experienced lender who co-led the legal-assets group at Fortress. While the firm is still new and not much about its activities are known, it’s minority-owned by TFG Asset Management, which manages $30.7 billion, and has coinvesting commitments from Fortress and an undisclosed fixed-income manager totaling $1.4 billion.

The team has recently grown with hires including Jeff Cohen from Southpaw Asset Management and Kacey Wolmer, who joined from FirstKey Mortgage.

From left to right, Adam Gill, Jamison Lynch and David Spiegel of litigation funder GLS Capital.GLS Capital is a relatively new firm run by familiar faces. Adam Gill, Jamison Lynch, and David Spiegel, its three managing partners, got their start at Gerchen Keller Capital, which was sold to Burford for $160 million in 2016. Several people listed on the firm’s website have backgrounds in pharmaceuticals and life sciences, where disputes involving licenses, patents, and other intellectual-property matters are common.

“We review deals anywhere between $1 million and $50 million in size,” Spiegel said. “Our sweet spot is between $5 million and $10 million.”

Lake Whillans, founded by Lee Drucker and Boaz Weinstein, is also cited as a major player. Said by one observer to be “comfortable with more distressed, hairy situations,” the company raised $125 million in late 2017. At least one of its cases has been publicly disclosed: a $5 million stake in a case brought by Cel-Sci, a drug developer.

Eva Shang of Legalist.Legalist has funded commercial claims and mass-tort litigation. The company, run by the Harvard dropout Eva Shang, has emphasized its use of analytics to identify investment opportunities. Shang has said its investments average $500,000 apiece, smaller than those made by other funders.

LexShares, run by Jay Greenberg, has also emphasized a data-driven approach, using a program it calls the “Diamond Mine” to find investment opportunities in court filings. The company courts individual investors as well as institutions and announced last year that it was raising an additional $100 million to invest in cases.

Aaron Katz and Howie Shams of Parabellum Capital.Parabellum Capital is run by Howie Shams and Aaron Katz, two veterans of Credit Suisse’s legal-risk strategies and finance unit, one of the earliest involvements by a mainstream financial institution in the litigation-funding space. Its Form ADV lists more than $666 million in discretionary regulatory assets under management as of the end of 2020 and says its investments tend to range from $2 million to $15 million depending on whether it’s investing in a smaller single case or a larger portfolio. Parabellum is one of a subset of funders that also invests in patent litigation.

Ralph Sutton of Validity Finance.Validity Finance is led by Ralph Sutton, another alumni of Credit Suisse’s early venture. The firm, which was set up with $250 million from TowerBrook Capital Partners, said last year that it has deployed $125 million across a range of court cases and arbitrations and raised another $100 million.

Mainstream investors

David Gallagher and Sarah Johnson, the leaders of D.E. Shaw & Co.'s litigation finance unit.D.E. Shaw’s litigation-funding team is led jointly by David Gallagher, an alumnus of one of Omni Bridgeway’s predecessor companies, and Sarah Johnson, who has spent 15 years in D.E. Shaw’s corporate credit unit. The team’s “sweet spot” is investments of $20 million to $50 million, according to the company, and it focuses on quick decisions and flexible terms.

The Fortress team is led by Jack Neumark, with Joe Dunn described by some people as his right-hand man. (The firm has also been involved in high-stakes patent disputes, but a different team led by Eran Zur handles those deals.) While Fortress has directly funded some high-stakes disputes and bought litigation claims, it’s also been known to extend credit to other litigation funders, including Vannin Capital.

Tenor Capital has $5.4 billion and has used some of that money to back several mining companies in their claims against foreign governments. Led since 2004 by Robin Shah, a JPMorgan alumnus, with Blair Wallace, formerly of Och Ziff, managing a portfolio of litigation, the firm has backed Crystallex, which is trying to seize Citgo in order to collect a $1.2 billion award against Venezuela; Eco Oro, which has sued Colombia; and Gabriel Resources, which seeks to hold Romania liable for scuttling its operations there.

The brokers and bankers

Westfleet Advisors and its founder, Charles Agee, are one of two names that regularly spring from the lips of lawyers and funders in the litigation-finance industry. He and his colleagues Gretchen Lowe and Barry Kamar connect claimants, lawyers, and investors. They also regularly conduct and publish surveys of the industry.

