From its founding in 1849 to its present-day status as a leading law firm with a national footprint, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP has demonstrated a sustained commitment to excellence in the practice of law, public service and a civil society. Our practice and character are deeply rooted in the firm's history, as exemplified in these historical profiles of our lawyers and services.
FOUNDING OF THE FIRM BY JOHN C. BULLITT
John Christian Bullitt, a young Kentucky lawyer, arrived in Philadelphia on March 5, 1849, the day Zachary Taylor was sworn in as the 12th President of the United States. Bullitt had chosen to relocate to Philadelphia, an area with a population of 120,000, on the advice of Secretary of State James Buchanan, whom he had met on a tour in Washington, D.C. After his admission to the Philadelphia Bar on June 4, 1849, he opened the law offices of Bullitt and Fairthorne, Attorneys at Law. Bullitt’s first client was the Bank of Kentucky, for which he spent the next 40 years collecting on a judgment in a fraudulent stock case.
Among his many accomplishments, he founded the Fourth Street National Bank in 1886, the only large bank founded in the city in the last quarter of the 19th century, and spearheaded the construction of the Bullitt Building on South Fourth Street. Drinker Biddle's founding partner practiced law in Philadelphia for more than 50 years until his death in 1902.
REPRESENTING THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
Drinker Biddle’s relationship with the University of Pennsylvania dates back nearly to the founding of the firm in 1849. Partner Samuel Dickson, who joined the firm in 1863, served on the board of trustees of the University of Pennsylvania from 1881 until his death in 1915. He was also counsel to the university, a role that the firm would retain for many years.
Dickson was consulted on a variety of matters during his 34 years on the board and participated in debates over the pace and direction of development, including such issues as Provost Charles Custis Harrison’s controversial dismissal of Frank Furness as the university architect in 1894. In 1927, Henry Drinker was named counsel to the university and in 1931 was appointed an associate trustee and a member of the university’s Board of Fine Arts. We continue to serve the university to this day.
DREXEL, MORGAN & CO. – EARLY BANKING EXPERIENCE
After the Civil War, a close association was formed between a law firm and an investment banking client that would endure for more than a century. Spurred by industrial expansion and corporate finance, John C. Bullitt presided over the formation of Drexel, Morgan & Co., merging the brokerage firms of Drexel & Co. with Morgan, Dabney & Co. Bullitt’s counsel extended over the full range of the business of a private bank, including accepting deposits, making short-term commercial loans, financing foreign trade, promoting commodities exchange, providing brokerage services, and sponsoring new offerings of government and corporate securities.
Following the death of Anthony Drexel in 1895, Drexel, Morgan & Co. was renamed J.P. Morgan & Co., and the company shifted its key presence from Philadelphia to New York. The firm has since represented dozens of prominent financial institutions, among them Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., a current relationship that began in 1911.
HENRY S. DRINKER
August 1904 marked the arrival of Henry S. Drinker, Jr., who became a dominant presence in the firm for 50 years. Drinker was the executive voice of the firm from the time he emerged as a firm leader in the 1920s until the 1950s. Educated at Haverford College, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, Henry Drinker worked for several months without a salary, until finally collecting $50 and $100 in January 1905. He was admitted to the partnership in 1918, and was named counsel to the University of Pennsylvania in 1927. His passion for the law was equaled by his love of music. Drinker was a recognized musicologist and translated texts of Bach and Mozart. In 1931, he was appointed as an associate trustee and member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Board of Fine Arts.
When war once again engulfed Europe in the first half of the 20th century, Henry Drinker’s love of choral music earned him a footnote in the well-known story of the Trapp family. In October 1939, family patriarch Georg von Trapp asked Henry Drinker to intervene when the family was detained at Ellis Island with visa problems. Their Philadelphia lawyer and benefactor would repeatedly come to their rescue during the war years.
CHARLES J. BIDDLE
Charles J. Biddle served with distinction in World War I. He joined the Lafayette Escadrille in France, where he shot down eight enemy planes and rose to the rank of major. The French awarded him both the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre, and he received the American Distinguished Service Cross.
