Attorney Erik Drange has made his mark on the Minnesota legal landscape as both a private and in-house practitioner. He recently joined Christensen, Fonder, Dardi & Herbert PLLC, where he is a partner and patent attorney with a multi-faceted practice that reflects his distinctive legal experience and unique perspective on the law. At each stage of his career, he has acquired special skills that make him the well-rounded lawyer he is today, one who is highly effective as a patent prosecutor, a business negotiator and a courtroom advocate.
Drange has excelled in many realms, beginning with his early accomplishments as a student athlete. He earned numerous athletic accolades in high school before attending Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a Division 1 wrestling powerhouse, on a wrestling scholarship. He graduated from Lehigh with a degree in materials science and engineering, and went on to work as an engineer. Aft er toying with the idea of pursuing his doctorate in materials science, he decided instead to enroll in the evening program at William Mitchell College of Law, where he graduated as valedictorian in 2005.
At the start of law school, Drange continued to work as an engineer during the day while attending law school at night. He eventually joined Patterson Thuente Skaar & Christensen (now Patterson Thuente) as a clerk, where he discovered his passion for intellectual property law. Aft er working as an associate handling patent preparation and prosecution matters, Drange’s desire to hone his IP litigation practice took him to Leonard, Street and Deinard (now Stinson Leonard Street). “It was a nice complementary practice for what I had already done at Patterson,” he said, “as I was able to add to my skillset as an IP lawyer.”
Drange went in-house at 3M Company in 2011, first as IP counsel to its Drug Delivery Systems Division. He then spent five years as litigation counsel, responsible for managing intellectual property litigation for 3M and its worldwide affiliates. The company’s five business groups and 55,000 products provided a stimulating environment for Drange to further develop his legal repertoire. “It was a wonderful place to be an in-house lawyer. When I joined the Drug Delivery Systems group, I was essentially chief IP counsel for the division. I did litigation, patent, and transactional work including agreements with partners and customers. It was nice to do a little bit of everything. Then I got pulled into the litigation group, where the volume and complexity of work was an amazing experience. I dealt with a lot of interesting issues and technologies.”
In late 2017, Drange received a call from one of the partners at Christensen, asking if Drange would consider a move back to private practice. While he was content at 3M, he realized that he missed some of the more personal aspects of the law. “I enjoy the business development component of private practice, meeting new clients and deepening relationships with current clients. At 3M, lawyers don’t need to do that.” He also welcomed the opportunity to work with former mentors. “I had worked closely with Doug Christensen and Peter Dardi before. In fact, they trained me and taught me how to practice. The firm was a known quantity for me, since I knew what kind of people these are and what the work looked like. They also knew me, so it was a great fit that aligned at the right time.”
Drange’s array of skills have transferred seamlessly to this relatively small but rapidly growing firm. While he has only been with the firm for a few months, he has already been able to serve the firm’s clients of varying sizes across all aspects of intellectual property management and protection in many technology areas. This includes helping them with patent matters, resolving IP-related disputes, and jumping in on complex transactional matters.
Aft er his lengthy stint in the corporate sector, Drange feels he returns to private practice with more to offer his clients. “I think my transactional experience really differentiates me. At 3M, I personally worked with 3M’s partners on numerous agreements over the years. Not many attorneys in private practice have that opportunity, and I plan to grow that area in my current practice. I also have deep experience in the litigation space. My ability to work across all areas of IP law is helpful, especially when working with start-up or smaller companies. I can help them with everything, rather than working on just a discrete area of the law.”
Further, Drange better understands what in-house lawyers need from their outside counsel, and he ranks responsiveness and providing value as top priorities. Drange has insight into the needs of in-house legal departments and effective methods for reducing costs while safeguarding, and even enhancing, results.
Drange explained, “One of the most important objectives and expectations for lawyers and firms is providing value for their clients. One of the ways to achieve that is through the use of custom fee agreements. I have a good sense of what worked and what didn’t, and I can offer creative solutions to clients who are looking to capture value versus billing time. It begins with how you define value. We worked through that and saw some creative solutions proposed by various firms. I was in a unique place to be a part of that, and since I’ve been back in private practice I’ve had clients ask me specifically how we dealt with it and what suggestions I can offer.”
His 360-degree point of view also makes Drange an excellent strategist when it comes to assessing the risk-benefit around legal spend. “Overall, everyone is trying to figure out how to spend less and get the same result, and there are consequences that can come out of that. There are places where you don’t want to sacrifice, since it will cost more in the long run. But there are other areas where you can reduce cost with less risk. I can talk through that with clients, so they can make an advised decision about prioritizing objectives while balancing risk.”
Balance is a quality that figures prominently in Drange’s life and practice. Husband to his high school sweetheart, Angela, and the father of three, Drange maintains that having a life outside the law is vital to his success in both his personal and professional domains. He enjoys coaching his own children and others in youth athletics, “teaching kids things about life through sports. Especially in wrestling or any individual sport, you learn how to go head-to-head with somebody, how to stand up to adversity, and how to win with class and lose with grace. It’s just you out there with your opponent. I think there are a lot of similarities between wrestling and the law.”
When Drange was charged with addressing his graduating law class at William Mitchell, he gave much consideration to what he would say. “We had a pretty impressive group of people at William Mitchell. Some were traditional students, but many others, particularly in the evening program, were people with careers who had been working a long time. I thought, ‘What am I going to tell these people?’ I decided on a speech about balance, and I looked to my own father, a retired Minnesota judge, as an example of this. It wasn’t so much a buzz word back then as it is now. But I believe you have to be a well-rounded person to be able to give good advice to clients – if you’re not, you risk becoming one-dimensional and unable to give sound, yet practical, advice to clients. The things we do outside the practice of law make us better lawyers, because our clients are people facing issues that require somebody to have that perspective. It works when we make it a priority to be balanced.”
Eric Drange’s career has come full circle in his return to private practice at Christensen, where he is delivering enhanced value to clients by means of his well-balanced and comprehensive IP representation.