Andrew Langhoff is also regularly cited as a trusted source of perspective and opportunities by people in the industry. A former Big Law litigator who went on to hold roles at Burford and at Gerchen Keller, Langhoff now runs Red Bridges Advisors.

Stifel Financial made headlines in 2019 when it hired Justin Brass and Sarah Lieber from Jeffries. Brass, a former bankruptcy lawyer, and Lieber, who worked for an insurer after years at Jones Day, are both Burford alumni. While many commentators said a lack of standardization has made litigation-finance investments hard to flip, Stifel said Brass and Lieber have syndicated more than $1 billion in litigation investments since joining in 2019.

“If I’m playing checkers, they’re really playing three-dimensional chess,” one lawyer who’s worked with them said.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: How the 1999 Russian apartment bombings led to Putin’s rise to power

Source link

At its heart, the legal battle between Apple and 'Fortnite' maker Epic Games is about whether or not the iPhone is a computer (AAPL)

Fortnite 1984 Apple ad parody

Summary List Placement

Apple and “Fortnite” maker Epic Games are nearing the end of a protracted legal battle that could have major implications for the future of the App Store.

If Epic were to win the trial, Apple could be forced to allow alternative app stores on the iPhone and iPad — a result that could cost Apple billions of dollars in the long term. 

At the heart of the fight is a disagreement on the nature of the iPhone: Epic argues it’s a computer, while Apple argues it’s fundamentally distinct. That argument is critical because of how the App Store operates, with Apple acting as the sole arbiter of what can and cannot be published on the iPhone.

If the iPhone is a computer, then the App Store is a monopoly, Epic’s lawyers argued. If it isn’t, and it’s a distinct category of device, then Apple says it is protecting its users by keeping alternative digital storefronts off the iPhone.

Read more: Big Tech has a new battleground: self-driving cars. Here’s how Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Sundar Pichai hope to capture the $290 billion market.

“Epic is here, demanding that this court force Apple to let into its App Store untested and untrusted apps and app stores,” one of Apple’s lawyers, Karen Dunn, said in opening remarks. “Apple’s unwavering commitment to safety, security, reliability and quality does not allow that — and the antitrust laws do not require it.”

Tim Cook Tim Sweeney 2x1

On the contrary, Epic’s lawyer argued, the “walled garden” of the App Store isn’t intended for security: “It’s about business,” Katherine Forrest of law firm Cravath, Swaine, and Moore said. An expert witness interviewed by Forrest estimated Apple’s App Store margins in 2018 and 2019 to be around 75%. 

Another major point of contention between the two companies: the 30% cut Apple takes from transactions on its App Store.

By refusing to open the iPhone to other app stores, Epic’s lawyers argued, the company is engaging in anticompetitive behavior. They compared Apple to a car dealership that takes a cut from gas stations every time you refuel. 

Apple’s lawyers pointed to other digital storefronts, like the wildly popular Steam, as having established the 30% precedent. 

“Apple did not establish the 30%,” Apple’s lawyer Karen Dunn said. “It was Steam, another game platform, that set the 30% in 2003, and by the time Apple entered the market in 2008 the 30% was, as Epic’s internal documents will show, industry standard.” 

With Apple CEO Tim Cook taking the stand on Friday, witness testimonies are officially wrapped up. Lawyers for both companies are expected to deliver closing remarks on Monday.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: How racism contributed to marijuana prohibition in the US

Source link

A multitude of Trump-era mysteries are poised to come roaring back into the headlines. Everyone involved is bracing for what happens after that.

FILE PHOTO: White House Counsel Don McGahn sits behind U.S. President Donald Trump as the president holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 21, 2018.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Summary List Placement

Donald Trump left a lot of secrets behind when his presidency ended. Now comes the opportunity to spill some beans during the Joe Biden era.

The reckoning has been a long time coming, and it has reached something of a turning point in recent weeks as federal judges, Justice Department attorneys, and congressional Democrats push toward resolution on a series of high-profile cases that have kept many of the Trump-era mysteries closely guarded through years of tortured litigation. 

