The Rise and Fall of the WASP and Jewish Law Firms

By Wald, Eli | Stanford Law Review, April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Rise and Fall of the WASP and Jewish Law Firms


Wald, Eli, Stanford Law Review


INTRODUCTION
  I. THE RISE AND GROWTH OF THE LARGE WASP LAW FIRM
     A. The Theory." The A-Religious Identity of the Large Law Firm
     B. The Reality: The "Hidden" WASP and White-Shoe Identity of the
        Large Firm
        1. Nativism, anti-Semitism, and snobbery
        2. The "hidden" religious identity of the large WASP firm
        3. The "hidden" cultural identity of the large WASP firm
        4. Institutionalizing elite status." elite education and
           professional regulation
     C. The Growth of the WASP Firm
        1. The growth of the large firm--the standard account
        2. Elite professional status, WASP religious identity, and
           white-shoe cultural identity as impetus for firm growth
 II. THE RISE OF THE LARGE JEWISH LAW FIRM
     A. The "Jewishness" of the Jewish Firm
     B. The WASP Roots of the Jewish Law Firm's Success
        1. Protected pockets of "Jewish" practice areas
        2. Effective discrimination by WASP firms in the shadow of a
           robust supply of Jewish lawyers
        3. Tournament theory and the white-shoe ethos as a restriction
           on firm growth
     C. Being at the Right Place at the Right Time--and Making the
        Most of It
        1. Size and numbers matter
        2. The visibility of individual success and its impact on
           firm growth
        3. The "flip side of bias".
        4. The rise of inside counsel
        5. A Jewish client base
III. THE DEMISE OF THE LARGE RELIGIOUS LAW FIRM
     A. The Disintegration of the Religious and Cultural Identity of
        the Large WASP Firm
        1. Embracing meritocracy
        2. The professionalism paradigm shift: The rise of "law as a
           business" ideology
        3. The economics of discrimination in play
        4. The decline of religious discrimination
     B. The Decline of the Religious Identity of the Large Jewish Firm
        1. The collapse of the Jewish firm monopoly on recruitment of
           Jewish lawyers
        2. The "flip side of bias" revisited and the future of the
           Jewish firm
     C. The Large Law Firm in the Post-Religious Age--Can It
        Sustain Its Elite Status?
CONCLUSION

INTRODUCTION

During their "golden era" in the 1950s and 1960s, (1) large American law firms (2) were segregated along religious and cultural lines between WASP and Jewish law firms. (3) The rise and success of large law firms with distinctive religious and cultural identities is surprising because the large firm was purportedly a-religious and meritocratic.

After introducing the conventional wisdom regarding the explicitly a-religious and meritocratic identity of the large law firm, Part I explores the "hidden" religious and cultural identity of the WASP law firm. (4) It argues that the dual and seemingly contradictory identities of the large firm were a product of its complex quest for professional elite status. Seeking professional status and recognition, or in Larson's terminology, participating in the "professional project," (5) required the large law firm to present itself as a-religious and meritocratic. Seeking to establish itself as the elite within the ranks of the legal profession, however, the large firm cultivated and pursued a parallel de facto WASP identity. It first translated elite Protestant values and white-shoe ethic into elite professional status and later on, with its elite status secured, relied on its religious and cultural identity to enable its rapid growth.

Part II studies an unintended and counterintuitive consequence of the WASP identity of the large firm--the rise and growth of the Jewish firm. Though as late as 1950 there was not a single large Jewish law firm in New York, by the mid-1960s six of the largest twenty law firms were Jewish, and by 1980 four of the ten largest law firms were Jewish firms. Moreover, the accomplishment of the Jewish firms is especially striking because while the traditional large WASP law firms grew at a fast rate during this period, the Jewish firms grew twice as fast and did so in spite of explicit discrimination. …

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