Dorsey D. Ellis earned legal degrees from University of Chicago and Maryville College. After several years of private practice in New York City, he became a member of the law faculty at Iowa in 1968. During his time as a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, he also served in a number of administrative roles, including Vice President of Finance and University Services.
In 1987 he left Iowa to become Dean of Washington University of St. Louis. His work focuses on legal history, antitrust, and torts.