One juicy nugget of new information could come out of a lawsuit seeking the public release of a Justice Department legal opinion that gets at the heart of an enduring question that once captivated Washington: Did Trump’s efforts to impede the Russia investigation amount to obstruction of justice?

A federal judge recently ordered the release of the legal memo, in a decision that accused former Attorney General William Barr of being “disingenuous” in his rollout of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.

DOJ has until Monday to decide whether it wants to appeal US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s May 3 ruling to release the memo, which could shed further light on how Barr decided that Trump should not be prosecuted over multiple episodes of possible obstruction that came under scrutiny from the Mueller team.

But wait, there’s more.

The Justice Department led by Biden’s appointees also recently reached an “agreement in principle” with House Democrats that will allow Trump’s first White House counsel, Don McGahn, to sit for a transcribed interview behind closed doors.

McGahn was a central witness for Mueller’s investigators. His name appears more than 160 times in the special counsel’s final 448-page report. Now the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee will get to ask him about a critical time period that nearly ended the Trump presidency after waging a two-year legal battle.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told Insider he expected big takeaways from McGahn’s long-awaited testimony.

“It will be based on his testimony and what he told the Mueller commission about his dealings with the White House,” the New York Democrat said in an interview. “The steps are very clear. He will come in for the interview, we’ll ask some questions, and we’ll see where they go from there, depending on the answers.”

Other unexpected legal moments are also shedding light on a Trump presidency that broke all norms.

Read more: Trump’s enablers: Meet the 125 people and institutions most responsible for his rise to power

Earlier this week, a federal court unsealed records showing that the Justice Department secretly obtained a grand-jury subpoena during the Trump administration to identify the person behind a Twitter account devoted to mocking Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and prominent Trump ally. Twitter fought the subpoena, and the Justice Department withdrew it this spring, The New York Times reported.

In recent weeks, the Justice Department has also disclosed that it obtained the phone records of reporters at CNN and the Washington Post during the Trump administration, sparking outcry from the news outlets and press freedom advocates.

Combined, the string of recent developments underscore just how much remains to be known about behind-the-scenes happenings between January 2017 and January 2021 — and how court cases left over from the Trump administration could unearth details in the months and years ahead.

Some of it has the potential to be particularly explosive. McGahn’s testimony and the release of the legal opinion on the Muller investigation could prompt a wider reexamination of allegations of obstruction of justice against Trump at a time when the former president is facing mounting legal risk, with the Manhattan district attorney and, more recently, the New York attorney general running parallel criminal investigations into his financial dealings. 

It’s also the case that none of this is especially easy for the Biden-era Justice Department. Legal and political headaches abound for the federal law-enforcement agency as congressional Democrats’ desire for further damning information about Trump conflicts with executive-branch principles that could weigh in favor of keeping the previous leadership’s communications secret. 

“They have, on the one hand, a lot of pressure from people to let all of this stuff out. They also have to protect what’s clearly privileged information,” a former Justice Department official said. “One of the beauties of having a career staff at DOJ is trying to maintain arguments and principled positions across administrations. If you do that, you have to take the good with the bad. What you’re arguing comes back to affect you.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson

‘It was preordained’

Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department said the memo on the Mueller investigation should not be released because it was part of the process of advising Barr on whether the president should be prosecuted over obstruction-of-justice accusations. 

But Jackson questioned the Justice Department’s claim that the so-called deliberative process privilege applied to the memo, siding with the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The nonprofit group sued in 2019 for access to the legal memo.

Jackson said her review of the document revealed that Barr had already reached his decision on the question of prosecuting Trump by the time the memo was prepared. In a scathing 35-page opinion, the judge appointed by President Barack Obama characterized the Justice Department’s representations in the open-records case as disingenuous and depicted Barr’s rollout of the Mueller report as misleading.

“The review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making a decision about whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; the fact that he would not be prosecuted was a given,” wrote Jackson, who oversaw Mueller-led criminal cases against the Trump acolytes Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Roger Stone.

As the Justice Department approaches a Monday deadline to appeal, the decision is not as simple as wanting the disclosure of a record that could reflect poorly on Trump and his administration. The Justice Department has to keep broader considerations in mind, namely how its approach in the case could influence future litigation over access to other administration records.

