Drinker Biddle proves it's not too cool for school by easing associates in with three months of dedicated training.
[Drinker Biddle & Reath will be merging with Faegre Baker Daniels in February 2020 to form Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath. This feature was researched and written before the merger's announcement, and first published in summer 2019.]
IF you had the time to take a roadtrip between Drinker Biddle's offices, we'd strongly recommend trips to Chicago, DC and Florham Park, New Jersey. All are home to small groups of junior associates – but it would make sense to start where the firm did, in Philadelphia. It's the biggest office, and plays host to half of its junior associates. All in all, the firm has more than 170 years of legal expertise in the rear view mirror, including a role in the creation of the bank that would one day become J.P. Morgan. As for the highway into the future, that stretches to Texas: in 2017, Drinker set up shop in Dallas with 23 lawyers coming on board from now-defunct Sedgwick. But the road hasn't been without its ups and downs – 14 life insurance, annuities and software litigators departed in 2018, while more recently, in March 2019, a team of 17 insurance and finance litigators joined the firm in DC and Connecticut, leading to the opening of an office in Hartford.
Back to that roadtrip though – you'll be wanting some things to look out for as you set about your journey. Among Chambers USA rankings across the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West, highlights include tip-top prizes for real estate in New Jersey, and labor and employment in Illinois. In Philadelphia and New Jersey especially the firm's “reputation” drew juniors to drink from the DBR cup, as did the distinctive training program for new arrivals. Few firms in our guide go so far to smooth the passage from law school.
Drinker's incoming first-years dedicate their first three months at the firm to a full-time training curriculum: lectures, presentations, and mock assignments in Philadelphia. That means no billable requirements and no need to dive headfirst into work. All our interviewees praised it: “The training was super helpful to get oriented into the firm and meet people from different practice areas.” Some modules are for the whole class; others are practice area-specific and are “sometimes adapted from real cases.”
“...super helpful to meet people from different practice areas.”
Associates aren't left to fend for themselves after three months either. Drinker assigns them formal mentors and further training is available (especially for laterals). “There are definitely long-term opportunities” including a career counselor for anyone uninterested in the partner track, “and senior attorneys really try to give juniors ownership of projects.”
Summer associates rank three preferred practice areas before joining the firm fully. Corporate and litigation are the two most common destinations. Other areas – including insurance, IP, life sciences and real estate – house just a handful of juniors each. But be aware: not every practice area is available in each office. Drinker doesn't have an overarching work assignment process, but most groups have some degree of oversight from a coordinator.
The most common strands of workin corporate are M&A and private equity, securities, and financing deals. The Philadelphia team is particularly respected for its private equity know-how. One source there told us: “There have been a lot of private company and equity deals recently – public M&A is less common.” The New Jersey offices are also best known for M&A and private equity, with partners bringing in work from the insurance, pharma and manufacturing sectors. Newcomers started out drafting ancillary documents and “making sure all the pieces for the deal are in place.” Entering second year, sources had “started to get involved more with drafting and reviewing the main operative documents.” Interviewees admitted it was common that “things get a bit overwhelming at times – but that's allowed us to develop quickly.” M&A projects typically involved utilizing the labor and employment team; nevertheless interviewees from L&E stressed they're very much their own group and explained “at least half of what I've done is more litigation-focused.” Drinker's Chicago L&E team is particularly impressive.
Corporate clients: Urban Outfitters, Quaker Chemical, Graham Partners. The firm recently acted for Legrand North America, a manufacturer of cables, switches and other electrical infrastructure products, in the $1.2 billion acquisition of AV infrastructure manufacturer Milestone AV.
Juniors who “are pooled in litigation can float between sub-specialty teams” including antitrust, healthcare, telecommunications, franchising, investigations and “traditional” commercial litigation. Some streams are only found in certain offices – commercial real estate disputes are common in New Jersey, while you'll have to visit DC or Philadelphia for antitrust. “The firm staffs most matters fairly leanly,” and juniors soon found themselves diving into discovery and drafting briefs, motions and emails to clients or opposing counsel. Certain case types – antitrust for one – “require larger teams where the junior is doing more document review-type work. I've seen less of that over time.” Insurance stands alone from the main litigation squad and runs largely from Philadelphia; for juniors there “the day-to-day is mostly legal research, drafting and editing motions.” Juniors in disputes teams could find themselves in court before the end of their second year.
