Matt Ralph’s study of so-called “impractical things” has prepared him well for practice as a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and co-chair of the firm’s antitrust practice group.
Ralph studied German intellectual history in college and has offered a yearly lecture on impractical things at Dorsey.
“Studying history, political science, English literature, religion, philosophy, those were the classes that I took as an undergraduate,” Ralph said. “It all seemed to come together in intellectual history because that field embraces all of them.”
Fortunately, he found history and litigation are similar.
“In both, you’re trying to figure out historical facts and explain them in a narrative,” Ralph said. “The narrative is often couched in the form of advocacy to resolve certain issues.”
Ralph recently completed a year as president of the Hennepin County Bar Foundation, which makes donations to promote access to justice for county residents.
Name: F. 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
Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?
A: Ask me a question.
Q: Why did you go to law school?
A: I was in a history Ph.D. program and very pessimistic about getting a decent job. I was constantly worried about the future. As soon as I went to law school, the worries stopped.
Q: What books are you reading?
A: Paul Friedlander’s first volume on Plato and Francis Cornford’s annotated translation of Plato’s “Timaeus.” These were written in 1928 and 1937, respectively. People today don’t realize how smart people used to be.
Q: What’s your pet peeve?
A: Bad driving, Apple spellcheck and complaining about referees. I’ve got two boys who play a ton of sports. Parents can get really intense. I don’t think it’s fair, second-guessing and criticizing referees especially when they’re not professional referees and oftentimes are teenagers trying to earn 10 bucks an hour. As a lawyer, it’s fruitless and bad form to complain about the decisionmaker in a case.
Q: Best part of your work?
A: It’s interesting and frequently funny.
Q: Least favorite?
A: The focus on billing by the hour.
Q: Favorite activity away from work?
A: Lately it’s jumping rope. I had been running for about four years and was just getting sick of it and didn’t feel good doing it. I discovered a bunch of people online doing jump rope tricks and thought it looks it looks really fun and really cool.
Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?
A: I was born in Santa Monica. When I was 10, we moved to Palos Verdes Peninsula, south of the airport but on the coast. My go-to hometown spot was a vacant lot high on the Palos Verdes Peninsula that overlooked the entire Los Angeles area. It was vacant for 30-plus years. I would sit there and meditate. If somebody came to town, I’d take them there and show them the view. But somebody is finally building a house on it.
Q: Legal figure you most admire?
A: Abraham Lincoln. After him, (the late 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) Judge Diana Murphy (for whom Ralph clerked). She had great judgment and great tact. She was really bright and a great writer. She improved my writing and thinking. I respect her career, everything that she did, and she did it with some very strong headwinds because she was frequently the first woman doing whatever she was trying to do.
Q: Misconception that others have about your work as an attorney?
A: People think that lawyers don’t respect the truth. To the contrary, good lawyers respect the evidence and follow the rules.
Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?
A: Charles Dickens’ descriptions of lawyers are the best. For example, the introduction to “Bleak House,” where the center of the London fog is the Court of Chancery.