Steven Friel: CEO, Woodsford Litigation Funding
#BakersDozen is a series of interviews with leading professionals in the fields of law, consulting, finance, tech, and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
Originally from the North West of Ireland, I studied law at Cambridge and was subsequently called to the Bar. I joined Woodsford Litigation Funding in November 2015, having previously been a partner in the London office of international law firm Brown Rudnick. Prior to joining Brown Rudnick, I was a partner in the London office of DAC Beachcroft, and practiced from the London and New York offices of Debevoise & Plimpton.
What do you do for a living right now?
I am Chief Executive Officer at Woodsford Litigation Funding. We provide bespoke litigation financing solutions for businesses, individuals, and law firms, in particular litigation and arbitration funding.
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
My greatest triumph whilst still in private practice was securing a £45m settlement for a client that had previously been advised by a magic circle firm that it did not have a good case. They were wrong! My greatest success as a litigation funder has been securing returns in around 40% of my investments within one year. From these and similar experiences, I continue to learn the best ways to extract value from high value disputes, often in David and Goliath situations.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
The legal industry, and the legal professional that supports it, is too broad and varied to give a single answer to this question. Certain parts of the industry, for example commercial litigation funding, are heading in the right direction – onwards and upwards. Elsewhere, there is cause for great concern, including the cuts to legal aid, and the press attacks on the independence of the judiciary.
Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
My children inspire me to be a better person.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
Don’t follow the herd. The best opportunities, in my experience, are ones that we bespoke to our own needs and wants.
In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
Within the next ten years, third party litigation funding will become further entrenched in all of the major centres for international dispute resolution. There will be some new players into our market, but the market will be dominated by businesses like Woodsford, which have the litigation experience and the financial muscle to make a real difference.
Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
Neither. The legal profession is vibrant and strong, and provides the backbone to our society and our economy. And the business of law is one of London’s greatest exports. We have much to be proud of.
What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
In the UK, our greatest challenge is the government’s apparent lack of respect for lawyers and the judiciary. Liz Truss’ muted response to the press attacks on the judiciary in relation to Brexit was appalling.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
One of the greatest opportunities for the London legal and financial industries comes from the development of litigation funding in more and more jurisdictions. Hong Kong and Singapore will soon open up fully to third party litigation funding, and many more jurisdictions will follow in their wake.
Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
Yes. The legal world has made great improvements in gender, racial and LGBT equality, but we still have a long way to do. The key is to demonstrate not just that diversity is a good thing in itself (which it clearly is), but that it also makes good economic sense.
Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
Litigation funders are undoubtedly becoming the greatest influencers in the dispute resolution market.
If a law firm was a start-up pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
Yes. If there are any good litigation start-ups out there, they should give me a call. Law firm finance will be a key area of growth for Woodsford over the next 5 years.
What would you like to be known for?
Doing the right thing.
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
Trying to keep up with my children.
What’s your favorite sports team?
Hampstead Rugby Club’s under 7s team.
What’s your favorite city?
What’s your favorite food?
Indian on a Friday night. My husband’s cooking at all other times.
Whats your nickname – and why?
I’ve never managed to acquire one (that I know of).
Steven joined Woodsford in November 2015, having previously been a partner in the London office of international law firm Brown Rudnick. Prior to joining Brown Rudnick, Steven was a partner in the London office of DAC Beachcroft, and practiced from the London and New York offices of Debevoise & Plimpton. Steven is a graduate of Cambridge University, and graduated top of his class with a Master of Laws degree in International Dispute Resolution from the University of London.