The Big Interview: Bill Stoeri, Dorsey & Whitney managing partner

After the success of executing on its strategic growth plans, Dorsey's top lawyer tell us he'd "like to emulate what we did in Salt Lake City in some other locations, such as Seattle, Denver or Dallas."

Bill Stoeri - DorseyChambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position?

Bill Stoeri: We're on the cusp of AmLaw 100, going in and out over time. Dorsey originated in Minneapolis over 100 years ago to service a client that is still our largest – US Bank. We now have 19 offices around the world. Minneapolis is still our largest office but we are growing everywhere. We doubled in size in Salt Lake City over the last 18 months, so it's now our second-largest office. Denver, Dallas, New York, and Seattle are also sizable offices.

We work within all the practice areas you would expect; our principal industries include banking and finance, development and infrastructure, energy and natural resources, food, beverage and agribusiness, tech, and healthcare.

"We doubled in size in Salt Lake City over the last 18 months, so it's now our second-largest office."

CA: What's prompted the firm's growth in Salt Lake City in particular?

BS: It is an interesting market. We started small there but it is an area where I think some of the more expensive California tech work has gone because it is less pricey. Salt Lake has become a focus for businesses, and for us the growth there was opportunistic. Groups have joined us from other firms to be part of our corporate, litigation and patent prosecution practices. We have built some momentum and now Dorsey is the place to be in Salt Lake.

CA: Which of the firm's practice areas have done particularly well recently?

BS: The strong economy has helped our banking and financial institutions practice. Infrastructure is an area we continue to see growing, especially if Congress approves an infrastructure bill. In food, beverage, and agribusiness we have done a lot particularly in the co-operative segment of the market, while in healthcare we represent one of the largest insurance payers, many providers and a broad range of med-tech clients. Tech law is our most recent focus. It is relatively new to our structure and we are interested to see where that goes.

"Law firms are seeing a lot of work going in-house; that is a big change since I came out of law school."

CA: You've just taken over as managing partner – what are your goals for the near future?

BS: Looking across Dorsey, I see potential for more growth. It’s been a great year, and we want to keep up that momentum. I would like to emulate what we did in Salt Lake City in some other locations, such as Seattle, Denver, or Dallas. On the coasts and internationally we can strategically build in areas to support our different industry groups.

CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers will have to adapt to in the near-future?

BS: Obviously, law firms like other businesses face the general challenge of a downturn in the economy. In law specifically there are constant price pressure issues and a move towards alternative fee arrangements, working out how to charge for work in a way that benefits both us and our clients. Law firms are seeing a lot of work going in-house; that is a big change since I came out of law school. We have also seen technology developments like e-discovery. We used to have first and second years do things they no longer handle because we have software and more efficient processes to handle e-discovery, like Dorsey’s Legal Mine business. We are constantly considering what the associates of today need to become the partners of tomorrow, and at same time what we need to do to provide necessary services to our clients on the most cost-efficient basis possible. Striking that balance will be a really interesting challenge, and we want to continue to stay ahead of the curve.

CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?

BS: You won't find another field with the breadth of opportunity in terms of personality fit and intellectual interest. There are factual scenarios that are fascinating and the law is changing constantly. Different areas of law suit different personalities: trial lawyers like to be in the limelight and enjoy crossing swords with someone. Others who like to work toward consensus often go into corporate practice. I encourage people to consider how many areas of law there are to sample and pursue because there will be something to interest almost anyone.

CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?

BS: I had thought about it a bit as an undergrad, and after graduating I was studying in Germany as the start for a history PhD. When I got down to it I was not as thrilled as I expected and having already taken the LSAT, I applied to law school from overseas. I thought law would give me more flexibility than an academic degree and a greater variety of options. Unlike many friends who decided as undergrads that they wanted to be lawyers, I did not think it was likely – but here we are!

"My main advice is stay open minded."

CA: What achievement are you most proud of?

BS: I do not think there is a particular achievement. The things I have enjoyed most and that have been most rewarding have been working with individuals in specific cases. For example, when doctors are charged with malpractice and you go through a trial with them, you make some really rewarding personal connections.

CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?

BS: My main advice is stay open minded. There is such breadth, so try a variety of areas of practice. Do not close your mind by thinking you have already figured out what want to do. Take the chance to see all these different areas, be open minded and you will find something challenging and fulfilling.

CA: Is there anything else our readers should know about Dorsey?

BS: The culture of the firm is really important. That helps draw people to us. It is something that is harder to define than the practice itself. But ultimately it is the people and culture that draw and keep our attorneys here.

Interview conducted by Michael Bird. First published May 2019.

Read our review of what life is like as a junior associate at Dorsey and Whitney in the Inside View.