In 1911, the First National Bank of Minneapolis was searching for strong outside legal counsel. The bank asked one of its directors, William Lancaster, a prominent lawyer and former judge, to form a law firm that could take on the bank's work. Lancaster asked his friend David Simpson, a justice on the Minnesota supreme court, to leave the bench and join him in the founding of the Firm. The international law firm today known as Dorsey & Whitney LLP began on January 2, 1912 when these two accomplished Minneapolis lawyers joined forces to fulfill a client's need.

James Dorsey joined the firm in 1913 as its first associate. After Lancaster and Simpson both died in the mid-1920s, Dorsey rose to firm leadership, developing a sophisticated practice focused on public finance, utilities and other transactional and regulatory work. At the same time, the firm's trial practice grew under the leadership of John Junell who took the reins of the Firm during the late 1920s and early 1930s while Dorsey pursued an investment banking career. James Dorsey returned to the Firm and served as its leader until his death in 1959. 

The Firm's name changed over the years. It started with Dorsey, but was followed by a changing list of the most senior living partners. In 1982, the Firm adopted a shorter, permanent name by combining Dorsey with the last to survive of the pre-World War II lawyers previously in the Firm's name: Arthur Whitney, leader of the Firm's public finance practice.

Blackmun & Prosser From the beginning, Dorsey lawyers dominated their respective fields in the Twin Cities and the Upper Midwest and attracted a superb client base, including the First National Bank of Minneapolis (today, U.S. Bank), Cargill, Mayo Clinic, Northwest Airlines (acquired by Delta Air Lines in 2009) and Newell Companies (today, SUPERVALU). The ranks of Dorsey lawyers over the years have included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, noted law professor and scholar William Prosser and former U.S. Vice President and Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale.

As the Firm's reputation for excellence in client service spread nationally and internationally, Dorsey & Whitney expanded in numbers and offices to meet client needs. From the 1980s to the present, the Firm has established a major presence in New York, Denver and Seattle. Dorsey attorneys practice in locations throughout the United States and in Canada, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

From its founding in Minneapolis in 1912 to its global presence today, the mission of Dorsey & Whitney remains the same. Client service.