07 Jan 2022

Burford hires Calunius co-founder as litigation funder continues European expansion

Arbitration expert and legal finance veteran Mick Smith to join firm in London as principal

Litigation finance veteran Mick Smith joins Burford Capital

London and New York-listed litigation funder Burford Capital has hired Calunius Capital co-founder Mick Smith as the firm seeks to further grow its European offering.

Smith joins Burford as principal and will be based out of the firm’s London office where he will focus on building its European business and global arbitration practice. Smith co-founded London-based Calunius Capital in 2006, prior to which he practiced law at Freshfields Bruckhaus Beringer in London and Madrid and was an investment banker at JPMorgan Chase, Credit Agricole Lazard and Dresdner Kleinwort.

Christopher Bogart, CEO of Burford Capital, said: “Burford already has a $1.2bn European portfolio and is the world’s largest arbitration funder, and we are excited about Mick growing those numbers further,” adding that he has known Smith for many years as a “collaborator and friendly competitor”.

Smith’s skillset – which straddles law and banking – has enabled him to work seamlessly between the investment and corporate sides of funding mandates, while also giving him a keen appreciation of risk, which he developed with Calunius co-founder Mark Wells and its chairman Leslie Perrin, who now also heads the International Legal Finance Association.  

John Lazar, managing director of Burford Capital in London, said: “Mick adds to our over 40 employees in London, in addition to those in the DACH region (Germany, Austria and Switzerland), as we continue our investment growth both geographically and in scope.”

With Calunius in run-off to new cases since 2018, Smith has taken time to explore interests in data science, building on his undergraduate study of maths and law at Cambridge University.

Calunius, he said, remained in run-off, with some larger claims – such as interests in the Trucks Cartel litigation, and an ongoing Venezuelan-related arbitration, among others – yet to conclude, but these did not preclude him from joining Burford.

Smith described Burford as “the biggest and best [funder], with the most data and the longest track record, including in arbitration,” adding that “it felt a bit like coming home”.

Compared to Calunius, Burford’s ability to finance significant claims and work off the biggest platform to do the biggest and most interesting deals was a compelling attraction, as was the opportunity to continue his work on disputes data analytics and improve its function in the industry, Smith said.

Smith added that the litigation funding market is “pretty healthy” and larger funders will continue to raise more capital as the courts become more familiar with funding, thanks in part to recent UK jurisprudence from the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

He said there is also scope for corporate deals in continental Europe, including Spain, alongside existing markets such as Germany and the UK.