From its founding in 1849 to our present-day status as a leading law firm with a national footprint, Drinker Biddle 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. BullittJohn 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.
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.
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.
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. .
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 firm-wide Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The firm launched its Women's Leadership Committee in 2007, which you can read about here.
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 later opened its Washington, D.C., office in 1977.
The Dawn of the 21st Century
At the outset of the 21st Century, the firm undertook a plan of strategic growth with the goal of strengthening practices and opening offices to provide first-tier services nationally. Key events marking that expansion 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 Am Law 100 in 2003, and soon after 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 and commercial litigation.
Growth in Los Angeles
In 2009, the firm expanded its presence in Los Angeles with the addition of six lawyers 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.
New York Expansion
Since moving from Lower Manhattan to the heart of Midtown in 2011, our New York office has more than quintupled in size, from seven lawyers to 36. In January 2012, three new partners,leaders in the insurance regulatory and transactional arena, joined the office from Dewey & LeBoeuf. In the years since, the office has continued to grow with the addition of eight lateral partners and two additional floors at 1177 Avenue of the Americas.
Information Governance and eDiscovery
In 2012, the firm launched Tritura, a dedicated information governance and e-discovery subsidiary staffed by technical professionals who help our lawyers and clients decrease the overall cost of the e-discovery process through the use of culling strategies and advanced technology. Then, in 2013, two lateral partners joined the Washington, DC, office to lead the firm’s Information Governance and eDiscovery Practice Group, bringing 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.
A New Strategic Direction
In recent years, the firm has made significant investments in infrastructure, launched client development and service initiatives, and begun the development of our next generation of talent. In September 2015, after significant research and planning, we released our 2015 Strategic Plan. The 2015 Plan is a vision that sets the direction of our firm over the next three-to-five years, while addressing the challenges and opportunities confronting our profession and the needs of our clients. Our mission is to be an innovative, strategic advisor—the business partner that our clients, their boards, and stakeholders are asking us to be.
The 2015 Annual Report
In early 2016, we released our first ever Annual Report, a digital review of the firm’s achievements in 2015. The report reflects our belief that our community does not end at our doorstep. It also showcases our continuing commitment to provide superior legal advice and unparalleled client service, and to support our people and the communities in which we live and work. The report highlights each aspect of our firm culture, from the cases we win to the causes we support. It embodies the spirit of our organization.
Expansion to Texas
In 2017, we opened an office in Dallas in what was one of the largest entries into the Dallas legal market in recent years. Twenty-three lawyers, including nine partners, with significant experience in products liability, class actions, insurance coverage, business disputes and commercial litigation, joined the firm from Sedgwick LLP. The Dallas office is our 12th office and represents Drinker Biddle’s first footprint in the Southwest region of the U.S., adding to our offices in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and California.