Dorsey & Whitney LLP History

50 South Sixth Street, Suite 1500
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402-1498

Telephone: (612) 340-2600
Fax: (612) 340-2868

Founded: 1912
Employees: 1,773
Gross Billings: $254 million (2000 est.)
NAIC: 541110 Offices of Lawyers

Company Perspectives:

Because business doesn't stop at 5 p.m. in your time zone, you need a law firm that works 24 hours a day. A firm whose capabilities don't stop at domestic borders. A firm whose dedication to client service is a global priority. Dorsey & Whitney LLP is that law firm. Because we have locations worldwide we are able to offer you outstanding service wherever your business and legal needs take you.

Key Dates:

The firm is founded in Minneapolis.
The Billings office is opened.
The firm gains a Washington, D.C. office through a merger.
The Denver office is started.
The firm's Hong Kong office is opened; the firm and Shandwick International cooperate to start the Crisis Management Group.
New offices are opened in Vancouver, Anchorage, and Tokyo.
The Billings office is closed; the Shanghai office is opened.
The firm starts Dorsey Health Strategies as a healthcare consulting group.

Company History:

One of the world's major law firms, Dorsey & Whitney LLP has approximately 700 lawyers who practice from offices in Minneapolis (its headquarters), New York City, Denver, Vancouver, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, London, Brussels, Toronto, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere Its rapid growth in the 1990s added hundreds of lawyers. The partnership's best known lawyer is Walter Mondale, the head of its Asian practice who served as President Jimmy Carter's vice-president and, later as the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996. Dorsey & Whitney's longest-running major client is the First Bank National Association, formerly called the First National Bank of Minneapolis. Other representative clients include Northwest Airlines, Mayo Clinic, and Aetna Life & Casualty.

Origins and Early Law Practice

The firm began as a two-man office in Minneapolis in 1912. In 1929 the firm then known as Junell, Dorsey, Oakley & Driscoll, headed by John Junell, James E. Dorsey, Robert S. Oakley, and Robert Driscoll, had 11 lawyers. Dorsey (1889-1959) had been admitted to the bar in 1914 after earning an A.B. in 1910 at the University of Minnesota and an LL.B. at Harvard in 1913. By 1936 the renamed firm of Junell, Driscoll, Fletcher, Dorsey & Baker had 20 lawyers. In 1940 the partnership was called Fletcher, Dorsey, Barker, Colman & Barber, but in the early 1940s it became Dorsey, Colman, Barker, Scott & Barber.

The firm's early practice seemed fairly typical, with its banking, insurance, and utility clients. In the 1920s it was counsel for the First National Bank of Minneapolis and was located in the First National-Soo Line Building. Several other large law firms in their early history were located in buildings owned by a major bank client. Clients in 1929 included the First Minneapolis Trust Company, Minneapolis Street Railway Company, Ocean Accident & Indemnity Company, and the W.B. Foshay Company.

In 1940 the firm's growing insurance practice included being special or local counsel to Equitable Life Assurance Society, New York Life Insurance Company, The Great-West Life Assurance Company, and four other insurance companies or departments. New clients added by 1945 included Piper, Jaffray & Hopwood; Pittsburgh Coal Company; the Minnesota Group Investment Bankers Association of America; and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Post-World War II Developments

The firm grew slowly in the immediate postwar era, reaching a total of 24 lawyers in 1950 and 31 in 1955. It continued to serve long-term clients such as Cargill, Inc.; Donaldson Company, Inc.; and the Otter Tail Power Company. By 1965 it had almost doubled in size to have 59 lawyers under the name of Dorsey, Owen, Marquart, Windhorst & West.

The Dorsey firm continued its rapid growth, expanding from 77 lawyers in 1970 to 164 in 1980. During that time the firm opened new Minnesota offices in St. Paul, Rochester, Wayzata, and Chaska. The last two offices later were closed. By 1980 the firm was renamed Dorsey, Windhorst, Hannaford, Whitney & Halladay. In the early 1980s the firm began its expansion outside of Minnesota with new offices in Billings, Great Falls, New York, and Paris.