There are political crosscurrents at play. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin led a group of Democrats writing to Attorney General Merrick Garland last week urging the Justice Department not to appeal Jackson’s order for the public release of the memo.

“DOJ’s actions in this case, and in another recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case seeking information about President Trump’s activities, have raised doubts about DOJ’s candor when characterizing potential evidence of President Trump’s misconduct to courts,” the Democratic senators wrote. “To be clear, these misrepresentations preceded your confirmation as Attorney General, but the Department you now lead bears responsibility for redressing them.”

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

Anne Weismann, a lawyer for CREW, said she was hopeful that the Justice Department would decline to appeal Jackson’s ruling and turn over the memo. In an interview, she said she suspected the document would show that Barr never engaged in a serious legal analysis but instead sought to spin Mueller’s findings to blunt any legal or political damage to Trump.

“I think it’s fair to say the Justice Department took a heavy hit in the Trump years and lost a lot of its luster, and I say this as a former DOJ person,” Weismann, a former longtime official in the department’s civil division, said. “If the AG wants to restore public confidence in the Justice Department, he needs to do the right thing here and put the document out there.”

Other documents released in the same Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by CREW have shown how Barr and other top Justice Department officials were working “furiously behind the scenes trying to figure out how to react publicly to the Mueller report,” she said. The memo could provide further insight into how Barr took steps to shield Trump from blowback over Mueller’s findings.

“It was preordained. They knew they weren’t going to prosecute. It does feed into the larger question of there was never serious consideration at DOJ about what I think is pretty overwhelming evidence” of obstruction, said Weismann, who stepped down as CREW’s chief FOIA counsel last year but has continued working with the watchdog group in semi-retirement.

“DOJ has never seriously considered that, and I guess it raises the question of whether they should,” she added.

Merrick Garland

Inherited Trump-era cases causing headaches

Changes in administration come with shifts in policy and, in some cases, legal arguments.

After taking office in 2017, the Trump administration abandoned legal arguments the Justice Department had taken under the Obama administration. 

Now under Biden, the Justice Department has restored Obama-era positions, notably with regard to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and canceled Supreme Court arguments scheduled for cases involving funding for Trump’s wall along the US-Mexico border and the former president’s controversial asylum policy.

In the lower courts, some cases leftover from the Trump era are proving more difficult to discard.

A week after Biden was sworn in, the Justice Department asked to push back discovery in a case it filed last year during the Trump administration against John Bolton, the Republican president’s former national security advisor. That lingering lawsuit aims to seize the proceeds from Bolton’s damning memoir about his White House tenure under Trump. 

In a ruling earlier in January, a federal judge in Washington, DC, allowed Bolton to pursue evidence that Trump and senior White House officials engaged in misconduct in delaying the national security review of the book, “The Room Where It Happened,” and sought to exert undue influence on classification decisions for sensitive material.

Bolton and the Biden-led Justice Department received a second extension for the beginning of discovery in March. In a filing, the two sides raised the possibility of a settlement.

A settlement could avoid a discovery process that could unearth damaging information about the Trump administration’s review of the book. But legal experts interviewed by Insider said it could also be viewed as going soft on allegations of failure to fully submit to a prepublication review designed to sift classified material out of government officials’ memoirs.

“It’s tricky, and a difficult issue for them is how it will be perceived. If they pursue the case, they give legitimacy to the process that took place during the Trump administration, which doesn’t look good from an appearance perspective,” a former Justice Department official said. “If they settle it and don’t pursue the case, they have to be able to somehow explain why they’re letting Bolton off the hook. That’s a very tricky position for them to be in.”

Since Biden took office, the Justice Department has similarly raised the prospect of a settlement in former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s challenge to his 2018 termination.

After months of criticism from Trump, McCabe was fired in 2018, less than two days before his planned retirement. The Justice Department’s inspector general found that McCabe had misled internal investigators about disclosing information to reporters at The Wall Street Journal, but his firing was seen by some supporters as part of Trump’s battles with law enforcement and the intelligence community.

donald mcgahn

McGahn testimony at long last

The drawn-out case over McGahn’s testimony stood out as perhaps the most prominent instance of the Trump administration’s defiance of congressional demands for information.

