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Drinker Biddle to merge with Indy-based firm

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WILMINGTON ““ Business-focused law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath announced Dec. 18 that it would merge with Indianapolis-based firm Faegre Baker Daniels, creating a new firm of more than 1,300 attorneys that would rank within the nation’s 50 largest and most profitable.

The combined firm will be known as Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, or Faegre Drinker in short, starting Feb. 1, 2020. The combination will continue to focus on the firms’ four largest practice areas: corporate, business litigation, product liability and intellectual property.

Faegre Drinker will have 22 offices across the U.S. and in China and the United Kingdom, but no headquarters. The firm’s five largest offices will be in Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, which has a Wilmington office at 222 Delaware Ave., will merge with Faegre Baker Daniels in a deal that boosts the firm into the nation’s 50 largest. | DBT FILE PHOTO

Philadelphia-based Drinker Biddle dates back to 1849, but its Wilmington office is only 16 years old. Opened in 2003 by now-Drinker Biddle Chairman and CEO Andrew Kassner along with two other bankruptcy lawyers, the office sought to take advantage of Delaware’s leading position for Chapter 11 filings.

“Our strategy was for the Wilmington office to be significant in the firm, especially in terms of restructuring, intellectual property and Chancery Court cases,” Kassner told Delaware Business Times. “As we sit here today, we’ve achieved all of our goals.”

Over the years the office has added numerous lawyers and consultants, today counting more than 30, according to Kassner, and added specialties like business litigation, intellectual property and government relations. Drinker Biddle ranks in Delaware’s Top 10 largest firms, according to DBT research.

It has also been successful in attracting high-ranking state officials to positions in the firm, including Tom McGonigle, a chief of staff to former Gov. Jack Markell who now leads the Wilmington office; Geoffrey Sawyer III, a deputy chief of staff to Markell; Joseph Schoell, a chief legal counsel to former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner; and Mary Kate McLaughlin, a former chief of staff for the Delaware Department of Education. Most recently, the firm landed Doug Gramiak, former chief to staff to current Gov. John Carney.

“[Attracting lawyers with government backgrounds] is part of what we think is a full-service, comprehensive offering to our clients; they deserve to have the best representation from individuals with Delaware experience,” Kassner said.

The Wilmington office’s experience before state courts was a major part of Faegre Baker’s attraction to Drinker Biddle, Kassner said, noting the combined firm will have 230 corporate lawyers doing sophisticated work from coast to coast. Faegre Baker already has an office in Silicon Valley, California, that works on many intellectual property cases, which often end up in Delaware’s Chancery Court. Wilmington-based lawyers will now be able to provide support in building cases coming from such offices, Kassner explained.

“It’s really a hand-in-glove fit,” he said.

After the merger, Kassner said that he expects the Wilmington office to continue to grow, both organically and from the outside. He noted that they will be announcing a new partner in the office as of Feb. 1.

The discussion of a potential merger goes back months, Kassner said. He first met Faegre Baker Chair and Managing Partner Tom Froehle about two years ago, and they quickly became friends who shared their views on the legal industry. The more they talked, the more they realized how well the firms fit together.

“When you see an opportunity like this one, really a once-in-a-generation opportunity, you just need to pursue it,” he said.

Over the past few months, the firms arranged for the partners to meet and learn about the others. When it came time to vote Dec. 17, the merger was overwhelmingly approved, Kassner said.

“The cultures and focuses aligned and the business case was so compelling,” he explained.

The new firm will combine offices in three cities: Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. In both Chicago and Washington, D.C., the combined offices will be significantly larger, with more than 150 lawyers and consultants each, officials said.

Drinker Biddle ““ which currently has 650 attorneys and consultants in 12 offices ““ will gain offices in important business centers, including Denver, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Silicon Valley, as well as three international offices in London, Beijing and Shanghai.

Faegre Baker Daniels ““ founded in 1863 and currently employing more than 750 lawyers and consultants ““ will gain new offices in strategic markets, including Dallas, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Wilmington.

The combined firm will be co-chaired by Kassner and Froehle, with its executive leadership team including Faegre Baker Daniels partners David Barrett, Gina Kastel and Jack Sperber; Drinker Biddle partners Bill Connolly and Judy Reich; and Drinker Biddle Chief Operating Officer Jane Koehl, who will continue as COO of the combined firm.

By Jacob Owens


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