Over the past several years, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP has traveled the country for one-on-one meetings with the general counsel and CEOs of the firm’s clients. He has had more than 150 meetings, and his goal each time is to find out what keeps them up at night.
“I tell them I want to know what is going on with your business, what is causing disruption, what do you need help with,” he says. “I actually come back from these meetings and create a memo to our practices saying ‘This is what the client says and this is what’s really top of mind for them.’”
Drinker Biddle is a national, full-service law firm providing litigation, transactional, regulatory, and business solutions to a wide range of clients, including public and private corporations, multinational Fortune 100 companies, and start-ups.
As Chairman and CEO, Andy is responsible for overseeing the firm’s management, strategic direction, and commitment to exceptional client service. Andy was elected Chairman in 2014 after serving as the firm’s Executive Partner for 10 years, during which time the firm grew from 360 lawyers primarily located in the Mid-Atlantic region to more than 600 attorneys in 11 offices across the United States.
Andy is a well-known restructuring lawyer who concentrates his practice on workouts, complex Chapter 11 cases, and related bankruptcy litigation. He chaired the firm’s Corporate Restructuring Practice for nearly 20 years. When Andy worked with companies, they listened to his advice on how to move forward rather than focus on what went wrong. Restructuring lawyers deal with a wide range of constituencies such as lenders, creditors, stockholders, management, and employees, and when a company is distressed, there’s a lot going on. Andy says his practice has given him perspective on running the firm and engaging with all of its stakeholders.
“Restructuring lawyers go to court but we also do deals, which means we’re generalists. Those skills help in running an organization. We’re actually business lawyers who keep our fingers on the pulse of the business,” he explains. “We try to figure out solutions to multiparty disputes and we collaboratively work with outside consultants and management to come up with the best outcomes.”
Pillars of Successful Organizations
Successful organizations are based on three things: a strategy, an execution plan, and a culture in alignment with both of those. Drinker Biddle recast its strategic plan in 2015. While some law firms draft lengthy strategic plans and allow only partners to view it, Andy felt it was critical for everyone to have a copy, from the mailroom up to the C-suite.
Andy’s management style can be summed up in two segments. First, Andy agrees with Danny Meyer, author of Setting the Table, when he says having a balance of “49 percent technical expertise and 51 percent emotional intelligence” is essential because someone can be brilliant but if they don’t listen and understand people and really focus on the strengths of others, then they’re not fulfilling their job as a leader. The second is to build a team of people with emotional intelligence you can trust and listen to, and then step back and let them do their jobs.
“That’s the way you really get innovation,” he adds. “If people feel that you’re going to listen and that you’re actually going to support them, it helps morale and it inspires them.”
Andy believes a critical part of building a team that will ensure the long-term success of a business is to retain and grow the next generation of leaders. In the past year, Drinker Biddle has appointed new leaders in two of its biggest practices in the firm. Both attorneys are in their early 40s and are viewed by the firm and clients alike as dynamic lawyers and future leaders.
“It doesn’t happen overnight; you have to make sure that you give support to your next-generation leaders,” he says. “They need to feel relevant, feel they are being included and that their ideas are being heard, and then you need to promote them. That’s my advice: ensure the next generation is retained and promoted.”