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Matthew Ralph
Matthew Ralph

Breaking the Ice: ‘Predictable, secure future’ spurred pivot to law school

Name: Matthew Ralph
Title: Partner, Dorsey & Whitney
Education: B.A. History, Dartmouth College; M.A., German intellectual history, University of Wisconsin; J.D., University of Michigan Law School

Matthew Ralph, partner at Dorsey & Whitney, likes tackling antitrust and other complex litigation cases. They often are intellectually challenging, involve trying to establish new law and may take a long time.

That’s similar to Ralph’s work for pro bono client Francis Gathungu. Ralph helped Gathungu obtain asylum in an appeal to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012, six years after becoming involved in the case.

Today Ralph, honored as a Minnesota Lawyer Attorney of the Year for his work on behalf of the Kenyan native, is assisting Gathungu in seeking permanent residency. Ralph, working at a historically defense-oriented firm, has found representing antitrust plaintiffs interesting.

“It’s more exciting having control of the case and knowing that you need to prove something to win,” Ralph said.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. I’m not a fan of small talk. The best way is to make an interesting observation on something a little unconventional that we can build on.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. I was in a graduate history program at the University of Wisconsin studying European intellectual history, which is industry jargon for dead white guy’s history. The problem was the job market for that was terrible. I decided I’d rather have a more predictable secure future and concluded that law school was the way to go.

Q. What books are on your bedside table?

A. One is by Eric Voegelin, a philosopher/political scientist born in Germany and my favorite author, “In Search of Order.” Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” A history of the rock band The Clash, “Passion is a Fashion.” One of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books. I read that to my 8-year-old. Those books are pretty well written and give a good idea of the kind of traits parents and lawyers constantly try to correct.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. When a person does not get to the point.

Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A. I like the independence of private practice. I like that it’s intellectually challenging. I like that it’s frequently funny the kinds of things that people fight over.

Q. Least favorite?

A. I don’t like the relentless financial pressure to find new business. I don’t like having to keep track of my time and record my time.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. I come from a suburb of Los Angeles, Palos Verdes. The last vacant lot in the city is a half mile from my parents’ house. You can look out to the north over the entire L.A. basin. On a clear day you can see from Malibu to the San Gabriel Mountains.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most—and why?

A. (Late U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge) Diana Murphy of the Eighth Circuit (for whom Ralph clerked). She was an important role model and somebody I really respected.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney or judge?

A. That they are dishonest and that they lie or bend the truth. In my experience it’s quite the opposite. In litigation you’re disciplined by facts and the law and they constrain what you can say about things. If you go too far and bend the truth or lie you risk completely ruining your credibility and hurting your client.

Q. What is your favorite depiction of the law, the legal professional in popular culture?

A. The best representation of lawyers is Charles Dickens’ lawyers: in “Bleak House,” Vholes and Tulkinghorn and in “The Old Curiosity Shop,” Sampson Brass. Every lawyer should read what Dickens has to say about lawyers because it’s absolutely hilarious.

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