Litigation clients: Samsung, Boston Scientific, Eli Lilly. Defended State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance in Missouri statewide class action suit alleging the company had overcharged life insurance policyholders dating back to 1994.
Drinker's real estate practice is predominantly found in Philadelphia, Princeton and Florham Park – its work “ranges from regular transactions and leasing to land permit and development work.” Associates were “immediately expected to use their business judgment” and suggested they “frequently have a great deal of client contact.” A junior position still includes “mundane tasks like survey review, but every day I go into the office I'm doing deals, not burying my head in books.”
Real estate clients: Matrix Realty, The Hampshire Companies, Rockefeller Development Group. Lawyers recently helped Comcast on the lease and construction of its new regional headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
Hours & Compensation
The 1,950 hour billing target is “extremely important to reach if you want to continue advancing through the firm's ranks.” Fortunately most found it “achievable and realistic. I was able to hit 1,950 even after taking vacation.” Every 100 hours associates bill above the goal nets them more cash.
To make the grade, associates typically “got in between 8:30 and 9am” and billed eight or so hours before leaving any time between 6 and 8pm. “It's hard to say but I probably work late three or four times a month on average,” a Philadelphia junior suggested. One of their colleagues in DC weighed in: “I tend to leave around 7 or 7:30pm and definitely sometimes go back online later. People are fairly flexible.” Drinker doesn't pay a $190,000 first-year salary in all its offices, but our interviewees reckoned their manageable working hours made for a fair trade-off.
Officially speaking, associates' pro bono hours can count for as much as 6% of the billable total used to calculate bonuses. Doing the math, if associates exactly match their 1,950 target, 117 of those hours can be pro bono – a decent number. Those worried about getting caught doing pro bono with no reward can take solace that “extensions are pretty liberally granted. The firm is open to associates going beyond if the case requires it. In litigation especially it can be a really good opportunity for hands-on work.” Each office partners with some local charitable organizations: DC “has a strong relationship” with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, for instance. Immigration and prisoner rights cases are common firmwide, and in New Jersey “there's a lot of low-income representation which can be anything from domestic violence to juvenile offenses.” Admitting that “not everyone gets involved,” associates concluded: “Pro bono is what you make of it at Drinker.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US offices: 23,705
- Average per US attorney: 34
Diversity & Inclusion
One of Drinker's trademark diversity programs is an annual diversity retreat; there's also an additional women's retreat and a newly created chief diversity officer role to oversee reform. As of 2018, 50% of the management committee were women, and juniors had also noticed more focus on diversity at entry level: “There have been a series of events to bring in diverse speakers.” And yet... that same source went on to add: “It's a genuine effort but right now the results are yet to bear out.” A fair number of our sources sympathized with that judgment, suggesting that Drinker suffers from the common plight of large law firms on both gender and ethnic diversity: “It's something that's emphasized but I don't always know how the ethos translates into concrete action.” The initiatives are promising, but change takes time.
"As of 2018, 50% of the management committee were women."
“We're looking for people who really want to be at Drinker. If they haven't heard about the first-year training program, that would be a red flag.” Discover more dos and don'ts by clicking the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
Despite the training program, some associates maintained that “overall the culture is probably the most attractive thing about this firm.” Surely they'd been Drinker-ing the Kool-Aid? “Attorneys here have an ethos of helping each other,” one argued. “The firm is full of nice, smart people who you're not dreading spending a lot time with stuck in a conference room together in the middle of January.” In DC especially we heard “the leadership has done a great job of setting a laid-back environment – they care about our wellbeing.” As a counterpoint some reckoned “Philadelphiais a little more traditional,” while according to juniors in the New Jersey offices“everyone is client-focused and business-oriented rather than just a technician-style attorney. I've been impressed with how pragmatic partners are.”
“The leadership has done a great job of setting a laid-back environment.”
