Bill Dossett is the Executive Director of NiceRide Minnesota. But he was not born that way. Bill’s professional evolution should inspire litigators and other lawyers, who, like Bill, have thought about whether there aren’t other rewarding opportunities out there after years in the practice of law.
U.S. lawyers are living in unprecedented times. There has been sharp drop in lawyer demand nationwide over the past decade or so. Many (including me) view this development as systemic, and not cyclical. In other words, many jobs have gone away and many of them are never coming back. (A 2011 New York Times article discussed analysis showing that twice as many lawyers were being put into the legal market than there were jobs for lawyers.) So, many lawyers have been faced with joblessness, are now facing it, or may be facing it in near future before they’re ready for or interested in retirement. Maybe that is a good thing?
Bill Dossett left the partnership of Dorsey & Whitney L.L.P. without a job, and without any idea of what would come next. Now he’s succeeding and thriving in his “life after litigation.” After the jump, read about Bill’s inspiring journey and take heart…
How was it that you came to leave a career in civil litigation?
In my career at Dorsey & Whitney, I loved what I was doing. I liked the travel. I liked the excitement of litigation. I loved the people I was around. But I also knew I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. So [my wife] and I decided when I was around 30 that, by the time I’m 40, I was going to stop litigating.
It was not because I did not like where I was, or my cases, or my clients. I liked all those things. But I didn’t like that I didn’t have the control over my life that I wanted to…I planned a vacation and the vacation got cancelled. There was the constant stress of it.
But, at 43, I was still litigating.
The big change for me came when UnitedHealth Group [had litigation] and the management at Dorsey came to me and said, ‘We want you to move to an office at UnitedHealth…’…I spent about seven months out there managing legal…For me, it meant a break from all of the cases I had been handling so, for the first time, when that was done, I did not have any discovery deadlines, any motions due, or anything like that and it forced me to a decision point: if there is ever a time to make a change, now is the time to do it.
The reason I think that was important was because I always kind of thought that I was not going to leave litigation until I knew what I was going to. I never knew what was next. So, the timing was right. When I left Dorsey, I did not know what I was going to do.
I hung out, worked on my house for a while, and relaxed, and I actually went back to Pennsylvania and visited with old friends during that time. I did that kind of stuff for four, five, or six months.
So, how did you end up as the Executive Director of NiceRide where you are now?
It was during that 4-6 month period that I was actually paddling with R.T. Rybak in the Tri-Loppet…And R.T. proposed the idea of a bike share program in Minneapolis…[R.T. suggested] we don’t want Clear Channel to own it, we want to have a non-profit run it, so see if you can figure that out. [Editor’s note: Clear Channel is an advertisement company and other bike-sharing programs in other cities (such as Lyon, France) had been spearheaded by similar companies.]
At the time, I had no idea it would turn into this but it has. That was the transition path for me. It was not well-planned but it was seizing the opportunity.
Did life as a civil litigator prepare you in any way to be the Executive Director of a small non-profit?
Absolutely. There are different kinds of non-profits. A person coming out of law school may say, ‘You know I am not set up to run a health and human services non-profit or an arts non-profit.’ But, in particular, in this area of public-private partnership, I believe you are probably the best person to do it. Better than someone who has subject matter expertise in, say parks management. That may not be the right person for a non-profit that is going to be the owner of a new park.
You end up facing tons of contract issues, tons of government procurement issues, you have all of the labor issues of setting up a new organization and you have a lot of risk issues. You’re doing things that have not been done before. You’re drafting new user agreements and then dealing with insurers. It is a lot easier to do these things with a legal background…If you have a legal back-ground you can deal better with negotiation with insurers, say. So, I think my legal background has been really valuable for me.