Rather than allow that tortured legal battle to proceed, and perhaps set clearer precedent concerning Congress’ ability to compel the testimony of executive-branch officials, the Justice Department under Biden reached a compromise allowing McGahn to testify behind closed doors. The deal was reminiscent of how the Obama administration resolved a standoff leftover from the Bush administration over a congressional demand for the testimony of former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

House Democrats eagerly pursued McGahn’s testimony following his extensive cooperation with the Mueller investigation, in which he relayed several incidents the special counsel scrutinized for possible obstruction of justice. Under the deal with House Democrats, his testimony is limited to information attributed to him in the Mueller report. 

But the wording of the agreement appears to give McGahn some leeway to testify more broadly, barring an objection from a Justice Department representative in the room. McGahn’s level of candor and the approach of the Justice Department lawyer are likely to determine the extent to which the testimony provides new insights into Trump’s conduct during his presidency.

“Mr. McGahn will be free to decline to answer questions outside of the agreed-upon scope of questioning and counsel from the Department of Justice may instruct Mr. McGahn not to answer such questions,” the agreement says.

On Capitol Hill, House Judiciary Committee members are scrambling to get ready to engage anew on a topic that once dominated the headlines and could come roaring back based on what information comes spilling out.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, told Insider that the panel still had not finalized the date on when McGahn is expected to appear before lawmakers. The Ohio congressman, a fierce Trump defender, also said he didn’t anticipate any revelations when the ex-Trump White House lawyer finally sits for his interview.

“It is supposed to be limited to the Muller report, and we already know all about that,” Jordan said. 

Several Republicans said their staffers were rereading the Mueller report to get ready for the meeting with McGahn.

“I’m still preparing for it,” Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican of Ohio, told Insider. “I haven’t formed any opinions that I probably want to express this early.”

This story was first published on May 21, 2021.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Where you should go to stay safe during an earthquake

Source link

Legal-tech startups are growing skeptical of SPACs, creating a big opportunity for private-equity firms to swoop in on deals

Legal Tech SPACs

Summary List Placement

Special-purpose acquisition companies have become increasingly interested in legal-tech companies as the market has matured. But legal-tech companies seem to have mostly given the SPAC frenzy the cold shoulder. 

Legal-tech leaders who spoke with Insider said they mostly saw SPAC offers as a way of driving competition with private-equity firms.

“The effect of the SPAC market on someone like me is that it drives valuations higher for PE transactions,” said Eric Elfman, the CEO and founder of Onit, software for enterprise legal management (ELM). “Private equity is where all the activity seems to be.”

There are other reasons that SPACs aren’t the best fit for legal-tech companies. There is a mismatch between what makes a good SPAC candidate and the limited number of startups that fit the bill, according to market experts who spoke with Insider. And recent heightened regulatory scrutiny of SPACs and fizzling prices for SPAC initial public offerings don’t help.

Historically, very few legal-tech companies have built up enough scale to go public. MyCase completed an IPO in 2014, followed by DocuSign‘s public debut in 2018, which put the valuation of the e-signature platform at $4.41 billion. The e-discovery platform KLDiscovery also went public in 2019.

Most legal-tech startups instead want to remain private and fuel their growth through combinations of strategic acquisitions, venture-capital funding, and private-equity investments, which have especially surged in the past year.

Legal-tech startups are ‘fond of the PE bubble’

At the end of 2020, the former chairman of the top-ranking law firm Kirkland & Ellis launched L&F Acquisition Corp., a SPAC with the goal of targeting governance, risk and compliance, and legal-tech companies. The blank-check company has not yet taken any companies public.

Many legal-tech companies would prefer to stay private and continue growing through the backing of private-equity firms, which have been pouring billions into the space. “I’m fond of the PE bubble — the valuations are stratospheric,” Elfman said.

SPACs’ entry into the legal-tech space would ratchet up competition between private-equity firms and SPACs, since the types of companies that would go public via a SPAC are those that would also be targets for PE investments, Mike Bryant, a partner at the private-equity firm Knox Capital, said.

