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2018 Annual Review and 2019 Outlook Highlights Private Equity Fund Litigation Risk Areas

In our recently released 2018 Annual Review and 2019 Outlook for Hedge Funds, Private Equity Funds and Other Private Funds, we note that innovative market disruptors, a maturing credit cycle, and a philosophical change in how the industry views and utilizes litigation are likely to lead to increased litigation risk for advisers (and their funds) in 2019. Below we have excerpted the areas that should be on the top of every adviser’s list as we look toward 2019.

The Unicorn Ripple Effect

While the number of IPOs has increased, rich valuations for private companies may constrain opportunities for liquidity and future funding rounds. Ultimately, an uneven IPO outlook for unicorns could lead to disputes. Overly optimistic valuations can lead to inflated expectations, especially among employee shareholders expecting a payout and investors expecting gains. A company with rich valuations may have greater difficulty creating liquidity for shareholders. As more unicorns linger and fall into distress, some may fail, leading to litigation. And as the Theranos case has taught us, the failure of a unicorn is likely to attract not only regulatory scrutiny, but also potential private litigation claims.

Litigation Funding Alters the Landscape

Historically, limited partners have shied away from initiating litigation – in part because their primary objective is to maximize the value of their investment and litigation is viewed as having high costs with an uncertain return. In addition, advisers have an asymmetric advantage in that they often can draw on the fund to cover legal expenses, whereas limited partners must cover their own expenses. Enter litigation funders, who are raising funds and capital at an unprecedented pace and whose business strategy is to invest in claims by covering the expenses of litigation in exchange for a share in the recovery. Litigation funding has the potential to fuel a new wave of LP-driven litigation that, up until recently, had been viewed as a risk that was hard to quantify and seemed unlikely to materialize.

Private Credit Defaults and Workouts

The market for private credit lending (sometimes called alternative finance or private capital) continues to boom, with some experts estimating that it will exceed $1 trillion by 2020. The influx of capital into the private credit industry is altering the landscape for deal types and deal terms. Rising competition, intense deal activity, and the reach for yield have led to more complicated capital structures. This complexity coupled with higher interest rates are signs of a maturing credit cycle – which in turn signals an increased risk of defaults. End of cycle defaults often lead to contentious workouts. Given that disputes tend to follow market trends, the continued growth of the private credit market today could lead to disputes tomorrow.

Portfolio Company Litigation

There are seemingly countless ways that ownership and sale of a portfolio company can expose advisers and their funds to litigation. There is a growing trend by plaintiffs’ lawyers to name advisers, funds and their board-designees as defendants in traditional portfolio company litigation. Advisers (their principals) and their funds also are common targets when a portfolio company fails post-sale and a creditors’ committee comes knocking to pursue recoveries. And there has also been a steady uptick in something that was once viewed as taboo in the industry – advisers and their funds suing other advisers and their funds related to sales of portfolio companies. Each of these trends is likely to continue in 2019 and beyond.

© 2018 Proskauer Rose LLP.

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

Timothy W. Mungovan, Litigation Attorney, Proskauer Law Firm
Partner

Timothy Mungovan is a Partner in the Litigation Department, co-head of the Private Investment Funds Disputes practice and a member of the Private Investment Funds Group. Tim has an international practice in complex commercial litigation, advising public and private companies in a variety of areas, including securities, corporate governance, fiduciary obligations, investment management and financial services, fraud and trade secrets.

In addition to his regular commercial litigation practice, Tim focuses on disputes involving private investment...

617-526-9412, 212-969-3201
Michael R. Hackett, Litigation Attorney, Proskauer Law Firm
Associate

Michael R. Hackett is an associate in the Litigation Department and a member of the Asset Management Litigation practice. His practice focuses on disputes and regulation involving private funds, including private equity, venture capital, hedge, real estate and private credit funds, as well as other limited partnerships, where he regularly advises funds, fund sponsors, investment advisers and institutional and individual investors.

Mike’s experience representing private fund clients runs the gamut, from control contests within advisers, to disputes between limited partners and general partners, to representation of investment advisers in connection with regulatory examinations, investigations and enforcement matters.  Mike also routinely represents fund sponsors and their portfolio companies, including in significant post-closing disputes. 

In addition to his private funds practice, Mike represents public and private companies in a variety of complex commercial and securities litigation matters.

Mike has been named a “Rising Star” by Massachusetts Super Lawyers, and was identified as an “associate to watch” by Chambers USA in 2017 and 2018.

During law school, Mike served as an intern judicial clerk to the Honorable William G. Young of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

617-526-9723
Brian Hooven, Proskauer, Litigation, Expert Witness Qualifications Attorney
Associate

Brian Hooven is an associate in the Litigation Department.

  • Columbia Law School, J.D., 2015 

  • Journal of Law and Social Problems

  • University of Michigan, B.S., 2011

212.969.3212