The 10 attorneys, said to be led by office managing partner Shawn Tucker, have a mix of practice areas including litigation, corporate investigations, white-collar defense and real estate.
The group is made up of six partners and four associates and includes the five attorneys who merged their practice, Oberly Jennings & Rhodunda, into Wolf Block in May 2008. It is unclear, however, whether the entire group will be making the move over at the same time.
The only attorney said to not be making the move is longtime Wolf Block partner Barry M. Klayman, who was involved in starting the firm's Wilmington office.
A spokesman for Drinker Biddle said only that it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.
If the deal does go through, it would be a significant move in a small market and would also give Drinker Biddle more depth in an office it has been looking to expand.
"This would be a big move in Philadelphia and it's an even bigger move in Delaware," one source with knowledge of the move said about its significance.
Delaware has been a tough market for many Philadelphia firms to enter in a meaningful way as lateral moves are seen less frequently and importing out-of-town lawyers isn't always successful in the small, close-knit market.
For Drinker Biddle, the acquisition would increase its Wilmington office headcount to 15 attorneys, not including executive partner and bankruptcy attorney Andrew C. Kassner, who splits his time between Philadelphia and Delaware.
In a market that has proved challenging for firms looking to grow beyond the bankruptcy work that often brought them to Delaware in the first place, the 10 new attorneys would broaden Drinker Biddle's practice focus in Wilmington. Five of the six attorneys who currently spend time in the office focus on bankruptcy while the sixth handles mediation and arbitration work.
The source said the attorneys have given notice to Wolf Block Chairman Mark Alderman, but wasn't sure whether there were any discussions between Alderman and the group after that to try to get them to stay. The source said the move would most likely happen sooner rather than later.
Calls to Alderman, Tucker and Klayman were not returned by press time.
When asked why a group of 10 attorneys with varying practices would look to move together, the source said it shows how cohesive a group it is and said many lateral moves in this tough economy are being done in larger groups. The economy is also causing some groups to make moves to what they perceive as a better platform, the source said.
The departure comes a few months after Wolf Block lost its former Wilmington office managing partner, Thomas McGonigle, to a high-profile spot in the First State's governor's office. Since January, McGonigle has served as chief of staff to Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
The move would signify the first time Wolf Block has seen a large defection of attorneys since its merger talks with Florida-based Akerman Senterfitt broke down in September 2008. At around 300 attorneys, Wolf Block has made no secret of its interest in merging. The firm had two failed attempts in two straight years after months of negotiations with the larger firms of Cozen O'Connor in 2007 and then Akerman Senterfitt in 2008. While Wolf Block has said it isn't rushing to increase headcount through smaller acquisitions or individual lateral hires, it is still interested in significant growth, which could mean a merger of equals.
Aside from real estate partner Tucker, other partners said to be making the move to Drinker Biddle were litigation partners Joseph C. Schoell and Todd C. Schiltz, real estate partner William J. Rhodunda and white-collar, litigation and government relations partners Charles M. Oberly III and Kathleen M. Jennings.
Both Oberly, a former attorney general in Delaware, and Jennings have been said to be on a short list of potential U.S. Attorney candidates for the District of Delaware, according to recent reports in The Legal Intelligencer's sister paper, Delaware Law Weekly.
Elizabeth Bennett of Delaware Law Weekly contributed to this report.