The Missoula law office behind Montana’s biggest tech deal – and other startups
Raised in a two-room shack without running water or electricity, Jack Manning never imagined that he would one day be the lead attorney for the largest business acquisition in Montana’s history.
Manning is a partner with Dorsey & Whitney, named one of the top 25 U.S. firms for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) for 24 consecutive years by Thomson Reuters. Dorsey’s had a hand in many of Montana’s biggest business transactions, but the 2012 Oracle acquisition of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman for $1.8 billion was the largest by far.
Not only did Manning represent RightNow in that deal and in its prior IPO and venture rounds, but he has represented dozens of tech and other companies around the state, including many that were founded as a result of the RightNow acquisition. Other clients include some of the fastest-growing tech companies in the state such as Quiq, LumenAd, Bridger Photonics, and WebBuy/Complete.
Manning was raised on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana and is a member of the Sioux Tribe. By age 12, Manning’s family had moved to Bozeman, where he played three sports at Bozeman High School. Due to his athletic and academic skills, he was recruited to the Ivy League by Dartmouth College where he played football. In January 2017, Manning was inducted into the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame for his exceptional athletic career.
In 1975, Manning graduated from Stanford Law School and went to work for a large New York City law firm for six years before moving back to Montana to join Dorsey, first in its Great Falls office and then in its Missoula office.
About half of Manning’s practice has been M&A, though he also works on stock and venture capital financing, IPOs and other complex business deals. With more than 40 years of experience, Manning possesses a depth of industry knowledge that few others in the Big Sky State do.
“I’m virtually certain that we, and actually I, have done all of the high tech and low tech IPOs and many of the bank public offerings in Montana since I moved back in the early ’80s,” Manning said.
Having a law firm with a Montana office, strong support from national and international offices, and industry experience including licensing and patent expertise can be vital for both new and established businesses looking for legal expertise.
“We provide big city-level services to Montana companies — from Montana,” Manning said, adding that Montana’s quality of life and access to outdoor resources make it a competitive place to live and work, for both attorneys and their clients.
Dorsey is also supportive of entrepreneurial startups in Montana and will sometimes help aspiring entrepreneurs with a free initial consultation and other resources.
One such business was Pocket NC, a Bozeman startup that designs and manufactures desktop CNC milling machines. Co-owner Michelle Hertel said the business ran into an unexpected deadline before it officially launched and needed specialized legal counsel. Dorsey provided access to a lawyer with the specific manufacturing patent law experience the company needed.
“It can get complicated,” Hertel said. “Being able to connect with their network around the country was really valuable for our product.”
Hertel added that Dorsey worked within Pocket NC’s timeline and budget constraints as they worked to file their patent on time.
“Compared with other attorneys I’ve worked with, they do a really good job of communicating on a level we understand,” Hertel said. “I’ve found that they were really easy to work with. They came down to our level and had a good sense for who we were.”
Dorsey was named one of the top resources for Montana entrepreneurs in the report “A New Frontier: Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in Bozeman and Missoula, Montana,” funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Manning is one of eight attorneys in Dorsey’s only Montana office, which is located in Missoula. In addition to M&A, Dorsey’s Missoula team provides services in general corporate securities and venture capital, as well as public finance and litigation. Half of Dorsey’s Montana team are women.
Dorsey’s first Montana office opened nearly 40 years ago in Great Falls at the request of Ian Davidson of D.A. Davidson and resided in the building of the financial services company and client for 25 years.
The firm’s history, however, stretches back more than 100 years.
Dorsey & Whitney was founded in 1912 at the request of its first and longest client, First National Bank of Minneapolis (today U.S. Bank).
Its partners have included Walter Mondale, former U.S. Vice President and Ambassador to Japan; former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackman, who authored Roe v. Wade; former CEO of D.A. Davidson, Bill Johnstone; and current U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Today, the firm employs nearly 600 lawyers across the U.S., as well as in London, Canada, and China. With such a diverse and deeply knowledgeable team around the world, Dorsey is able to provide its clients with a wealth of resources far beyond what any one office can offer. For example, the Missoula office provides in-depth knowledge to its local clients, but its attorneys also draw from their broad experience to serve clients in Silicon Valley and Seattle, as well as working with its various foreign offices.
One such lawyer is associate attorney Kymra Archibald. A graduate of the University of Montana School of Law and College of Business, Archibald worked in Silicon Valley for several years before returning to Missoula to continue practicing law. Archibald practices corporate law, and often does considerable work for Dorsey’s Palo Alto office clients.
Archibald just returned to work after having her second child and said she was grateful for Dorsey’s generous maternity leave. Last year, Dorsey was recognized as one of the 50 best law firms for women by Working Mother. Dorsey was also recognized as a top firm for closing the gender parity gap in 2017 by Bloomberg Law.
In addition to being a resource for Montana businesses, Dorsey is also dedicated to local communities. Its attorneys serve on boards like the Poverello Center and Partnership for Children in Missoula, and the firm provides financial and other support for local entrepreneurial activities.
Dorsey does a lot of pro bono work and had vital roles in the formation of several Montana tech organizations, including helping the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, the Montana Bioscience Alliance, CodeMontana, and TechRanch.
The newest corporate attorney in the Missoula office, Ginny Coles, brings 30 years of experience working with various tech companies like Intuit, Shutterfly, Apple, and McAfee.
Coles enjoys the flexibility of Missoula’s office and the opportunity to learn new fields, such as co-op law. She said it’s a great way to practice her strengths in technology law and add more to her skillset.
“It’s a great mix for me,” Coles said. “Areas of law that I know really well and then new areas of law that stretch me. It keeps me growing.”
Coles said she knew she wanted to work at Dorsey when she moved to Missoula in 2017 from Palo Alto. Even though they weren’t hiring at the time, she was determined to work for the firm she felt would be a good fit for her.
“I’m very happy here,” Coles said. “I love the fact that we have the advantages of a big firm with tons of resources and the advantages of a small, informal, really super friendly office.”
Katy Spence is the Communications Director for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource. This article originally appeared on the Montana High Tech Business Alliance website