This rapid postwar growth not surprisingly was accompanied by specialization. As late as 1965 the firm described itself in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory as having a "General Practice." Just ten years later it had a "General Practice, including Patent, Trademark and Copyright Law. International Business and Taxation Law, State, Municipal and Public Authority Financing."

In 1984 name partner Arthur B. Whitney, Jr., retired after about 40 years at the firm. As head of the firm's public finance department, Whitney had helped rewrite part of the Minnesota Constitution that granted the state government authority to issue general obligation bonds. One of Whitney's other contributions was assisting in drafting laws to form the St. Paul Port Authority.

In 1985 firm attorney Robert Helmick became the new volunteer president of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), and four years later he received a permanent appointment as a member of the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). After allegations in USA Today that clients with Olympic ties had paid him at least $127,000 in legal fees, Helmick in 1991 resigned as USOC president due to an appearance of conflict of interest but remained on the IOC board.

One of Dorsey & Whitney's clients was the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In 1986 the clinic's parent Mayo Foundation decided to partially pay bondholders who had invested $39 million in the Charter House, a retirement home occupied mostly by former patients at the clinic. The foundation made this decision to avoid public relations and legal problems that could have developed. Dorsey & Whitney also represented First Bank Minneapolis, which served Mayo and was trustee to the Charter House bondholders. In addition, there were allegations of conflict of interest since the law firm also served as bond counsel, but Dorsey & Whitney was replaced by Kirtland & Ellis when Charter House faced Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Dorsey & Whitney in January 1988 merged with the 15-lawyer Washington, D.C. firm of Busby, Rehm and Leonard. With the U.S. economy rapidly growing in the 1980s, many law firms added to their ranks and opened new domestic and international offices. Thus it was not surprising that John B. Rehm said in the Washington Post on October 22, 1990, that his small firm "saw larger firms moving in and we couldn't offer the same services ... We began to feel that the day of the boutique was ending. I hate to say it ... but I'm afraid economic pressures are driving us to bigger and bigger firms."

By 1990 the firm also added new offices in Missoula and London. Its client list included Porsche Cars North America, Inc.; Super Valu Stores, Inc.; Ford Motor Company; and General Mills, Inc.

Developments in the 1990s and the New Millennium

In 1994 and 1995 Dorsey & Whitney helped Computer Network Technology (CNT) Corporation to finally start selling its products in South Korea. The law firm worked with federal officials, such as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, to overcome South Korean requirements that had prevented CNT's expansion.

Dorsey & Whitney in 1995 opened an office in Hong Kong, in part because it was on neutral ground between rivals Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. Previously the firm had flown a lawyer from the United States to serve clients with Asian interests, but then decided it was better to have an actual office to work with clients such as Hormel, ADC Telecommunications, and Fourshift Corporation.

This was part of the firm's increasing international practice. By August 1996, 52 of the firm's 372 attorneys were practicing full-time in international law, up from 26 two years earlier. In addition to Hong Kong, the firm maintained foreign offices in Brussels and London. It helped United Health Care Corporation operate in South Africa.

In 1995 Dorsey & Whitney and public relations firm Mona Meyer McGrath & Gavin, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom's Shandwick International, formed a new Crisis Management Group to assist clients in preventing and dealing with emergencies. The two firms had worked together before. For example, both had served Northwest Airlines when it faced bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 made a landmark ruling that involved a Dorsey & Whitney attorney. In 1988 the firm had represented Grand Metropolitan when it made a bid to acquire Pillsbury. Although firm lawyer James O'Hagan was not involved in this transaction, he gained information about the pending deal to buy Pillsbury stock. Once the deal was announced, Pillsbury stock value shot up. O'Hagan then sold his stock for a nice $4.3 million profit.