Mitratech, a legal-management platform that’s expanded its services over the years, would’ve had enough heft to go public and been “perfect” for a SPAC, said Scott Mozarsky, who focuses on legal and compliance markets as a managing director at the investment bank JEGI. But Mitratech had its majority stake acquired in March for an undisclosed amount by a private-equity fund.

Similarly, the e-discovery giant Relativity could have taken the SPAC route but chose investment from the private-equity firm Silver Lake in March. The deal made Silver Lake its largest shareholder in March and valued the company at $3.6 billion, infusing it with enough capital to keep it running privately for at least the near future.

Legal-tech companies may not yet be ripe for SPACs 

SPACs are typically best-suited for companies that are mature enough to have “critical mass,” with at least $500 million in enterprise value to get investors in the public markets excited, according to Mozarsky.

At the same time, those companies would have solid, but “not the A+,” assets in the market, since the “extremely attractive” ones would likely go down the private-equity, IPO, or strategic-investor route, Mozarsky said. 

“The companies that are the best fit for a SPAC are ones with harder stories to tell, where maybe there’s something that isn’t obvious about them from the current metrics,” Jesse Wedler, a partner at the venture-capital firm CapitalG, added. “SPAC investors get excited about companies that are going to be transformative in one or two years.”

That said, most companies in the relatively nascent legal-tech space aren’t yet at a large enough scale to go public in the first place.

Elfman told Insider that Onit, which was founded in 2007, was still too small to go public right now, though it could do so in another couple years.

“The real question is whether the market is even ready for a legal-tech play at scale in the public markets yet. I’m not sure about that,” Elfman said, citing the relative scarcity of ELM, document management, e-discovery, and contract life cycle management companies going public. “Maybe the markets don’t have the appetite for something so vertically focused.”

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Inside a $3 million doomsday condo that can sustain 75 people for 5 years

Source link

EXCLUSIVE: Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak is being sued over the theft of a professor's business idea (AAPL)

Wozniak and Reilly source_ UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF ARIZONA

Summary List Placement

In early 2011, at a luncheon at Sacramento’s Hyatt Regency hotel, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak clasped hands with a Connecticut business professor named Ralph Reilly.

According to Reilly, the pair had agreed to establish a futuristic “tech university,” sealing the deal with an on-camera handshake. It was an ambitious plan for a 21-century educational platform to teach adults much-needed technical skills, using Wozniak’s name and legendary status as cofounder of the world’s most iconic computing company to brand the institution.

But Wozniak has a different recollection. The veteran engineer often known as “Woz” has said the meeting was one of dozens of photo-ops he conducts on a near-daily basis with his fans and admirers — so mundane he doesn’t even remember the photograph being taken.

Despite further emails and meetings, the partnership never got off the ground — and has erupted into a million-dollar lawsuit, Insider has learned. Reilly alleges that Wozniak stole his intellectual property and infringed on his copyright by launching a Woz-branded tech school without him, while Wozniak’s team counters that he never had a real deal with Reilly and that he’s inundated with business proposals from admirers.

The yearslong legal proceedings offer a rare window into the life of Apple’s second-most-famous founder, as well as how tech celebs can cash in on their reputations with lucrative deals and partnerships for decades — and how it can all go wrong.

Such lawsuits are common in the chaotic world of startups, as entrepreneurs and business partners litigate over ownership and execution. And Wozniak’s celebrity status, friendly manner, and hands-off approach to business appears to blur the line between business deal and fan interaction.

The copyright infringement case is set to go to trial in June in Arizona, and Wozniak has been called to the stand to testify.

From Apple cofounder to laid-back entrepreneur

Despite decades of entrepreneurship, Steve Wozniak says he has little control over his business dealings — a claim central to his defense.

The Apple cofounder takes a determinedly hands-off approach to business endeavours, leaving contract negotiations to business partners, like his manager Ken Hardesty, he said in a legal deposition ahead of the trial. So when lawyers asked Wozniak whether he received a $1 million payout for his association with Woz U, the school later started without Reilly, he couldn’t say for sure whether he was ever paid for the deal, or even how much money he has. (In a separate deposition, Hardesty confirmed Wozniak got the cash.)

“One thing I avoid in life is anything having to do with money,” he said. “I just don’t look at it … I wouldn’t know how much is in our bank account. My life is very different than most people.”