He arrived at the firm in 1924, and of all lawyers who joined the firm in the 1920s, he had the greatest impact on its future. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, he initially practiced law in the Drexel Building with his father’s firm. Following his father’s death, Biddle made an arrangement to join this firm (he was, in fact, the firm's first lateral partner) and brought with him several significant clients, including the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire (founded by Benjamin Franklin) and the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS). Biddle became a partner in 1925 and was a major force at the firm for decades. In the 1950s, he led the defense of Merck Sharp & Dohme in one of the firm’s first major price-fixing cases. At a trial in Trenton, N.J., he argued successfully for Merck’s acquittal alongside Thomas E. Dewey, the former governor and presidential candidate, who represented Eli Lilly.
In 2003, Drinker Biddle partner Wilson M. Brown III picked up the baton from a Charles Biddle case against the United States on behalf of the survivors of widows of men killed in a 1948 B-29 airplane crash in which the government invoked national security as its defense.
THOMAS REATH AND THE FIRM’S SERVICE IN WORLD WAR II
With France about to collapse in 1940, President Roosevelt asked shipping businessman W. Averill Harriman to revive the Cramp shipyard in Philadelphia. Harriman summoned Thomas Reath and said to him: “This is what the President wants done, and you’re my man to do it.” Thomas Reath, who had joined the firm in 1919 and served in the Army Ordinance Department in World War I, and other firm lawyers embarked on a long process of negotiating a compromise on a $1 million tax lien and reorganizing the shipyard, which formally reopened in September 1941 – just three months before Pearl Harbor. Reath's partner, Lewis Van Dusen, summed up Reath's contribution:
Tom set up the corporation and stuck all these Navy fellows in. He was responsible for making the thing work, and he did an outstanding job. I was involved in it for a year…. It cost the firm an arm and a leg to do it, but it was a big contribution to the war effort.
The firm contributed to the war effort in many other ways, primarily through service in the armed forces, in Washington and overseas, of its partners, associates and staff. All six of the firm’s lawyers who served in the armed forces during World War II returned safely to their practices in 1946.
HENRY W. SAWYER III AND THE MCCARTHY HEARINGS
Henry W. Sawyer III joined the firm after military service in World War II, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s accelerated program for veterans, and later worked on the Marshall Plan in Europe. When he rejoined the firm, the anti-communist campaign of Joseph McCarthy was in full swing. Henry Drinker, in spite of his political conservatism, fully supported Sawyer’s work to represent, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged communists who were called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Senate Internal Security Committee or who were charged with related violations. In the atmosphere of hysteria and fear that embraced the country in the early years of the Cold War, Henry Drinker would not be intimidated. Sawyer explained:
I represented a couple of the 30 alleged communist Philadelphia public school teachers called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. A valued client of the firm came in to complain. Mr. Drinker listened and then explained to the indignant client the way it worked. The firm was free to choose its clients, and the clients were free to choose their firm. This in itself was something that no other large firm would have done, but the true Drinker touch was that he never mentioned the episode to me. I only found out about it after his death.
Henry Sawyer enjoyed a long and highly successful career at Drinker Biddle, marked by distinguished firm leadership, prominent advocacy and support of constitutional and civil rights, and defense work for major corporate clients, including General Electric in the electrical equipment price-fixing cases in the 1960s that were the harbingers of the type of large litigation that would transform the practice of law from the 1970s to the 1990s.
REPRESENTING THE PHILADELPHIA SAVING FUND SOCIETY (PSFS)
One of Philadelphia’s oldest companies, PSFS was founded in 1816 as the first savings bank in the United States. The company remained an important client of the firm until the 1980s, with representation including residential mortgages and foreclosures, litigation, drafting legislation, tax work, sophisticated forms of financing and investment, and real estate joint ventures.
In 1983, Drinker Biddle represented PSFS in its conversion to a stock company and the public offering of $340 million in common stock, which at the time was the largest initial public offering of equity securities by an issuer. PSFS was a client for more than a half-century, until the financial implications of fluctuating interest rates of the 1970s and 1980s led to its financial decline. PSFS is now gone as a landmark institution, but its familiar acronym survives atop its former headquarters at 12th and Market Streets, the first modernist skyscraper built in Philadelphia.
