Dale Doerhoff’s colleagues have a high opinion of him. The sentiment goes both ways.
“I think we are the civilizing force of our state,” said Doerhoff, 72, a principal at Cook Vetter Doerhoff & Landwehr in Jefferson City. “We resolve hundreds of thousands of disputes every year, mostly without going to court. When we do go to court, we do it in a civil, professional and fair manner that results in acceptance by both sides of the dispute, which is very important for a civilized society.”
As a civil trial lawyer for nearly half a century, this graduate of the University of Missouri School of Law has developed a reputation for conducting himself in a manner that befits that opinion. He chairs the Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee and the Supreme Court’s Civil Rules Committee. Also, he previously coordinated Missouri’s Judicial Evaluation Commission and co-chaired the Missouri Fellows of the American Bar Foundation.
Oddly, the central Missouri native never intended to become a lawyer at all. As an officer out of ROTC, he expected to go to Vietnam.
“A friend of mine came by my room and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go take the LSAT?’” he recalled. “Back then, people didn’t really take classes to prepare for it. You just went over and took the test.”
The rest was history.
A fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers since 1992 and the American Bar Association since 1991, Doerhoff is a recipient of the Lon O. Hocker Memorial Trial Lawyer Award from The Missouri Bar, which he served as president in 2002-03.
During that year, he led a campaign to pass a legislative measure to increase funding for legal aid offices.
“They are particularly important in protecting battered women and children,” he said. “Studies have shown that abused women and children don’t benefit from a lot of the other things we try and do for them, but they do benefit from orders of protection. They do benefit from bringing the abuser into court and letting him see eye-to-eye with what justice really is.”
He also worked extensively on a “Dialogue on Justice” program that helped to increase public awareness of the ways the courts help to maintain a civil society. Doerhoff said he believes the secret of the American court system’s success is the way it provides processes, procedures, rules and appeals which make all participants feel they’ve had a chance to state their side — even if a result goes against them.
“Any court system — even those under dictatorial or autocratic governments — produces satisfied winners. Winners are always happy,” he said. “The real test of an effective system in my opinion is whether the losers accept the final decision and do not resort to violence or vengeful acts outside the court.”
Today, Doerhoff continues to see courts as the bulwark of civilized interaction.
“At the end of every trial, I learned early on to cross over to the other bench and shake the other lawyer’s hand,” he said. “Whatever dispute was being litigated in court stays in court. You remain civil and courteous to each other.”