Validity founder and CEO Ralph Sutton’s strategic and operational experience make him a trusted investment manager for clients and law firms. Following an 18-year career as a trial attorney, in 2006 Ralph co-founded Credit Suisse’s litigation risk strategies group, one of the first dispute funding entities in the USA. From 2011 to 2017, Ralph ran the US operations of Bentham IMF. Ralph is a champion of increased access to civil justice and has lectured at Harvard, Stanford and other law schools.
How has your experience as a litigator and one of the first funding professionals in the USA shaped your current practice?
Through my experience as a practising trial lawyer and judicial clerk, I became conscious of the fact that the legal system was broken and no longer operated on the ideals upon which it was founded. It was clear money played the ultimate role in access to justice and the better-financed party has had an unfair advantage in tipping the scales. I became interested in funding originally with the goal of levelling the playing field and ensuring legal disputes are decided on their merits, rather than being based on who has the deepest pockets.
What are some of the changes you have seen in the market over the last 10 years?
As of March 2020, the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index ranked the US at 108th out of 132 countries for access to justice. The US has dropped 40 spots in five years.
In parallel with this, and perhaps to some degree, in response to this, litigation finance has seen dramatic growth in this same period. Demand continues to increase at a significant pace as both law firms and clients recognise the advantages of funding to help clients pursue meritorious claims while also enabling law firms to take on the right cases without cash flow concerns. We have not only seen demand grow within our sector, but also an increase in services offered as funders bring new and innovative solutions to clients, such as funding for defence cases.
Why did you decide to set up Validity Finance?
I set up Validity because I saw a need in the market for a new kind of funding that focused on the client and offered the highest level of strategic advice by a team that was experienced in all aspects of the legal and business world. Additionally, I saw an opportunity to deliver a funding solution designed with the needs of the US market in mind. Being tailored to the needs of clients allows us to be nimble and responsive to what our clients and their counsel are facing.
What makes Validity stand out in the market?
In 2019 we did a survey with American Lawyer in which we asked 330 lawyers about their experiences with litigation finance. The survey showed that 99 per cent of them agree that trust is the most important quality to look for in a funder. At Validity, we believe trust, fairness and clarity are the keys to success. We put the needs of our clients and their access to a fair recovery above everything else. We consistently aim to be open and fully transparent through every stage of the funding process in order to establish trust and create the best experience possible.
What advice would you give someone interested in getting started in litigation finance?
Find your niche, ask for help and take your time. In order to be a trusted adviser to clients and a successful investor, it is important to have deep expertise and knowledge within particular areas. This will enable you to effectively strategise and offer useful insight for clients. It may take time to develop the processes and relationships needed, so take your time and find mentors in the industry with whom you can partner.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
I think it is well worth thinking about the possibility of public interest funding. Whether through a dedicated funder or possibly by law firm clinics, funding can play a role in civil rights cases and generate profits that can be reinvested to expand the offering.
Where in your opinion, do you see the future of third-party funding?
I believe litigation funding is going to continue to grow and expand. We are experiencing growth in demand from larger clients and law firms for a wider variety of case types and I believe innovative funders will continue to meet those demands.
Looking at making a difference in the system, I think we have an opportunity to focus on ways to have more impact on legal education. In recent years, Validity launched a fellowship programme for first-year law students; I have had the opportunity to lecture at number of law schools; and I have been actively involved with a non-profit dedicated to helping high school students from diverse backgrounds. Education is the key to addressing diversity issues in this country and in making our legal system fair for everyone.