O'Hagan was convicted of several counts of mail fraud and money laundering in violation of securities law and was sentenced to 41 months in prison. That was overturned in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, but then the Supreme Court ruled that O'Hagan's conviction should stand. This case validated the misappropriation theory, which states corporate outsiders cannot use confidential information to make money in the stock market, and thus aided the Securities and Exchange Commission in its enforcement efforts.

Although Dorsey & Whitney represented organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, Fairview Hospitals, and United HealthCare, which favored less tobacco use, it also represented tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris in the late 1990s. Some argued that law firms representing both sides of a major controversy had a conflict of interest. A Mayo Clinic spokesperson admitted there were some concerns, but the clinic decided not to object, so long as the firm's lawyers working for the tobacco company did not have anything to do with the clinic. On the other hand, the University of Minnesota got rid of its Dorsey & Whitney attorney when the tobacco industry, also served by the firm, requested its medical records. In any case, several other large Minnesota law firms also represented both tobacco companies and healthcare organizations.

In 1998 Tom Moe retired after serving as Dorsey & Whitney's managing partner since 1989. Under his leadership the firm grew from 339 lawyers to 439 and increased its revenue from $84 million to $170 million in 1998, which made it the nation's 60th largest law firm in the American Lawyer's annual ranking.

With a strong American economy humming along, in 1998 Dorsey & Whitney discussed a merger with Seattle's Bogle & Gates. When the talks collapsed, Dorsey initially hired 16 lawyers from Bogle & Gates. About a week later the 108-year-old Seattle firm decided to call it quits. By 1999 Dorsey had added from the closed firm a total of 50 lawyers to its Seattle office and also started a 12-person Anchorage office and a Vancouver office.

Meanwhile, Dorsey & Whitney in 1999 expanded its Denver operation by leasing offices in the Republic Plaza, which had the highest lease rate of any structure in the metro Denver area. By that time the Denver office had about 40 lawyers, up from 12 in just three years. Only the firm's offices in Minneapolis, New York, and Seattle were larger.

The firm's Asian practice expanded in the late 1990s under the leadership of Walter Mondale, former vice-president and ambassador to Japan. To complement its Hong Kong and Tokyo offices, in 2001 it opened a Shanghai office to serve the growing economy of the People's Republic of China. Its Asian clients included Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Nomura Securities.

According to Thomson Financial Securities Data, Dorsey & Whitney was the nation's top law firm from 1996 through 1999 for the number of domestic mergers and acquisitions. In 2000 its 244 deals earned the firm the number two ranking, but then in 2001 it returned to the number one spot with 287 completed deals. Dorsey & Whitney was one of the few big law firms that in 2001 increased its number of completed mergers and acquisitions. With the recession starting in March 2001, the total number of domestic deals declined from 11,000 worth $1.74 trillion in 2000 to only 7,500 deals worth $819 billion in 2001.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dorsey & Whitney represented Great Plains Software when it was sold to Microsoft, the Florida Senate during the 2000 election controversy, and Nanopierce Technologies Inc. in a patent dispute.

Very rapid expansion caused the firm to move to new headquarters in Minneapolis. By 2002 the firm had left the Pillsbury Center where it had been since 1981 and moved to the newly built 27-story office building located along Nicollet Mall. Dorsey & Whitney, the anchor tenant of the new building, occupied seven floors and had the option to expand.

The firm's expansion also was seen in its national and international rankings. Based on its 1997 gross revenues of $148.5 million, it was ranked as number 58 in the United States. The American Lawyer ranked the firm number 56 for its 1999 gross revenues of $201.5 million. In 2000 Dorsey & Whitney increased to $254 million gross revenues, a healthy 26 percent increase from the year before, and rose to number 53. In 2000 its annual profits per partner increased 17.5 percent from 1999 to reach $370,000. Its 2000 rank based on its profits per partner was number 154.

