Litigation funder earmarks $100m to fund racially diverse and female-led cases

Burford Capital broadens focus of Equity Project launched in 2018; portion of profits from successful cases to boost funding

Aviva Will

Litigation funder Burford Capital has earmarked $100m as part of the launch of the second phase of an initiative designed to increase diversity in the business of law, particularly in leadership and partner positions. 

The second phase of The Equity Project, which was launched in 2018 with $50m of legal finance capital, will see its focus broadened from seeking to boost gender diversity to also foster greater racial diversity. 

Aviva Will, Burford's co-chief operating officer and former senior litigation managing and assistant general counsel at Time Warner, said the expansion was motivated by the “vanishingly few” commercial disputes led by female and racially diverse lawyers reviewed by Burford each year. 

Will, who leads the Equity Project, added: “There is no question that diversity is good for business. The question is, how can we promote and incentivize faster change in commercial litigation and arbitration, both of which have been particularly resistant to it? Our goal is not just to work to bridge these gaps but to do so quickly. To achieve this, we must change the economics.”

Burford has already made a multi-million commitment under the newly expanded project to a litigation matter led by a female in-house lawyer and a racially diverse outside litigation team for a Fortune 100 company this year. 

Christopher Bogart, chief executive officer of Burford, further explained that the initiative extends beyond helping law firms increase diversity but also “augment companies’ and law firms’ existing ESG initiatives”. 

In order to achieve this, Burford said it will contribute a portion of its profits made from resolved Equity Project-funded matters to organisations that ‘promote lawyer development for female and racially diverse lawyers’. 

In addition to the newly earmarked $100m, the funder has also expanded its roster of Equity Project Champions, a group of corporate and law firm leaders who will support and spread awareness of the initiative. The list includes new participants Keith Harrison, litigation co-chair at Crowell & Moring, and Hogan Lovells international arbitration partner Maria Eugenia Ramirez. 

Legal departments committed to advancing diversity will be able to use the project’s funding to ‘further incentivise’ their firms to appoint diverse teams to represent them, while law firms and companies alike can use the funding as part of their ongoing environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts, the litigation funder explained in a statement. 

Earlier this week, general counsel at 27 leading US companies pledged to ask law firms they instruct to use a new scorecard measuring the effectiveness of their diversity, equity and inclusion policies. The initiative was launched by the Washington DC-based Minority Corporate Counsel Association, which hailed the scorecard as the first steop in establishing a benchmark ‘to better understand minimum standards to evaluate law firms’ DEI efforts’.


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