This unusual life dates to the 1970s, when Woz helped spark the personal-computing revolution. 

He was one of the three creators of Apple Computer Company in 1976, along with the late Steve Jobs and the lesser-known Ronald Wayne. The then 25-year-old Californian was the key engineering mind behind some of its earliest products, including the Apple I and II computers.

Steve Jobs and Wozniak

In the years since Woz parted ways with the company in 1985, Apple has grown from high-end computer maker to unassailable corporate titan — redefining tech and society with products ranging from the iPod to the iPhone. And as Apple’s star has risen, so has Wozniak and his associations with the now legendary Jobs.

Wozniak, 70, has kept busy in the decades since. He’s done philanthropy work, become a regular on the technology industry conference circuit, and jumped from project to project, offering business partners the prestige of working with an Apple cofounder. (He did not respond to a request for comment.)

In 2017, he became an advisor to hologram emoji startup Mojiit, and in late 2020 he helped spin up Efforce, a blockchain startup focused on “energy efficiency” that calls its tradable tokens “WOZX.” 

Wozniak even made an appearance on “Dancing With The Stars” in 2009, bedecked in a feathery pink boa.

‘Woz has hundreds of fans like you, who have met him somewhere’

In January 2012, Reilly and Wozniak met for the second time, at the San Francisco office of the Apollo Group, which runs the for-profit college University of Phoenix. Reilly hoped that Apollo would help turn his idea into a reality.

Apollo (which is now called Apollo Education Group, and is distinct from the asset management giant of the same name) proposed its own licensing agreement with Wozniak, which would let the school use his name and image, and would require the tech executive to record two lectures to broadcast to the entire school, according to a pitch deck included in Reilly’s complaint. 

But for the time-crunched Wozniak, even two recorded lectures was two too many. “Nothing ever came out of it,” Hardesty, Wozniak’s business manager, said in a deposition. “It was a meeting. It was a meet and greet.” Wozniak would later claim that he didn’t even remember Reilly being in the room. 

It was a disappointing outcome for the University of Hartford professor.

Reilly, an associate professor of management, keeps a low public profile. His online biography cites unspecified “broad business experience in technical industries and diverse teaching experience,” and a background in computer science. A lawyer for Reilly declined to comment about his background or the case.

Woz Institute of Technology

The academic had first broached the possibility of a Woz university with the Apple cofounder via email one Sunday evening in September 2010. “Steve Woz, I really want to start a high tech university, any thoughts!?” he wrote, according to copies of the emails included in court filings.

Wozniak, who prides himself on being accessible to his fans, emailed back within a couple of hours. He was too busy to help, he wrote, but offered the Connecticuter some advice. “Great idea. It will take some time but do it right.”

Reilly was emboldened by Woz’s attention, and followed up a few days later with a bigger, more specific proposal. “Would you consider endorsing the idea of ME starting the Woz Institute of Technology?” he wrote on September 22, 2010.

“Cool…ok to use name…” Woz replied in an email included in the court documents. “I’ll get more involved eventually but right now life is crammed.”

The pair would continue to go back and forth over a period of months as Reilly searched for a college to make the Woz Institute of Technology a reality. 

At first it seemed like it might work out with an online school in Connecticut that Reilly had connections to through his son’s t-ball team. While in Sacramento for the 2011 meet-and-greet, Reilly presented Wozniak with a contract that granted the college the right to use his name and image for the “Woz School of Technology” in exchange for quarterly payments. 

Six dotted lines bore the same signature: “Woz.” In his deposition, Wozniak said he didn’t remember signing it but didn’t dispute it was his signature. “It probably wasn’t important enough to even remember,” he said. “I don’t do business. If there’s any business, you’re going to have to go through my business partners.”

wozniak signature

When that plan didn’t work out, Reilly probed Wozniak about whether he should find another institution to work with, leading to a key email at the center of Reilly’s eventual claim that Wozniak stole his intellectual property. “I have no time so whatever you want to try,” Wozniak wrote in December 2011. “I figure it’s your idea.” 

Early the following year they met with Apollo together, but that didn’t pan out either.

