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A Conversation With the First Woman To Chair Dorsey’s Policy Committee

July 20, 2017, 5:08 PM

Dorsey & Whitney announced this week that Minneapolis-based Tax Partner Kim Severson has been named chair of the firm’s policy committee, making her the first woman to ever hold the position.

The partner-elected policy committee, which acts as the firm’s board of directors, is responsible for overseeing the strategies and policies of the firm. Severson has been a member of the committee for three and a half years, and will serve for at least one year with a limit of two years as chair.

She replaces outgoing chair Richard Silberberg, a litigator based in New York, who served as chair from 2015-2017.

“I’m really quite proud to be able to able over this leadership role, and I think it’s an important benchmark for the firm,” she told Big Law Business. “It’s been pretty male-dominated.”

Outside of the policy committee chair role, one woman,Marianne Short,has thus far served as managing partner of Dorsey in its 105-year history.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BLB: What are your goals for your tenure as policy committee chair?

Severson: The two things that I’m particularly concerned about are focusing on the continued growth of Dorsey and Whitney and succession.

We added a great group of lawyers in Dallas in the spring. I’m actually sitting in Dallas right now. That’s been a great addition for us. I’m interested in exploring more strategic growth.

We have very strong strong practices in the health law area, we have a growing private equity practice, and we have a very strong banking practice, which we call the finance and restructuring practice. Dorsey was founded to service what’s now US Bank. We have worked for US Bank for over 100 years, which is pretty cool, actually, for a law firm to have that much longevity. We’re always looking at strategic opportunities to expand in those particular industry areas, where we can capitalize on expertise we have.

The food and agriculture industry is also extremely strong. Because we originated and we have most of our lawyers in Minneapolis, obviously the agricultural industry is very important. We have longstanding relationships with some of the largest cooperatives in the world, and it involves a special legal expertise to work with cooperatives.

The other thing that I am particularly interested in, and I’ve worked on this in my career, is developing the careers of more junior lawyers at the firm, making sure we have opportunities for them to develop their practice and develop at Dorsey and Whitney.

I think, now, in this leadership role, what I’m interested in doing is developing strategies and policies that will promote the careers of those younger lawyers and really provide for the succession of our great client relationships to the younger lawyers.

[caption id="attachment_53757" align="aligncenter” width="426"][Image “Kim Severson” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Severson_Kim_Dorsey.jpg)]Kim Severson.[/caption]

BLB: How has succession planning changed alongside shifts in the legal industry? Are there any new challenges in today’s market?

Severson: My perspective is very personal. I’m a corporate tax lawyer, so I’m not necessarily the corporate lawyer getting four, five or six million dollars a year. I graduated law school in 1984 and I worked for a big Los Angeles firm. At that time, you never had to think about where your work was coming from. There were longstanding client relationships and [clients] stayed with firms indefinitely. Now we really have to work at client relationships, and we have to show multiple lawyers to those clients, and we have to deliver high quality legal work all the time. It’s important we focus on quality and making sure our clients have multiple points of contact at the firm. We don’t want a partner to retire and have a client never been introduced to a junior lawyer.

We’re working hard at Dorsey to develop younger leaders, to develop the practices of our younger lawyers. We want them to be at the firm for a long time and we’re figuring out how to make that work for them. There’s a lot more mobility in the law firm world now too.

BLB: Are you involved in any diversity and inclusion efforts when it comes to training those young lawyers?

Severson: Our policy committee has a group, and we have diversity partners, and our recruiting committee is very involved with that. I was on the firm’s recruiting committee a number of years ago (then I was chair), and we looked at those issues then, but it’s becoming increasingly important. We have some initiatives at the policy committee level, but most of those initiatives are elsewhere within the firm.

I think it’s great to have a female policy chair. It’s a great way to show other women they can go into leadership roles.

BLB: How does it feel to be the first woman to chair the Dorsey policy committee?

Severson: Well, we did have a female managing partner, Marianne Short, who served from 2006 to 2012. She is now the chief legal officer of UnitedHealth Group. So we have a precedent for that in the firm. But I’m really quite proud to be able to able over this leadership role, and I think it’s an important benchmark for the firm. It’s been pretty male-dominated. We have two women on the policy committee now, one of whom is me. It’s an 11 member committee.

BLB: What can law firms be doing to get more women in leadership?

Severson: I think there is a real challenge to getting more women in leadership positions. Women, like male lawyers, have to be developing their own practices. Balancing this leadership or administrative role along with your own practice is challenging. And developing those skills comes at a time when most women have more personal and family obligations. Maybe we can start identifying, earlier in their careers, young women and diverse lawyers who have the interest and talent for leadership and get them involved in smaller leadership roles, so they get the skills they need to move up later. You can involve women in committees, subcommittees. I got started in firm leadership when I joined the recruiting committee and then became chair. And I was asked to be on the board of directors for the The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation. By the time I was elected to the policy committee, I had a much better understanding of what would be required.

Write the reporter at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

Write the editor at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.

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