Elizabeth Korchin is a senior investment officer at Therium Capital Management, focusing on legal diligence, financial structuring and ongoing asset management. Prior to joining Therium, Ms Korchin was a partner at Hogan Lovells, where she spent a decade as a trial lawyer on high-stakes technology disputes. Ms Korchin received her undergraduate degree from Duke University in 2005 and her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 2008.
What inspired you to pursue a career in litigation finance?
Actually, the career in litigation finance pursued me, rather than the other way around. Shortly after making partner at my prior law firm, a former colleague and now Therium’s US chief investment officer, Patrick Dempsey, asked me to lunch – ostensibly to congratulate me on my promotion and to catch up. I was surprised (very happily so) when it turned out to be a recruitment effort. While I never anticipated that my career trajectory would take such a quick turn at that point, joining Therium’s investment team allowed me to focus on the parts of being a litigator that I liked best: diving headfirst into the facts, law and strategy of a case, and getting straight to the heart of a matter in a short period of time. Plus, I always have had an entrepreneurial bent and even though Therium was well established as a major player (having been around for more than a decade, and exceeding the $1 billion milestone in funds raised shortly after I joined), the legal finance industry was still young when I took the leap. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get into this high-growth area when Therium approached me.
How does your experience prior to joining Therium enhance your role now?
From a young age, I revelled in understanding how things work. Much to my parents’ amusement and chagrin, as a child I often would completely dismantle things around our house to see their inner workings. (Rest assured that I put them back together . . . usually.) As a litigator, I likewise had a passion for immersing myself in my clients’ businesses to understand how they worked and to help them devise strategies to achieve their goals both inside and outside the courtroom. I often spent sleepless nights trying to turn complex, often highly technical arguments into small blocks of accessible information that even non-technical jurors could follow and find interesting. That process was like the one I engaged in as a child: breaking down material, part by part, to understand what went on underneath. I live by the old adage: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
My approach to investments at Therium is very much the same. I have a genuine curiosity in our clients’ businesses and the legal matters we invest in, and I strive to understand them inside and out. Boiling cases down to their simplest elements not only helps in diligence; it refines and strengthens cases by deepening understanding for all involved. It is a challenging process (especially given the short turnaround times that often are required), but a very rewarding one.
What do clients look for in a funder?
Initially, clients often come to us primarily looking for capital. Once they go through our process, however, we typically hear that they are pleasantly surprised to have gained a true partner rather than simply obtaining funding. Although we are passive investors and do not control the cases in our US portfolio, clients and counsel often seek out our insights once litigation or arbitration is ongoing because, as funders, we have a unique bird’s-eye view of numerous practice areas, plus our office is comprised of experienced litigators who can act as a valuable sounding board. Most importantly, I think our clients come to understand that our investment is not simply a financial one: we get personally invested in helping them reach their goals, and that is a genuine relationship that goes beyond the litigation or arbitration in our portfolio.
Covid-19 will likely be followed by a financial crisis. Will funders that committed to provide funds in an ongoing case still be able to honour their commitments if the financial markets collapse?
In Therium’s case, we absolutely will be able to honour our capital commitments regardless of what covid-19 brings. We are not publicly traded and are backed by global institutional investors, including a sovereign wealth fund, so our funding is not threatened by market decline. Indeed, a financial crisis could lead to more investor capital entering this space precisely because legal finance is an alternative asset class with returns that are not necessarily correlated to the stock market.
How does pro bono form a part of your current practice? How would you like to develop this further?
Pro bono was a very important part of my practice at Hogan Lovells, so I was especially proud when Therium launched Therium Access, a dedicated pro bono fund, in early 2019. Even in our commercial investments, the core of Therium’s business is providing access to justice for entities that have meritorious lawsuits and that need funding to pursue their claims. Therium Access – which goes beyond the commercial arena and makes grants available to pursue legal claims that provide a social benefit – was a natural extension of our overall mission, and we very much look forward to launching it in the USA and other jurisdictions around the globe in the near future.