Pragmatism was also the name of the game when it came to hanging out. There were “plenty of firm-organized events, but not a lot of socializing outside of that. It's not because we don't like each other, but because we don't have time!” Drinker's associate committee steps up to run trips to baseball games and city bus tours, and our calls coincided with “a quizzing tournament” in Philadelphia – “there will probably be at least 100 people there. Nothing's mandatory but people do get together.” One social itch remained unscratched: associates wanted more opportunities to meet cross-office.
Strategy & Future
Associates described Drinker Biddleas being “very conservative when we're investing in new practice areas or locations.” In 2019, executive partner Bill Connolly told us that “in terms of differentiating ourselves, it's about Drinker Biddle's sophisticated legal talent outside the New York market, which of course comes with more affordable prices.” The announcement of a merger with Faegre Baker Daniels for 2020 means change is coming fast; for the full interview with Connolly, conducted prior to the merger's announcement, check out the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 703
“Rigorously recruiting, training and evaluating talent” is one of Drinker's six strategic objectives. With that in mind, the firm has expanded its recruitment efforts and interviewed candidates at more than 30 schools in the 2018 OCI season. Interviewers speak to around 15 to 20 students at most campuses and 25 or fewer applicants will make it to the summer program each year, so competition is fierce.
The firm dispatches two-person teams to conduct OCIs, usually consisting of a senior attorney paired with a mid-level associate or junior. They're looking for “strong initiative, superior interpersonal skills and good judgment” on the part of interviewees. Drinker recognizes that candidates don't get much time to get their personality and skills across, and advises they focus on personal passions and what attracts them to practicing law whether that's getting to write, the prospect of a long-term career or interest in a particular practice area. “Review your resume and think about how your passions and natural tendencies are reflected,” the firm suggests, “what makes you, you?”
Top tips: “Drinker puts a lot of focus on academics, writing is a big thing here and when I interviewed they asked a lot about how I'd describe my writing style.”
“Culture is a big part of the fit: to their credit the firm tends to favor personalities that aren't abrasive or overbearing.”
In 2017 Drinker ditched the industry-standard interview model in favor of behaviorally-based discussions including two one-to-one interviews, a meeting with a two-to-three attorney panel, a short writing exercise and a lunch or coffee with associates. At this stage interviewees have more time to express themselves, and can drill into more detail about why they'd fit in well at Drinker.
On top of the qualities already considered at OCI, callback interviews also take into account a candidate's “analytical skills, creative thinking, ability to balance taking ownership with teamwork, interest in learning how to develop client relationships and their ability to relate to clients.”
As for the written exercise, that's a means for the firm to assess applicants in a way that interviews might not. The answer is provided – so no specific legal knowledge is required – and the candidate has to communicate it via their writing.
Top tips: “We're looking for people who really want to be at Drinker. If they haven't heard about the first-year training program, that would be a red flag.”
“Bring in as much energy as you can, as the firm likes high energy people! They're also looking for a sense of grit, and that you can be resilient in an environment which will sometimes be challenging.”
Following a firm-wide orientation in Philadelphia, summers in each office delve straight into client matter assignments. Drinker offers summers the chance to take initiative and seek out assignments from their practice areas of interest. Along with this 'live' work, summers complete short case studies called assignment modules, which balance theory and practice. The thinking behind this is that every summer associate gets to draft a motion to dismiss and a letter of intent, and conduct due diligence: the bread and butter of the BigLaw junior.
Each summer associate gets a partner and an associate mentor to answer any questions, and formalized feedback (on top of on-the-job reports) comes mid-way through and at the conclusion of the process. To impress, summer associates should “deliver excellent work product on every assignment” and dedicate a little extra time to proofreading or completing an assignment here and there. That, and getting to know the Drinker team!
Notable summer events:dinners, shows, sporting events, pro bono clinics and community service projects.
Top tips: “Make sure that the work product you're handing in to partners is as good as the product that you'd hand over to a client.”
By the summer stage, the firm “believes that each of our summer associates can succeed at Drinker – the best way to impress is to prove us right!”
Interview with executive partner Bill Connolly
Chambers Associate: How would you describe Drinker Biddle's current market position and what makes it stand out from other firms?
