E. Drew Britcher knew he wanted to be a lawyer in kindergarten. His young mind concluded that the vast majority of leaders, people truly changing the world, were lawyers – so he set out to become one.
Britcher has since secured hundreds of millions of dollars in relief for his clients, focusing on medical malpractice, significant personal injury, and vaccine injury litigation. His desire to make a difference in the world is reflected in his work as well as his community involvement: He’s a founding member of Trial Lawyers Care, the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund Pro Bono organization, and has done extensive work for youth groups, food pantries, battered women’s shelters and other public interest organizations.
Naturally, Britcher is member of the Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Consumer Lawyers.
Lawdragon: How did you get started in medical malpractice work?
E. Drew Britcher: I worked for a medical malpractice firm in law school and enjoyed the intellectual challenge.
LD: What are some aspects about this work that you find professionally satisfying?
EDB: Making a difference in a family’s life is invaluable. I also enjoy staying current about medicine.
LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?
EDB: There have been many, but the case I tried over the course of 9/11 is definitely among the most interesting. My partner and I had represented two of the gentlemen who were in the underground lunch room of the World Trade Center when the bomb went off in ’93. We had brought the only civil cases in the country that had been settled when 9/11 happened, because we brought them in New Jersey while everybody else was bringing cases in New York, where the system moved more slowly. As a result, on 9/11, we were among the limited number of people who had ever seen the terrorist risk assessment of the World Trade Center.
We were representing a family who were Egyptian National, American citizens, in a medical malpractice case. The father had died and the mother testified about how they’d come to the United States in order to raise a family and give them a better life.
The doctors had missed the fact that he had blood work indicating he had hepatitis C, and performed an unnecessary gall bladder operation. They put him into liver failure. He survived for about three days before he passed away.
So on the morning of 9/11, when I heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, my mind went to knowing that a small plane hitting the World Trade Center with a bomb on board was one of the things that couldn’t be fully prevented, but was one of the terrorist risks that we had seen in reports we reviewed in our other cases from ’93, but never imagined a passenger jet. My client, the wife, worked for the FBI. So when it became clear what was happening, she ran to the phone and came back to tell me the FBI would be picking her up at her home and taking her to work. I tried most of the case, with the exception of my summation, without my client.
Near the end of the trial, I had an expert show up late, wearing a Polo shirt. He had to go into the bathroom to put on a shirt and tie, and he walked past the entire jury to do it. Then he got on the witness stand and gave testimony that he didn’t trust certain research because it was funded by the drug companies, who just pay you to tell them what they want to hear. He said he knew this because he had done funded research for companies.
One of the four defense attorneys asked, “Let me get this straight, you don’t trust the research because it’s funded research, right? And the reason you don’t trust it is because the drug companies don’t pay you to tell them the truth, they paid to tell them what they want to hear. So, let me ask you one last question, how much is it that Mr. Britcher is paying you for this whole two hours?” And without hesitation, the guy says, four grand.
This is back in 2001, the idea that somebody is getting paid $4,000 to testify for two hours, it sounded like an awful lot of money at the time. So I had to shift my focus from defendants one and two to three and four, and at the end when I got up and gave my summation, I remember saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, during the testimony from Dr. X, if you looked in my direction, you would have noticed me trying to get my rather pudgy body somehow hidden under his counsel table because I couldn’t believe it was happening.” Thankfully the next day the defense called another witness who essentially established that what the guy was saying was absolutely true.
I ended up getting a very large verdict for the family, in the midst of the 9/11 aftermath.
LD: That’s incredible. Speaking of world-changing events… how has your firm fared during the Covid-19 pandemic?
EDB: We were able to seamlessly move the firm remote. My aim, and I think I achieved it, was to keep everybody focused but reduce the stress by having weekly virtual wine tastings late Friday afternoons.
LD: I love that. What kind of work is the firm seeing these days?
EDB: We are currently handling a variety of personal injury and medical malpractice cases. In personal injury, one involving a man electrocuted by a down power line and one involving a woman devastated by injuries from a low speed impact are among the most interesting and compelling, and have been the subjects of dozens of remote depositions. In med mal, we have been handling a series of cases involving the failure to advise patients who qualify under USPSTF [United States Preventative Services Task Force] guidelines to get an annual low dose CT scan to detect early and curable lung cancer in long-term smokers, while trying to create public awareness of the recommendation in order to save lives.
LD: Such important work. Can you describe a recent success you’ve had?
EDB: I recently concluded a birth trauma matter for a boy and his family that is allowing them to care for him and establish a new home for all of them.
LD: What challenges were you up against in finding relief for this family?
EDB: The significant needs of the child and the coverage available to the defendants.
LD: They must be so grateful for your work. You changed their lives.
EDB: Cases like this are what it’s all about. The parents are now able to meet all of the boy’s needs and move from a 1.5 bedroom walk-up apartment into a new house and have a handicapped van for his transportation, along with the other care that he needs.