In November 2001 the American Lawyer, in cooperation with London's Legal Business, published The Global 100 list of the world's largest law firms. Dorsey & Whitney was ranked as number 57 based on its 601 lawyers, number 64 for its gross revenue of $254 million, and number 99 for its average profits per equity partner of $370,000.

Principal Competitors: Davis Polk & Wardwell; Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Further Reading:

  • Asher, Mark, and Christine Brennan, "Helmick Quits As President of USOC," Washington Post, September 19, 1991, p. B1.
  • Bailey, Jeff, and Richard Gibson, "Mayo Clinic to Bail Out Retirees' Home, Hoping to Avoid a Messy Legal Battle," Wall Street Journal, November 24, 1986, p. 1.
  • Biskupic, Joan, "High Court Agrees to Review Ruling in Insider Case," Washington Post, January 18, 1997, p. B1.
  • Coffman, Keith, "Tech Firm Lands Punch in Patent Feud Intellectual Property Rights at Root of Dispute Between Nanopierce, Inventor," Denver Post, December 14, 1998, p. E6.
  • "Dorsey & Whitney Adds 50 Lawyers to Seattle Office," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 3, 1999, p. E1.
  • Falstad, Jan, "Large Minneapolis Law Firm Closing Its Billings Office," Billings Gazette, November 15, 2001, p. 4C.
  • Freeborn, Dan, "Creighton Magid Melds Law, Public Relations," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), November 27, 1995, p. 8D.
  • Fryer, Alex, "Top Area Law Firm to Close--Bogle & Gates to End Practice on March 31," Seattle Times, February 4, 1998, p. A1.
  • Kerr, John, and Jennifer Dominitz, "US v O'Hagan: A Landmark Securities Law Decision," International Financial Law Review, October 1997, p. 67.
  • Klas, Mary Ellen, "Litigation Means Growing Taxpayers' Tab for Lawyers," Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), December 1, 2000, p. 19A.
  • Levy, Melissa, "Dorsey & Whitney to Anchor New Tower on the Nicollet Mall" Star Tribune (Minneapolis), June 30, 1998, p. 1A.
  • Meyers, Mike, "International Law No Cinch; Dorsey & Whitney, Faegre & Benson Face Challenges in Crossing Globe," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), March 2, 1995, p. 1D.
  • ------, "Mondale Provides Insights into Dealing with Japanese ...," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), January 24, 1997, p. 1D.
  • Peterson, David, "Tobacco Trial Lands Law Firms in Odd Spot ...," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), February 15, 1998, p. 1B.
  • Pheifer, Pat, "Arthur Whitney, 81; Was Senior Partner at Dorsey and Whitney," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), March 25, 1996, p. 4B.
  • Phelps, David, "Dorsey & Whitney Opening Office in Shanghai," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), February 23, 2001, p. 3D.
  • ------, "Dorsey Forms Health-Oriented Unit," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), January 12, 2002, p. 2D.
  • ------, "Law Firm and PR Agency Team Up to Create Crisis Management Group for Their Clients; Dorsey & Whitney Joins Mona Meyer in Unique Effort," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), September 14, 1995, p. 1D.
  • ------, "Law Firms Are Following Their Clients into International Markets; Twin Cities-Area Firms Finding Opportunities Around the World," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), August 5, 1996, p. 1D.
  • Rebchook, John, "Law Firm Leases Republic Space Minneapolis-Based Dorsey & Whitney Takes Downtown Office," Denver Rocky Mountain News, May 25, 1999, p. 4B.
  • Savona, Dave, "Washington Opens the Korean Door," International Business, September 1995, p. 36.
  • Walsh, Sharon, "Prosperous Law Firms Are Bracing for Stormier Economic Conditions; Leaner Times Bring More Scrutiny to Hiring, Cuts in Spending," Washington Post, October 22, 1990, p. F1.

    Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 47. St. James Press, 2002.