Burford hails record realisations as it hires in Hong Kong and Houston

Litigation funder posts 72% rise in proceeds from cases to $608m in 2020 despite fall in profits

Strong corporate commitments, record realisations and balance sheet liquidity were the main highlights of litigation funder Burford Capital’s 2020 results, which it unveiled today alongside senior hires in Hong Kong and Houston.

Proceeds from cases – or realisations – rose by 72% to $608m in 2020 with commitments improving in the second half of 2020; 57% of which were direct approaches from corporates seeking finance.  

A 63% increase in balance sheet liquidity by year-end saw Burford holding $336m, while the funder’s portfolio grew slightly to $4.5bn. It plans to place a $350m US debt offering, having listed on the NYSE last year. The funder’s total income fell 1% to $353m against a 19% decline in profit after tax to $172m. 

Outgoing chairman Sir Peter Middleton said: “2020 was historic for both the scale of the global economic downturn as well as Burford’s record $337m of realisations on its balance sheet.”

The funder’s CEO, Chris Bogart, whose contract has been extended to 2024, added: “For the first time, Burford crossed the half-billion-dollar mark for group-wide income, generating record amounts of realised gains. We brought in more cash from case successes than ever before, amounting to $1bn group-wide, and we ended the year with more cash on hand and liquidity than we have ever had.” 

The funder also announced a series of promotions and lateral hires. New York-based managing director John Lazar, a former associate at Cravath and Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch, is moving to London to manage the office with a brief to develop Burford’s UK and EU business while in Hong Kong, Emily Tillett has joined as a vice president from Allen & Overy, where she was a litigation counsel.

Tillett has opened an office for the funder with a brief to lead its investment activity and operations in the Special Administrative Region. 

Elsewhere, experienced litigator Reda Hicks is joining as a Vice President from Texas firm Diamond McCarthy, where she was a partner. She becomes Burford’s first full time Houston employee and has a brief to develop new business with US-based law firms and companies.

Last summer, Burford took a 32% stake in litigation boutique PCB Litigation, which this month agreed to merge with Byrne & Partners to forge 15-partner firm. David Perla, Burford’s co-chief operating officer, described the relationship with PCB as “complementary to our business” in a media call today. 

While not ruling out future investments, he said the funder’s primary focus was to use litigation capital to help firms fund – and win - cases, suggesting that “law firms have a way to go” in accepting outside investment, particularly in the US. Future investments, he added, would depend less on the size of firm involved, than how any deal would add to Burford’s growth strategy.

Fifty per cent of the funder’s 136 staff are lawyers, with the legal, compliance and finance functions now comprising 24% and investment managers making up 41% of the workforce.

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