Most of all, I’ll remember the hug of the parents when the judge approved the settlement.
LD: That’s beautiful. When did you decide you wanted to be a lawyer? Was there a course or professor during undergrad?
EDB: Not really, I wanted to pursue law from the time I was in kindergarten. I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people.
LD: Wait, kindergarten? I’ve heard of early achievers but that’s really something. Were your parents lawyers? Or how did a 5-year-old you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
EDB: My father was in the food industry and in the 1950s he was the Manager of the United States Senate Restaurant on Capitol Hill. He handled the inaugural luncheons of Dwight Eisenhower for both of his terms, as well as a series of functions for a variety of United States senators. He served five different presidents, as President or Senator: Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy, Johnson and Truman. During that period of time, he had gathered a variety of different books and materials about Washington, Congress and the Presidents.
One of those books about the Presidents, I had read and focused on so repetitively that I entered kindergarten able to recite the Presidents of the United States, in order.
LD: Wow. I don’t think I had the alphabet down yet…
EDB: The alphabet was probably more useful at that point. But I saw these political leaders and, with the exception of a few, they were mostly lawyers. Most of the Congress in those days were lawyers, too. It seemed like, if you were in leadership, you were a lawyer. I looked at that as a kid and said, “That’s what I want to be, I want to be somebody who leads others.”
LD: Did you ever think about getting into politics?
EDB: I was very involved when I was younger. I refer to it as my young and dumb days. I got actively involved with electoral politics when I was like 15, because there was a councilman in my town who did something that I thought was very important that had to do with the funding of the schools at the time. I was the president of the Young Democrats in my town from the time I was 16 to 18.
Then in either the end of college or law school, I became a Democratic County Committeeman, in New Jersey. When I was 29, I was the Democratic candidate for Mayor of the town of Parsippany. And in ’91 and ’93, I did what was called protecting the ballot for the State Senate, meaning that I was in a heavy Republican district so the Democrats didn’t really have anybody to run seriously and wanted to avoid an outlier taking the ballot spot and embarrassing the party.
Then I became more actively involved with the New Jersey Association for justice, which back then was the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, New Jersey. Little by little I rose through the ranks. I became President of the organization and ended up being the longest serving one because the gentleman before me unfortunately had taken ill. I served out his term as Acting President and then served my own term from ’05 to ’06. I led the organization in the days when the so-called malpractice insurance crisis caused doctors to demonstrate in the streets of Trenton.
All those years of having been involved with the political world served me well, because a lot of people whom I’d gotten to know were in the legislature.
LD: Did you work part-time while you went to school?
EDB: I worked 40 hours a week during the school year and 80 per week in the summer for all seven years in order to pay for my education.
LD: Where did you work?
EDB: I worked at a tuxedo shop Friday afternoon to evening and Saturday morning to afternoon and then as a maître d’ at a banquet facility handling weddings Saturday night, played competitive soccer on Sunday morning and then back to the restaurant on Sunday night before returning to campus. Summers I worked at a country club as a waiter, worked at the tuxedo shop and did Saturdays and Sundays at the restaurant for weddings.
LD: Why did you choose New York Law School?
EDB: It was the best school that accepted me that I could commute to.
LD: Did you think you would practice med mal back when you were in law school?
EDB: Not initially. Initially I thought I would be in government. In my second year I started clerking for the firm where I learned medical malpractice law and medical research.
LD: Was there a course, professor or experience that was particularly memorable or significant to you?
EDB: I competed in moot court and mock trial and my partner and I won the Eastern Region of the ATLA [Association of Trial Lawyers of America] Student Mock Trial.
LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?
EDB: Find what you like and know there is always room for another good lawyer.
LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?
EDB: There were three. My first job as a law clerk I worked for a firm headed by Myron Kronisch who was a strong voice for his clients and advocate of equality. He was precise and passionate. I was assigned to work for a nurse-attorney at the firm, Donna Lee Guarriello, who taught me how to conduct medical research. One evening in the library at UMDNJ I discovered an article written 20 years earlier by what I learned was the defendant in our case advocating a different position then the care he had rendered, effectively turning the case on its head and helping the client succeed. Finally, my first boss as an associate was Bernard F. Conway or Bernie The Attorney as many colleagues would call him. He showed me how to merge a friendly and jovial persona and serious mind into being a skilled advocate.
LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?
EDB: Restrictions on who can be an expert and requirements for proving merit earlier has lessened the number of cases that get filed in our state and decreased the number of lawyers handling malpractice cases and reinforced the manner in which my partners and I have vetted the cases we take. At the same time, it has made the cost of prosecuting those cases many times more expensive than when I started.
LD: Is there a lawyer you have come up against in a case who you admire?
