William Stoeri calls himself a “lifer” at Dorsey, since it’s the only place he has ever practiced law. He’s had a practice there in commercial litigation and medical malpractice since earning his J.D. from Yale Law School, except for the time he spent as a law clerk for Judge Diana Murphy in the U.S. District Court.
During that time he has tried more than 40 cases to juries and recently decided he was ready for something new, which turned out to be becoming Dorsey & Whitney’s managing partner, effective Jan. 1. He will replace Ken Cutler, whose allotted two terms are up.
“I was ready to look at a new challenge and a new job, and I have some really excellent attorneys who were working with me and they are now ready to jump into the stuff that I handled,” Stoeri said. But he also says it’s a significant transition. He’s recently made what may be his last appearances in both state and federal court. “That’s a sobering thought. I hadn’t really put it together that way. I really enjoyed working [as a litigator] but I’m still ready to do something else.”
The financial reports on Dorsey indicate that Stoeri is joining a steady ship. Last year, Dorsey’s gross revenue rose 3.2 percent, after an approximately 3 percent dip in 2016. Under Cutler, gross revenue rose 3.4 percent, to $337.3 million in 2017. Profits per equity partner rose in that time to $637,000.
The growth in numbers is the result of the positioning the firm has done to be strong in specific yet broad areas, Stoeri says. “Part of the growth has been the growth of the firm in recognizing that and organizing itself in a way that really enhances the ability of lawyers across the firm [to serve clients across the country]. That’s the growth that leads to financial growth. We’ve matured in our structure and our approach to things,” he said.
On its website the firm lists the six business areas in which it practices: banking and financial institutions; development and infrastructure; energy and natural resources; food, beverage and agribusiness; healthcare and technology. The idea behind the structure is for the groups to combine in ways that serve the clients.
Consumer financial protection laws are changing and there are a lot of areas of increasing regulation, Stoeri said. Also, Dorsey recently opened an office in Dallas composed of lawyers working in mergers and acquisitions, specifically financing. (Dorsey’s connections to the banking industry go way back. It was founded in 1912 at the request of what is now U.S. Bank, noted Bryn Vaaler, chief marketing and professional development officer.)
The development and infrastructure group works on projects such as U.S. Bank Stadium and the new Mayo expansion, which needs more services such as sewer and water. Dorsey also has clients in various energy interests, agribusiness, health care and technology, particularly start-ups and financing. Health care encompasses providers, third-party payers and medical technology. Technology is mainly about start-ups and financing.
One of the items on Stoeri’s to-do list is to become more familiar with the lawyers he doesn’t know well, such as non-litigators. “It is incumbent on me to make sure I reach out to and establish a good trust relationship and get to know their practices.
“What I want to do it get enough of an overview and understanding that I can pick out, ‘there’s a potential synergy there,’” he said.
The industry group leaders will provide the background to support Stoeri’s efforts, he said. The industry groups cross various areas of practice, looking for the same synergies he’s talking about, he explained. “I’m not the only one who does it.”
Diversity and inclusion
Dorsey celebrated its centennial in 2012 but is up to date on issues of great concern to the profession, including diversity and inclusion, garnering significant accolades. It has won a 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index for the 12th consecutive year. The index measures employer performance in ensuring fair and open workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees and consumers.
Additionally, the firm was named a “Best Law Firm for Women” for the 10th time in 2017 by the National Association of Female Executives and Flex-Time Lawyers, a division of Working Mother Media. It again received Gold Standard Certification from Women in Law Empowerment Forum in 2018. WILEF Certification is directed toward certifying, publicly recognizing and broadly publicizing eligible law firms that have integrated women into the highest leadership positions in the firm.
Vaaler said that Dorsey is one of 44 firms to sign on to the “Mansfield rule,” an initiative that measures whether law firms have affirmatively considered women and attorneys of color, which means they compose at least 30 percent of the candidate pool, for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, and lateral positions. That was Dorsey’s commitment in its first year and it earned a Mansfield certification of compliance not only for fulfilling the conditions of the pipeline, but for filling some key positions from that pool.
(The rule is named after Arabella Mansfield, among the first women admitted to the practice of law in the United States. It was inspired by the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which was created by the late Dan Rooney in 2003. The Rooney Rule requires every NFL team to interview at least one minority candidate for head coach vacancies.)
Now, the next iteration, Mansfield 2.0 extends the pool to LQBTQ candidates and required that a team putting together a formal “pitch” consider 30 percent staffing from minority groups and women. It also requests that participating law firms make appointment and election processes transparent to all lawyers in their firms.
On the home front, Dorsey is involved in local diversity initiatives, including Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, of which it was a founding member. The firm offers flexible working arrangements, eight weeks of paid parental leave, an adoption assistance program, and back-up emergency child care.
Resting on its laurels is not foreseeable, Stoeri said.
“It’s not mission accomplished by any stretch. First, [diversity initiatives] never would be done. Second, I think any place that is committed to this is going to realize we have to keep working and getting better, no question.
“But we have done a lot and there are issues that everyone needs to remain cognizant of. Clients are driving a lot [of the movement] but we need to keep doing it as well. We have work that we can do and we will do it,” Stoeri said.
That work includes giving opportunities to newer lawyers coming in and a mentoring process, he continued. The difference in generations among lawyers requires a conscious approach and a little more self-awareness on the part of the mentor, Stoeri said.
But another important question, Stoeri said, is whether behind the outside efforts the members of the firm are truly thoughtful about the issues of diversity and inclusion. That requires training, which Dorsey has done, and will continue to do, he said.
Camaraderie and community
The American Bar Association and the Minnesota State Bar Association have encouraged wellness initiatives, recognizing the high rates of depression and chemical dependency among lawyers. This is important to Dorsey, which has incorporated a well-being program into its employee benefits, Stoeri said.
Quite a while ago the firm first offered mindfulness meditation at noon, to lawyers and non-lawyers, which Stoeri said taught him deep breathing that he uses during trial. “Everybody’s got stress in their life, and to the extent we can help with that, we should. It really brings together the firm in a nice way,” he said.
The camaraderie and sense of community that the well-being initiatives generate is invaluable, Stoeri said. A personal touch from the senior lawyers helps, Stoeri continued. He said he wants senior lawyers to say to other lawyers, “you need to learn to say when it’s too much,” so the newer lawyers will understand that’s ok. “It’s a difficult thing, when you’re not in charge, to say, ‘it’s too much right now,’” Stoeri said.