BERNARD M. SHANLEY – FOUNDER OF SHANLEY & FISHER, PC
In the 1930s Bernard M. Shanley founded the New Jersey firm that came to be known as Shanley & Fisher and combined with Drinker Biddle in 1999. Bern Shanley joined the military during World War II, serving in the European theatre of operations. After the war he returned to Newark and broadened the firm’s work to include both litigation and commercial matters. President Dwight D. Eisenhower called him to public service during the 1950s. Shanley served the President, who was a close friend, as Deputy Chief of Staff, Appointments Secretary and Special Counsel to the President. Returning to New Jersey in the late 1950s, Bern Shanley was responsible for broadening the firm’s business, helping Shanley & Fisher to become one of the largest and most respected firms in the state. He insisted that the firm’s lawyers give its clients their very best, as he did throughout his long and distinguished career. He viewed his work as an attorney not as an occupation, but as a means of improving the world around him. Bern Shanley’s commitment to his community was equal to his political participation.
WOMEN AND MINORITIES AT THE FIRM
In the expansion period of the 1920s, Ada M. Lutz became the firm’s first woman lawyer, spending a year with the firm and going on to practice in Philadelphia for several decades thereafter. In 1944, Ida Agnes Rosa arrived as a student, was admitted to the bar the following year, and stayed on as an associate until her marriage and move to New York in 1947. Like other women of her era, she had gained access to a position that in peacetime might have been denied her.
When Amy Davis joined the firm in 1971 and subsequently became Drinker Biddle's first woman partner, she established the foundation for women lawyers to have prominent roles throughout the firm. Kathryn H. Levering started as an associate in 1976 and became the second female partner. She eventually became the first woman to serve as managing partner, and continues today as a key leader in the firm. The firm launched a Women's Initiative in 2007, and more information about it can be found under our Diversity tab.
Drinker Biddle's first African-American associate, Melvin Breaux, joined the firm in 1970 and became a partner in 1979. He served as mentor to Kenneth C. Frazier, who also joined as an associate and became a partner. Ken’s career has since taken him to Merck as its Chairman, President and CEO . In early 2004, Drinker Biddle established a Diversity Initiative and began creating and implementing a Diversity Strategic Plan, which is now managed by our Firmwide Diversity Committee.
LEWIS H. VAN DUSEN – LARGER THAN LIFE
Several generations of the Drinker family – lawyers and staff alike – viewed Lewis H. Van Dusen as the heart and soul of the firm. A longtime partner, Lew joined the firm in 1935 and spent his entire career here, including time out for significant World War II service. And though he never received a formal designation, Lew was a leader of the firm for decades. According to legend, Lew delivered his 1932 Princeton undergraduate valedictory address entirely in classic Greek. He then attended Harvard Law School and New College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
Lew followed Henry Drinker as chair of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. He considered the client's interest paramount, viewed the practice of law as a privilege and a 24-hour-a-day commitment, and sought only the most effective and professional representation. He stood for a commitment to the highest values of ethics and integrity. Until a few months before his passing in November 2004, just short of his 94th birthday, Lew continued to come to the office regularly. During his World War II service, one of Lew’s commanding generals commented that “He is one of the few 100 percent intellectually honest men I have ever known.” The Drinker Biddle family will forever and gratefully remember this larger than life lawyer.
GROWTH AND PROSPERITY IN CHICAGO
In 1910, Henry A. Gardner Jr. and Alfred T. (Tom) Carton, two young graduates of the Harvard Law School, opened the doors of their new law practice at 76 West Monroe Street in Chicago with their first client, Swift & Company. In the course of the next two decades, relationships with major corporations in the Chicago area formed the nucleus of the firm’s legal practice, which began to grow substantially and continued through the advent of the New Deal in 1933, an era that often necessitated that corporate entities pay near constant legal attention to their business dealings. A year later, James H. Douglas’ return to the firm after his service as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt prompted the firm to rename itself Gardner Carton & Douglas, the name it kept until the combination in 2007 with Drinker Biddle. Around the same time, in the 1930s, firm partner Arthur D. Chilgren filed one of the first registration statements in the United States under the Securities Act of 1933. His skill attracted many investment bankers to use the firm as underwriter’s counsel for numerous financing transactions. Several decades later, in 1973, partner Ray Garrett, Jr., was selected to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the 1970s, Gardner Carton & Douglas also established one of the first health law practices in the country. The firm opened its Washington, D.C., office in 1977, and several years later expanded again, opening offices in Milwaukee, Wis., and Albany, N.Y.