By early 2013, Wozniak’s team was backing away from any possible partnership with Reilly. Hardesty emailed the professor demanding that he take down a mock-up website for the Woz Institute of Technology, denying there was a “Original Plan or Joint Venture ever discussed,” and telling him to stop contacting Wozniak directly.

“Please realize Woz has hundreds of fans like you, who have met him somewhere, when he has a break for a little time, he likes to meet and talk with fans, then a short time later 90% of his fans start e-mailing with business ideas,” Hardesty wrote curtly. “At times, he tries to meet with everyone he can, you were a lucky one.”

Reilly had obtained copyright protection for the website mock-up, and it is now at the heart of the case — even as Wozniak’s lawyers counter that there’s no evidence that Wozniak ever even looked at it.

The birth of Woz U

In the fall of 2017, Wozniak unveiled Woz U, a new plan to reinvent higher education in technology.

Despite the Wozniak brand, Woz U was built on top of existing code-learning company Coder Camps. The program billed itself as a skill-focused educational program to help students learn the fundamentals to move into the industry. 

“My entire life I have worked to build, develop and create a better world through technology and I have always respected education,” Wozniak said in the announcement. “Now is the time for Woz U, and we are only getting started.”

One name not mentioned in the announcement: Ralph Reilly. 

Headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, Woz U went on to announce an array of educational programs including partnerships with tech companies to recruit new talent, and plans for 30 physical campuses across the United States.

It was formed after Coder Camps reached out to Wozniak’s team to license his name, and Wozniak’s lawyers argue his hands-off approach to the namesake business makes it impossible for it to have infringed on Reilly’s intellectual property. “Wozniak did not provide any curriculum, ideas on programs, schedules or anything else to WOZ U in connection with the License Agreement,” they wrote in a court filing.

Since its launch, the company has faced significant challenges. In October 2018, CBS reported that some former students had frustrations with the quality of its educational content, including typos in learning material, pre-recorded lectures, and unqualified mentors. (One former salesperson told the outlet they used Wozniak’s prestige to entice prospective students to sign up.)

Facing pressure from regulators, Woz U surrendered its teaching license in Arizona in 2019, but continues to offer training courses for individuals, businesses, and educational institutions.

Woz takes the stand

Wozniak will soon take the stand in Arizona District Court as a witness in a three-day jury trial that starts on June 7. 

It’s the culmination of a nearly three year legal campaign by Reilly against the Apple cofounder that kicked off at the end of 2018. Reilly has sought at least $1 million in relief and damages, while Wozniak’s team flatly denies the allegations.

Some of Reilly’s accusations against Wozniak — including breach of contract — have already been dismissed by the judge. Instead, the case will hinge more narrowly on the legitimacy of Reilly’s copyright claims over the Woz Institute of Technology, and whether Wozniak and Woz U infringed upon them.

Legal disputes about the ownership of companies are common, but copying someone else’s business idea is not necessarily a crime, said Neel Sukhatme, an associate professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

“If I say I have an idea for a business, and this other individual does it, generally speaking I can create the same business as you. If I’m violating copyright or trademark — it’s a trademarked business, that’s one thing, if I’m copying your copyrighted material that’s another thing, if I have patent on an inventive concept, and you essentially go ahead and practice that invention, that’s patent infringement,” he said. “If there is no copyright or trademark protection, I do not see why Woz would not be able to make his own university … if there’s a contract in place, there could be damages in contract law.”

Still, at the heart of the matter is the question of whether Wozniak’s licensing deal with Woz U would have existed without Reilly’s initial idea. Reilly alleges that Wozniak’s own emails included in court filings answer that question.

Shortly after Woz U launched in 2017, Reilly emailed Wozniak, asking to be a part of the new project. “It’s exactly what I envisioned for Woz Institute of Technology when I first approached you with the idea,” Reilly said in the email.

wozniak reilly

The Apple cofounder responded a month later, on Christmas Eve, declining Reilly’s request while sending his own praise.

“You are right on the mark. You had the right idea,” he wrote. “I doubt it would have happened without your initial idea!” 

In the new year, Reilly pushed back, arguing that it was fundamentally his idea and that he “should have some ownership in the venture” as “at least a part owner.” 

Wozniak never replied. 

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Why scorpion venom is the most expensive liquid in the world

Source link