Profile with Kim Severson

Kim Severson (Minnesota & Somerville 1978) is a partner in Dorsey & Whitney’s Minneapolis office. She is Chair of The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation and on the Board of Directors of The Schubert Club.  She holds a JD from Stanford University, an MA in Classics from Princeton University, a BA in Classics from the University of Oxford and a BA in Classics from St. Olaf College.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Kim Severson: We live in the northern suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota. I work in Minneapolis. We’ve been here for sixteen years and we’ve been very happy here.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Kim Severson: The last book I read for pleasure was Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I love Dickens. The characters are wonderful: comic, detailed and so engaging. I’ve been working my way through Dickens’ novels over the past few years. As books on tape, they work very well during the commute to work. Our Mutual Friend is probably one of the most complex of Dickens’ books, and in some ways the darkest.  It’s a wonderful combination of comic scenes and comments on society, poverty and class distinctions.

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what was your “dream job”?

Kim Severson: When I was in grade school, I thought that it would be really exciting to be a stewardess. For an art class, I drew a picture of myself as a stewardess which, in retrospect, is an absolutely ridiculous idea. I am a complete klutz and there’s no way I could walk down the middle of an airplane carrying a tray of anything. That wasn’t hugely realistic. When I was in high school, what I really wanted to do was be a writer or journalist of some sort. I did work on the local daily newspaper in my hometown for three summers running. That was an earlier aspiration that I didn’t follow.

Rhodes Project: Do you still find time to write on occasion?

Kim Severson: I’ve worked full-time for the last fourteen years while raising three children. I do a lot of writing in my job. I’m a corporate tax lawyer so I do a lot of technical writing but I really don’t do a lot of writing for fun. I write a lot of letters though.

Rhodes Project: What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Kim Severson: I really like trying to explain difficult concepts in a way that non-tax professionals can understand. A lot of my job has to do with explaining to corporate lawyers or to clients how the federal income tax rules will work in their particular circumstances. It’s very technical, but there’s a real art to explaining it in a way that somebody else can absorb and understand it. Being able to explain something concisely and precisely is evidence that you’ve understood the subject.

Rhodes Project: What has surprised you recently?

Kim Severson: I have been taking piano lessons for the past year and a half. I took lessons as a child, and I decided that once my children ceased using this beautiful piano that we own, I should take piano lessons. I found a very good teacher and went over for the first lesson. I thought that because I could read music and had played the piano before, I would play a few pieces for her and she’d start me at the intermediate level.  About thirty seconds into the lesson, it was very clear that this piano teacher was going to start me at the absolute beginning with entry level music. So, I was starting with a blank slate and was able to work on technique, and concentrate on becoming a good piano player instead of somebody that piddles away on the piano in her spare time. It was a surprise and it was really satisfying to start something new with a goal of doing it well.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give a young woman entering a career in law?

Kim Severson:  I believe that we are going through a series of changes that are going to fundamentally alter how legal services are delivered to corporations and to individuals.

The demand for very high-end, expensive legal services appears to be contracting. Law firms have had to re-evaluate how they provide services and value to their clients. I think the old model in which a young man or woman goes to law school, does well and is almost assured of a good, steady secure job is probably gone. Now, people need to be a lot more focused about why they are going to law school and what they see as their future career. The job market is different and much, much tighter than it was before. Obviously, people who go to the top law schools like Harvard, Yale, UPenn, Michigan, Stanford and are in the top of their class will always have a lot of opportunities. People now are ending up in in-house legal jobs much earlier in their career. They have to think about how that fits with their career trajectory and what they want to learn along the way. Certainly, our clients are looking for value in legal services because they internally have their own financial goals that they have to meet.

Rhodes Project: If you could have lunch with one historical figure, who would it be with and why?

Kim Severson: I would like to have lunch with Achilles. I was a Classics major and I studied Classics at Oxford, so that fits in. Achilles is by far one of the most important characters in ancient literature. I love The Iliad. I had to read it all in Greek while I was at Oxford. It is still one of my favorite pieces of literature. I always had a fascination with the pride and anger that lead Achilles to withdraw from the battlefield and sit alone in his hut. He’s a difficult character - I don’t think he’s a likeable person in The Iliad. It probably wouldn’t be pleasant lunch, but I think it would be an interesting one.

Rhodes Project: What do you like to do to relax?

Kim Severson: I have a vegetable, flower and fruit garden in our backyard. In the summer I spend a lot of time gardening and pulling weeds. I really enjoy that. I like to be outside. I also do a lot of canning and preserving of the fruits and vegetables from the garden. That’s hard work, but it is relaxing because it’s so different from my professional life. I live a two minute walk away from the lake. I have a one-person kayak that I like to take out to the middle of the lake. In the winter, I like to cross-country ski.

Rhodes Project: What brings you joy in life?

Kim Severson: Being with my family and seeing my three sons, who’ve all grown up to be wonderful young men, brings me joy. Sometimes, I look at them and I can’t believe that my husband and I are so fortunate to have such wonderful children.

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