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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Legal Finance (From Overlawyered)

Overlawyered brings us this story on "legal finance".

The mushrooming "legal finance" industry offers to advance injury claimants cash on the barrel, to be repaid only if their suits are successful. Some firms have charged effective interest rates exceeding 100 percent a year, but the business generally operates beyond the reach of moneylending laws and has mostly escaped the sort of hostile attention that has been directed at say, the payday loan industry and its alleged "predatory lending". That may be changing, however. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (who says he gets only unflattering attention in this space?) has reached settlements calling for clearer disclosure of fees from at least ten litigation-cash-advance firms, including one based in New Jersey which billed a client $19,000 for a cash advance of $3,000 two and a half years earlier, later accepting a smaller sum. (Joseph P. Fried, "Waiting To Settle a Lawsuit? Beware of Cash Advances", New York Times, Apr. 4). For a glimpse of how the business sometimes works, see Barbara Ross, "Costly trip for Zongo family", New York Daily News, Feb. 14.

There are similarities between these contracts and "payday" loans or (loans in sub-sub-prime markets), but these loans are more like option contracts than anything else. They are paid off only if the plaintiff in the lawsuit wins. So, calculating the interest rate on the loan based only on the cases where the contract gets paid off drastically overstates the return the lender is getting.

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