STRATEGIC GROWTH FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
In the past several years, Drinker Biddle has undertaken a plan of strategic growth, strengthening practices and opening offices to provide first-tier services nationally in focused areas, including, for example, products liability and class action defense, intellectual property and bankruptcy. Key events marking our expansion have included the 1999 combination with the prominent New Jersey general practice firm of Shanley & Fisher, P.C., the 2001 combination with the Philadelphia intellectual property firm of Seidel, Gonda, Lavorgna & Monaco, and the 2001 combination with the San Francisco firm of Preuss Shanagher Zvoleff & Zimmer together with the addition of lawyers from Haight, Brown & Bonesteel in Los Angeles, both with strong products liability and general litigation practices. In 2003, we opened our office in Wilmington, Delaware with a focus on bankruptcy and litigation services. Drinker Biddle joined the ranks of the AmLaw 100 in 2003, and two years later opened its 10th office in Chicago.
GARDNER CARTON & DOUGLAS COMBINATION
On Nov. 13, 2006, Drinker Biddle and Gardner Carton & Douglas announced their plans to combine. The merger of these two long-established, client-focused firms cemented a national footprint with more than 650 lawyers in 12 offices. The merger, effective Jan. 1, 2007, also made the firm one of the 70 largest law firms in the United States. From the beginning of the merger Drinker Biddle and Gardner Carton shared in values of the highest standards in client service, legal work and professional ethics.
As a firm founded in 1910 in Chicago, Gardner Carton brought to the newly combined firm its nationally known practices in health law, bankruptcy, employee benefits and executive compensation, government and regulatory affairs, hedge funds and intellectual property, among others. In addition, the merger allowed Drinker Biddle to deepen and strengthen many additional core practice areas, including corporate, commercial litigation, and others.
GROWTH IN LOS ANGELES
In 2009, the firm expanded its presence in Los Angeles with the addition of six lawyers, including prominent litigators George T. Caplan and Henry Shields, who established a new Century City office with a focus on complex commercial litigation and labor and employment law. In 2010, the boutique firm of Eisenberg Raizman Thurston & Wong LLP joined the Century City ranks, thus further enhancing the office’s reputation as a litigation powerhouse. 2011 saw the growth of the firm’s nationally ranked Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation practice group when 11 lawyers from Reish & Reicher in Los Angeles joined the firm, including Fred Reish and Bruce Ashton, who are recognized nationally as two of the top lawyers in the 401K and retirement plan sphere.
NEW YORK EXPANSION
Since moving from Lower Manhattan to the heart of Midtown in 2011, our New York office has tripled in size. In January 2012, three new partners joined the office from Dewey & LeBoeuf. Thomas M. Dawson, John P. Mulhern and H. Michael Byrne are recognized as leaders in the insurance regulatory and transactional arenas. Transactional lawyer Joseph Seiler joined them later that year. In 2013, the New York office doubled its state-of-the-art space at 1177 6th Avenue and welcomed experienced hedge fund, investment management, and private equity lawyer Kay A. Gordon as partner.
INFORMATION GOVERNANCE AND EDISCOVERY
In 2012, the firm launched a dedicated information governance and eDiscovery subsidiary staffed by technical specialists who help our lawyers and clients decrease the overall cost of the eDiscovery process through the use of culling strategies and advanced technology. Then, in 2013, partners Bennett B. Borden and Jay Brudz joined the Washington, DC, office as leaders of the Information Governance and eDiscovery Practice Group and brought a wealth of experience in advising clients on data from a risk, cost and value standpoint. Later in 2013, Jason R. Baron, a former Director of Litigation for the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and senior counsel at the Department of Justice, joined the group.
WORK BEYOND THE LAW TO BENEFIT THE ENVIRONMENT
In recent years, the firm has bolstered its commitment to sustainability and to creating a better community. Philadelphia partner Bill Clark has spent countless hours championing the creation of benefit corporations, a new class of corporations that are required to create a positive, material impact on society and the environment and to meet higher standards for accountability and transparency. Bill created the benefit corporation model legislation and has worked with associate Lizzie Babson to draft almost all the subsequent state legislation. So far, the legislation has been enacted in 20 states and is under consideration in many more. Also, the firm joined the Law Firm Sustainability Network in 2013 and will serve on the Network’s Leadership Council. The Network’s mission is to develop key performance indicators, foster knowledge sharing, develop best practice guidelines, and recognize innovation regarding environmental sustainability.