Originally uploaded at SSRN.

Abstract

This Article identifies a market-based solution for monitoring large-scale litigation proceeding outside of Rule 23’s safeguards. Although class actions dominate the scholarly discussion of mass litigation, the ever increasing restrictions on certifying a class mean that plaintiffs’ lawyers routinely rely on aggregate, multidistrict litigation to seek redress for group-wide harms. Despite sharing key features with its class action counterpart—such as attenuated attorney-client relationships, attorneyclient conflicts of interest, and high agency costs—no monitor exists in aggregate litigation. Informal group litigation not only lacks Rule 23’s judicial protections against attorney overreaching and self-dealing, but plaintiff’s themselves cannot adequately supervise their attorneys’ behavior. Plaintiffs’ attorneys may represent thousands of geographically dispersed clients, which fosters collective-action problems and makes individual, case-specific information hard to obtain.

An answer to this monitoring problem comes from an unlikely and potentially controversial source: alternative litigation financing. Self-dealing and high agency costs arise in aggregate litigation principally because of the contingent-fee attorney’s dual roles as agent and investor. These roles can pull lawyers in divergent directions; because attorneys front massive litigation costs, they may be tempted to coerce clients into settling so that they can recoup and profit from their investment. Third-party litigation financing, which involves hedge funds, private investors, and venture capitalists investing in and profiting from large-scale litigation, can ameliorate this critical conflict of interest by allowing the financier to bear the financial risk. Shorn of financial self-interest, the lawyer is then free to act as a faithful agent. Although alternative litigation financing can be controversial, this Article seeks to marry profit-seeking capitalists and aggregate litigation in a way that benefits society as a whole and plaintiffs in particular.