Faegre Drinker merger gives opportunity to create firm ‘designed for clients’
The negotiations were concluded, the contracts signed, and the merger finally sealed. The new law firm of Faegre Drinker was officially born in February 2020, bringing together the respected firms of Faegre Baker Daniels and Drinker Biddle & Reath to create a new network of 21 locations across the United States and reaching into Europe and Asia.
Exciting times lay ahead for the new firm and its 1,300 attorneys and consulting professionals. The coming months would offer lawyers and support staff time to spend together, getting to know each other and learning how they will work as a cohesive unit in the years ahead.
Angella Castille, partner at Faegre Drinker and 2021-22 Chair of the Lex Mundi network, recalls that the ink was barely dry on the deal when Covid-19 hit and the task of integrating the two firms was made that much more challenging. How do you encourage relative strangers working across 21 locations to work as a cohesive team when the pandemic kept one another from being in the same room together?
“The logistical challenges of integrating the two firms were pretty significant, says Castille. “We merged on 1st February 2020 and the pandemic was officially declared on 10th March. Fortunately, we had had many ‘get to know you’ meetings and discussions prior to the merger, so the leadership teams of each firm knew each other well, by that point.
“The real challenge was integrating the two cultures and making sure that everyone felt there was true collaboration and integration across offices. We didn’t want a feeling of ‘them and us’ pervading through the firm and we ironed that out early on. We had a collaboration metric that measured collaboration across the merged firms right from the get-go. One of our Executive Partners reported to the partners on a monthly basis about how the teams were interacting and working together, how many engagements there were across legacy firms and across offices, so we knew we were pulling in the right talent from right across the combined office network.”
Throughout the Summer of 2020 Faegre Drinker staff were invited to randomly generated Zoom ‘meet and greets’, which dropped people into a room of fellow staff so they could begin to build relationships across the firm. These sessions proved a popular distraction during lockdown – Castille jokes, “it gave people a reason to get out of their sweats and smarten up for a Zoom call to get to know their new colleagues.”
We’ve tried to design the new firm so that it is not only great for our lawyers and support teams, but also great for our clients to work with.
Angella Castille Partner
The combination and subsequent pandemic gave the partners the opportunity to create a genuinely future-focused law firm, and Faegre Drinker began its life with a new positioning statement – ‘Designed for Clients’.
“Designed for Clients has a couple of different meanings really,” explains Castille. “It is to convey the client-facing nature of our new firm. Our people are entrenched in the leadership and management teams of our clients, so it made sense, as we were planning the new firm, to create it from the perspective of what do our clients want and need from their law firm. We’ve tried to design the new firm so that it is not only great for our lawyers and support teams, but also great for our clients to work with.”
As a clear example of the ‘Designed for Clients’ ethos, Faegre Drinker has introduced an internal Design Lab – a team of people tasked with translating often long and complex legal documents to make them easier for clients – most of whom are entrepreneurs as opposed to legal professionals – to understand and digest quickly.
“The reason we created the Design Lab is that most of the clients we work with are just too busy to read hugely complex 20-page legal documents. They need to understand that complex information quickly and intuitively, and so what we have tried to do is to design complex messages so that they fit the schedule of the people we serve. We have a team of design people who spend their days doing that and interestingly we now try to present complex information in a more graphic way as opposed to using more and more words.”
Faegre Drinker’s involvement with Lex Mundi stretches back to the Nineties and Castille believes being part of the network is an integral part of how the firm operates today.
“The key benefit of Lex Mundi for us is excellence in client service. We have many clients who have globalised, and we need to be able to reach out at a moment’s notice and have a quick response wherever our clients need legal services around the world. We have a very strong practice in the agriculture and food sectors, and the companies we represent grow and deliver food all over the world, so we need to be able to pick up the phone and connect them to the resources they need quickly wherever they need it in the world.”
“We also have a strong pharmaceutical and medical device practice, as well as hospital systems, and it’s the same there – our clients need to have access to regulatory guidance all over the world wherever their products are being used and introduced. If we don’t have strong relationships and connections then we can’t help them, so having our Lex Mundi partners to turn to is vital for us.”
Castille herself is soon to step down as the Chair of Lex Mundi and, modestly, says that her main contribution during her year in office has been helping to build consensus across the network to unite members behind the strategic goals and ambitions of the global organisation. But one of the most important initiatives Castille has pushed through as Chair was spearheading the Lex Mundi’s Ukraine Crisis Resource Centre – an online resource to support law firms in Ukraine, Russia and the many other countries that are being impacted by the war in Eastern Europe.
Castille studied law in Berlin, so fully understands the region, its politics, and its people and within two weeks of Russia’s initial invasion Lex Mundi was collating and circulating vital information to its member and non-member firms, residents, companies and NGOs around sanctions, immigration, visas, work permits and the many other issues facing those impacted by the war.
“It was an extremely tense time when the invasion occurred,” says Castille. “I knew we had to act quickly to be responsive to our member firm in Ukraine, as well as our member firm in Russia and all the member firms whose clients are having to deal with the fallout. We reached out to all member firms to deliver key and up-to-date information and that is now being kept on our website and is easily available to member and non-member firms. It’s having a huge repercussion and I don’t think it is too strong a statement to say that Russia’s actions will influence the world order as we know it and we will see new international alliances develop as a result of this.”
Our involvement with the network will only grow... building relationships to make sure we have access to the highest quality legal resources.
As for Faegre Drinker’s continued alliance with Lex Mundi, Castille says the only way is up: “Our involvement with the Lex Mundi network is only going to grow. As a firm we have self-selected the jurisdictions where our data and research indicate that our clients will have the most critical needs. Our plan is to continue building relationships with member firms in those markets to make sure that we have access to the highest quality legal resources in those areas in the years ahead.”