Bill Atkinson Interviews Thomas Dunlap, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig

Thomas Dunlap, co-founder and managing partner of Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig (DBL), a veteran-owned law firm in Vienna, VA, served nine years in the U.S. Army as a Calvary officer.

He is convinced business executives could benefit “massively” from military-style leadership training.

“The most important thing I pulled away from the military is that nothing that is worth having is easy,” Dunlap says. “So, things that are worth having are hard.”

“If you could put every executive or every leader through something like Small Unit Leadership or OCS (Army Officer Candidate School) or BOLC, (Basic Officer Leader Course)… I think it would be massively beneficial to every company on earth just the internalizing how important it is to not do the easy thing but do the right thing. You have got to sleep in the mud, you have got to smell cordite when you shoot your gun, you have to hump a ruck 20 miles with a full load of ammo and water to internalize something like that. It’s effective.”

Of four managing partners at DBL, Dunlap and Ellis Bennett are both veterans of the U.S. Army. Bennett served in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corp and served as a military prosecutor and defense attorney at Army bases in Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Cuba. Five other members of the DBL firm are also veterans.

Meantime, DBL is on a roll. It has 12 offices across the country and Puerto Rico with plans to expand to Seattle. It is also eyeing overseas locations.

Dunlap says one of his top priorities is to make sure DBL’s lawyers are “happy.”

How? By making sure they are not running the day-to-day business. That is in the hands of DeAnna Burke, who is the company’s CEO and previously an executive at Airbus, Jeffrey A. Marquis, chief financial officer, and Aimee McKinney, chief marketing officer.

“That is how we try to keep lawyers happy, we let them be lawyers,” Dunlap says. “We try to clear their headspace. Happy lawyers make good lawyers.”

The firm has been involved in groundbreaking cases that have captured national attention. Dunlap was lead counsel on a False Claims Act case Carter v. Halliburton Co. and in the T.C. Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC case involving jurisdiction in patent infringement cases. Other recent litigation victories included a $12.3 million verdict in Zuru v Telebrands patent infringement. The case involved the manufacturer of a toy called Bunch O Balloons, which inflates 100 balloons in 60 seconds and miraculously ties them.

The firm is currently representing five-time world champion rope jumper Molly Metz, who sued global fitness company Rogue Fitness, claiming it stole the patented technology that made her speed jump rope one of the best and fastest on the market. The U.S. Supreme Court will consider this month whether to hear the case.

Dunlap has an eclectic background. In addition to his military service, he helped launched Ceres Nanosciences, Inc., a privately held life sciences company, in 2007. It uses its novel Nanotrap® particle technology in a range of diagnostic and research products and workflows.

He has also been recognized for his work in the entertainment industry with independent film studios, including Voltage Productions (The Hurt Locker), Millennium Film (Expendables 2). Dunlap was an associate producer and script editor for Uwe Boll’s Assault on Wall Street.

He spoke with Citybiz about what it means to be a veteran-owned firm and where DBL is heading.

Interview Questions:

Q1: How big is Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig and what is its sweet spot? What sets you apart?

Q2: You have talked about internal ethos at the firm and making sure your lawyers are happy. How do you make certain DBL lawyers are happy?

Q3: The firm is unique in that it has a CEO running the business so DBL lawyers can focus on what they do best. Is that unusual?

Q4: Why is being a veteran-owned firm important? Does it open doors to specific practice areas?

Q5: You represented Manta Group of Reston, Virginia and helped it win a $213 million US Army contract after facing challenges from a competitor. How big of a deal was that for the firm?

Q6: What are other examples of significant wins for the firm?

Q7: Your background is diverse. You served in the Army for nine years as a Cavalry officer. What did the military teach you?

Q8: You were a founder, president and chairman of Ceres Nanosciences, Inc. What is Ceres?

Q9: You also work with independent film studios. What success have you had there?

Q10: You were an associate producer and script editor for the 2013 movie “Assault on Wall Street.” What was your role?

Q11: What do you do for fun?

Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn

Bill Atkinson launched Atkinson Strategic Communications in January 2020 after 15 years in the public relations business and 21 years as a newspaper reporter. Clients include, Coca-Cola Consolidated, the largest bottler of Coca-Cola products in the country, the American Beverage Association, Howard Bank, Ambu, a Danish medical device maker with its U.S. headquarters in Columbia, Md., and Think Systems, a Baltimore-based management consulting firm.

Prior to starting his own firm, Atkinson was a partner in 212 Communications, which he joined in June 2015, and focused on strategic and crisis communications, media relations and grassroots strategies. Before that he was a senior vice president at global public relations agency Weber Shandwick. At Weber’s Baltimore office Atkinson specialized in strategic and crisis communications as well as reputation management. Clients included Constellation Energy, Honeywell, General Motors, Bank of America, Promontory Financial Group and 1st Mariner Bank.

Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig takes an innovative approach to law firm leadership, breaking the traditional mold by having a C-Suite of seasoned, dedicated executives that are non lawyers. Our C-level leaders work together to ensure the firm stays true to its established plans and policies.

This approach allows firm leaders to apply corporate principles to streamline Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig operations to run like a business. Our operational management lifts administrative and operational burdens from our DBL attorneys, which allows them to dedicate more time and focus on clients and their legal needs.

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