EDB: James B. “Jim” Sharp, who has been my adversary in probably 30 or 40 cases and at trial five to eight times. We once had four trials in one calendar year, which included being on our feet the morning of 9/11 and continuing the trial the next day and through to verdict. His calm, his trustworthiness, and his talents as a cross-examiner make him the most worthy adversary I have ever had.
LD: Is there a matter or client in your career that stands out as a “favorite” or one that is more memorable for certain reasons?
EDB: There are many. The family I was representing on 9/11, the man who became locked in as a result of a missed arterial occlusion, the mothers of the children who will never walk or talk. There are so many, I can’t choose one, but there are stories of them all.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
EDB: I think I am someone who people realize truly cares, that can tell their story and be trusted as an adviser.
LD: How do you think other lawyers see you?
EDB: I think my adversaries respect that I am not out to screw them, but will fight for my clients to get justice, and most importantly I will “agree to disagree” rather than make it personal.
LD: Will you walk us through your career path after law school, and how you ended up starting your own firm?
EDB: I started at a 30-lawyer firm as one of two associates doing personal injury and med mal amongst a firm of mostly matrimonial and commercial lawyers and litigators. My “boss” left two and half years later and as a result I got to try a case I otherwise never would have gotten to try. In that first trial, shortly after my 28th birthday in 1987, I won a million dollar verdict, allegedly making me the youngest lawyer in the history of the U.S. to win a million dollar verdict at that time. The coverage led to my getting to build my own practice.
When the firm split up in 1995, I joined a firm of personal injury lawyers that I enjoyed working with, playing golf with, playing basketball with, and hanging out with. Unfortunately, and also perhaps with great fortune, that firm folded four years later and I started my current practice with my partner, Armand Leone and former partner, Mindy Michaels Roth, whom I had worked with at my first firm.
We created a firm with flexible arrangements that runs more like an extended family, as evidenced by our approach to the pandemic where we are all working remotely and each Friday have a virtual wine tasting at 4pm where conversation often continues for over an hour and a half. All of the then-current lawyers and staff were invited to my wedding last May. We merged with the practice of one of my early heroes of the bar, Skippy Weinstein, who was looking to step back two years ago, and now have two offices.
LD: How do you talk about your firm to potential recruits?
EDB: We emphasize that work/life balance is key, that we are almost a family and that once someone works for us, it will be hard to work for someone else.
LD: What are some of the challenges you face in your leadership role at the firm, pandemic-related or otherwise?
EDB: Increasing the infrastructure that allows our personnel to work remotely. Keeping the practice moving and staying on top of the progress of peoples’ work on matters in a remote world, without micromanaging their activities. Funding client file expense in a tax system that doesn’t allow us to deduct those expenses as costs when incurred. Seeking a new office space for our one office and maybe for our other office, if the opportunity presents.
LD: Has firm management changed since the start of your career?
EDB: Almost everything is now done on the computer, where much was done by paper.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
EDB: I play golf, I’m a bit of a foodie and some might say oenophile. I’m a Rutgers Football season ticket holder and have traveled to two away games each season, one with my wife who is a Rutgers undergrad, grad school, and law school grad, and one with seven close buddies on an RV Road Trip. I’m a Vikings season ticket holder as well. I played competitive soccer for 50 years, only stopping when I injured my hip.
LD: Wow. Can you tell us more about your soccer career?
EDB: I began playing soccer at age 8 and while I played other sports as well, it became my passion in high school and then well beyond. In my late 20s I became Captain of a men’s team that stayed together as we moved to playing Over 30, then Over 40 and ultimately Over 50. We became friends, enjoyed dinners with our spouses and significant others that focused on the cuisines of our various ethnicities, and mourned the loss of two of our players and the move away from the team as people lost the ability to keep playing. I honed my skills of organization and teamwork through that endeavor.
LD: Very cool. Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities?
EDB: I was one of the Founders of Trial Lawyers Care, the National Pro Bono Program for the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks and the Chair of the NJ part of the program, representing, with my firm, 12 of the families. I have been active with the Interfaith Food Pantry in Morris County and helped organize the NJAJ annual Turkey Drive and have even donned a turkey costume to raise and increase the donations. I have long had a role with various efforts to raise funds for the YCS Foundation and created a Special Works account at my firm to support Battered Women’s and Youth Shelters. I chose the work I do in order to help people and this is an extension of the same. When I serve as an expert witness, the funds all go into this charity fund, rather than being paid to me, and we have shared our research on medical topics with colleagues that have allowed us to contribute over $200,000 through the same.
LD: Incredible work. Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?
EDB: I read so much for work that I do not tend to read books very often, but over the years I have read mostly books about social and political issues and the Rev. John Spong’s book, “Here I Stand,” is one that spoke to me. My favorite legal movie is “My Cousin Vinny”!
LD: What is something that being a lawyer made possible for you?
EDB: I was able to give both my kids the ability to go to the schools of their choice without having to work their way through or have any college debt.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
EDB: Teaching and running a restaurant.