Bill Connolly: We are a national firm headquartered outside of New York. A little over a quarter of our lawyers are in our Philadelphia office but we're fairly-evenly spread across the country: our managing partners are from six offices, the chairs of three of our practice groups including our largest group are in Chicago, our CIO and CMO are in New Jersey, our COO in DC, our head of lateral partner recruitment is in San Francisco, and our communications director is in Los Angeles. We consciously organize and manage ourselves on a practice group and industry basis, not by geography.
In terms of differentiating ourselves, it's about our sophisticated legal talent outside the New York market which of course comes with more affordable prices. Whether it's the law student or lateral market, one of the ways we differentiate ourselves is the realistic prospect of becoming partner. We have two tiers but are primarily an equity partnership firm. Additionally, compared to many competitors, we have a true path to partnership for part-time lawyers here.
CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently?
BC: In this economic environment our corporate, litigation, product liability and real estate practices have been thriving.
CA: What prompted the firm to open a new office in Dallas in particular?
BC: There were a couple of things; one, we viewed it as a good location because there's been such a growth of corporate HQs there. It was also because we found a good group of litigators there – we only tend to expand with some degree of initial mass.
CA: Do you see more new office openings within the next few years? What else do you foresee for the future of Drinker Biddle?
BC: Generally speaking we're where we need to be geographically, but if we find great talent somewhere we'll go there. I expect you'll continue to see us grow through constant recruitment laterally and at entry level. We're exploring various options overseas and domestically: the latter will probably be the main focus in the short term.
CA: Are there any particular practices you've targeted as growth areas?
BC: We are traditionally – somewhat unusually for a firm of our size – a 50/50 transactional/litigation firm and we think it's important to maintain that balance. High end class action litigation, white collar crime and mass tort are all potential growth areas.
CA: One of the firm's most distinctive elements is its three month introductory training program for first-years associates. What's the thinking behind that?
BC: The genesis of it was during the Great Recession, it's what we did in the year that most of our competitors either cut their starting classes or sent them to do a year of pro bono. Our chairman at the time argued that while we could do the same, we'd always trained our own lawyers and should continue to do so. Coupling that with the zeitgeist of the time where clients were unwilling to pay for the training of young lawyers, we turned necessity into a virtue and established a full-time training program. The first time, it ran for six months! We realized we'd built a stronger foundation for associates than previously and they were better able to do high quality work after that program than six months of doing the work they ordinarily would. I'm a litigator – by the time you finish the program you've done pretty much everything you'll be asked to do in litigation in the next couple of years, whether that's depositions, motions practice, handling a discovery hearing... the list goes on. After the economy turned around we could have returned to the old system but by that point we'd seen the benefits and continued it – at a decent cost to the firm!
Another huge benefit is that it's really tied our associate classes together. Looking at the classic model of summers going into the office in their city and spending the summer together, there's a close bond from that point on. The training program extends that bond to the class in all the cities we have offices in. When they come here and spend three months working together it builds an accord that as a large multi-office firm we're looking to create in all our lawyers. A couple of years in I remember sitting in on a case meeting with a question about California and an associate said they'll call someone they knew there – in the old days they'd have no idea what to do.
CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers will have to navigate/adapt to in the future?
BC: One of the big challenges in our race for talent is helping associates to understand the value proposition of being a partner and aspiring to it. We need to make sure we're building systems that enable them to pursue that if it's what they want. The run up to becoming partner can be an endurance test at big firms, and we've tried to get away from that. We see it as a fact that people of that age look to start families and it's hard to manage that around an artificial two year end run to partnership. If they're going to want to go part-time, they need to be able to manage that with advancing towards partner and I'm very proud that we've figured that out. You still hear in some large firms that part-time people aren't working on the quality matters that are going to give them the exposure and experience to advance; I don't think we have that issue. Two of the nine partners in our most recent class were working part-time at the moment they were promoted and will continue part-time as new partners.
CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?
BC: My origin story is this: the Connolly's came to the US in the mid-1800s and we came to dig things and build things. We did that for over 100 years; my grandfather and his two brothers ran a construction company for 30 years and my father was first in the family to go to college, he became an architect. I came home in seventh grade with a D in wood shop and the bookshelf I was supposed to build still in pieces. My father took one look at my unassembled shelf and said “you like to read, maybe you could be a lawyer or something?” That was when I first became interested.
