Amid Practice Leader Losses, Dorsey Plots Turnaround

, The Am Law Daily

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Zachary Carter watches as Cyrus Vance Jr. announces his Candidacy for District Attorney of New York County.
Zachary Carter watches on as Cyrus Vance Jr. announces his candidacy for District Attorney of New York County.

A year after an abrupt management change began a firmwide restructuring, three practice group leaders have recently left Dorsey & Whitney for positions elsewhere.

The first of the trio to announce his departure was Zachary Carter, a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and current cochair of Dorsey’s white-collar crime and civil fraud practice who will leave the firm at month’s end to become New York City’s new corporation counsel under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Leaving this week, meanwhile, are private equity chair Christopher Bellini, who is joining Cozen O'Connor's new Minneapolis office, and IP litigation cochair Paul Ackerman, who is moving to Andrews Kurth's New York office with fellow IP litigation and patent prosecution partner Gary Abelev. A fifth Dorsey partner, Denver-based patent specialist Timothy Worrall, has joined Polsinelli, though his move has not yet been officially announced.

Ackerman, Abelev and Carter did not respond to The Am Law Daily's requests for comment about their respective moves, and Bellini, a former Piper Jaffray banker elected to Dorsey’s partnership as an income partner in 2010, declined to comment. An email sent to Worrall at Polsinelli yielded an autoreply message that he is traveling this week. His Dorsey bio has been removed from the Minneapolis-based firm's website.

Asked about the losses, Dorsey managing partner Kenneth Cutler downplays their impact. “We have more than 60 practice groups here, so we give out a lot of titles,” he tells The Am Law Daily. “We don’t want anyone to leave, but we have plenty of people here capable of generating business.”

Still, though the defections come at what is always a busy time of year for lateral moves across The Am Law 200—largely because January marks the start of a new fiscal year for most large firms—they represent the latest in a steady stream of Dorsey departures.

More than a half-dozen senior partners retired from the firm on Jan. 1. Among those stepping down were 37-year veteran Robert Dwyer Jr., a New York–based corporate partner tapped last year to head Dorsey's lateral recruiting efforts. The other recent retirees include former Denver office head Steven Merker, public finance partner Verlane Endorf, tax partner John “Jack” Windhorst Jr. and former Southern California office leader Christian Dubia, who resigned from the partnership for medical reasons.

Yet another retiree, Minneapolis-based health care and M&A partner Paul Torgerson, has joined St. Paul–based nonprofit hospital chain HealthEast Care System as general counsel and chief administrative officer. (Dorsey now does work for HealthEast Care, whose most recent tax filing shows it paid $1.2 million for legal services in 2011 to St. Paul–based Moore, Costello & Hart, one of Minnesota's oldest firms until closing its doors in 2012.)

Dorsey also suffered a loss in its nonlawyer executive ranks last year when Richard Holdrup, the chief financial officer it hired in October 2012, left over the summer to become chief operating officer of Am Law 200 rival Dykema Gossett. Dorsey replaced Holdrup—who did not respond to a request for comment about his decision to switch firms after only a few months—in late 2013 with former Gardere Wynne Sewell CFO Robert “Skipp” Swayze.

Cutler says that despite the departures, his firm’s gross revenue rose last year for the first time in six years, even as market conditions for large firms remain challenging.

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