CA: What achievement are you most proud of?
BC: You win some cases and lose some – I didn't win all the ones I did my best work on. I'm most proud of this partnership class we just had: to have one where people were able to commit to families and work so incredibly hard, and have them come through with all those characteristics... it's what we want to create.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
BC: In the broadest terms I'd say develop your life in your community. It's easy in large firms to put your nose down and do all the legal work but whether it's becoming involved in a church, being part of an alumni association or making time to keep up with college friends, building that sense of belonging to a community outside of work is harder to jump-start later on.
What I tell new lawyers is that we write more carefully than you've had to ever write in your life. Law school exams are still focused on: 'get down as much info as you can and demonstrate knowledge.' When we write every word matters. When I go to the podium if my brief is 4% awkward and 96% awesome I spend all my time worrying about the 4%. Be mindful of your writing skills.
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
One Logan Square,
- Head Office: Philadelphia, PA
- Number of domestic offices: 12
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $449,701,407
- Partners (US): 274
- Associates (US): 295
- Main recruitment contact: Maryellen Wyville Altieri
- Email: Maryellen.Altieri@dbr.com
- Hiring partner: Justin O’Neill Kay
- Email: Justin.Kay@dbr.com
- Diversity officer: Maria L. H. Lewis
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 27
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 21
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: Chicago: 4, Dallas: 2, Florham Park: 4, Los Angeles: 1, Philadelphia: 10, Washington, D.C.: 3
- Summer salary 2019: 1Ls and 2Ls: $3,173-3,654
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office: No
Main areas of work
Drinker Biddle is a national, full-service law firm providing litigation, transactional, regulatory, and business services. We are organized by practice group, with each practice group representing one of the main areas of our work: corporate, restructuring, employee benefits, government and regulatory, health care, insurance litigation, intellectual property, investment management, labor & employment, litigation, private client, products liability, and real estate.
Building on a rich 170-year history from our founding to our present-day status as a leading national law firm, Drinker Biddle has always maintained a long-standing commitment to excellence in the practice of law, public service and a culture that values civility and diversity. Our firm has thrived by staying true to those commitments, ever mindful of our responsibilities to our clients, our people, and our communities. It is why 50 percent of our elected managing partners are women, and 50 percent of our firm’s appointed Executive Management Team are women. It is why during the Great Recession we invested in our incoming associates by establishing a full-time training program, as opposed to reducing our attorney headcount. And, it is why we continue to devote substantial resources to mentor and train our attorneys and staff, and provide wellness and other beneficial programs for their overall wellbeing.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
American, Baylor, Catholic, Chicago-Kent, DePaul, Drexel, Duke, Fordham, George Mason, Georgetown, George Washington, Howard, John Marshall, Loyola-Chicago, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Southern Methodist, Temple, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Hastings, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, USC Gould, Villanova, and William & Mary
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, CCBA Minority Job Fair, MCGC Chicago Walk Around Program, Lavender Law, MCGC Washington U-St. Louis Program, New Jersey Law Firm Group, Patent Law Interview Program, Penn Law’s Chicago Regional Interview Program, Philadelphia Area Diversity Job Fair, Washington, DC Off-Campus Recruitment Program with TLC, Greater Washington DC Interview Program
Summer associate profile:
We are looking for law students who know themselves and are genuine; who have demonstrated strong initiative, superior interpersonal skills, and good judgment; and who have great analytical skills, think creatively, balance taking ownership with good teamwork, know how to relate to a client, and are interested in learning how to develop client relationships.
Summer program components:
Prior to arrival, each summer associate is assigned an associate host to serve as a peer-level resource and a partner-mentor to serve as an adviser. Upon arrival, our summer associates meet in Philadelphia for orientation and to learn about our firm. During the summer, some assignments are made available via an online portal (which enables our summer associates to identify projects of interest to them) while other assignments are directed to specific summer associates based on their interests. We also conduct sophisticated assignment modules that are designed to prepare our summer associates for the practice of law in a large law firm. And, there is no shortage of exceptional social events.
Recruitment website: www.drinkerbiddle.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Environment (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia & Surrounds
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory Recognised Practitioner
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 3)