"WASP" vs. Jewish law firms

One observer noted that firms want "lawyers who are Nordic, have pleasing personalities and 'clean cut' appearances, are graduates of the 'right schools. [and] have the 'right' social background and experience in the affairs of the world." Thirty percent of Wall Street partners in 1957, for instance, were listed in the Social Register.

[Milton C. Regan. Eat What You Kill: The Fall of a Wall Street Lawyer. p. 20.]
Another case study of why it's utterly nonsensical to speak of a unified "WASP-Jewish" elite: The Rise and Fall of the WASP and Jewish Law Firms. No such entity ever existed, nor could it exist. Jews share with the "WASP" neither values nor ethnicity. American ancestry and Protestant values were integral to the identity of the old upper class, which no longer exists as an upper class, and hasn't for some time -- MM's transparent attempt to swathe his people in the legitimacy of the last American American upper class notwithstanding.
The growth of the large firm and its causes have been well documented.102 Having failed to recognize the hidden religious and cultural identity of the large firm, the literature makes no use of this identity in its standard account of large firm growth. The WASP and white-shoe identity of the large firm had an important impact on its growth. In the formative era, between 1899 and 1945, the religious and cultural identity of the firm played a positive role, contributing to the growth of the firm. Notably, however, after 1945 and to a more significant degree during the 1960s the religious and cultural identity of the WASP firm also had a countervailing effect, inhibiting its own growth and ironically playing a part in the meteoric rise of its rival—the Jewish law firm.103 In other words, its failure to explore the religious and cultural identity of the large firm prevented the standard account not only from fully explaining the growth of the WASP form but also from being able to explain the unique growth of the Jewish firm.

[. . .] The growth of Jewish law firms is nothing short of an incredible success story. Before 1945, there were essentially no large Jewish law firms in New York City.118 Most Jewish lawyers were concentrated in the lower spheres of the city’s bar as solo practitioners and members of small law firms.119 In 1950, without exception, every member of the elite club was a WASP law firm. By the mid-1960s, however, this reality had changed significantly. Growing much faster than the WASP firms, the Jewish firms had caught up with the WASP firms, attained elite status, and accounted for six of the twenty largest law firms in New York City. In less than a fifteen-year time span, Jewish law firms grew, as a group, by an average of 200%.120 To be sure, WASP firms also grew at an impressive rate. As a group, however, WASP firms grew at 50% the rate of Jewish firms, averaging about 100%. This trend of faster growth continued between 1963 and 1980, and by 1980 Jewish firms were well accepted as members of the elite club and accounted for four of the ten largest firms in New York City. WASP firms also grew at an impressive rate, but, except for Shearman & Sterling, all of the WASP firms grew by less than 100% during this time.121

[. . .] The white-shoe ethos and a desire to distance themselves from the lower ranks of the New York bar led the white-shoe firms to stay clear of low-status and otherwise “unbefitting” practice areas such as litigation, bankruptcy law, hostile takeover law, and real estate law. To Paul Cravath, great lawyering was to be done in the conference room, not the courtroom.138 Litigation was thought of as necessary only as the result of a failed transaction, not as yet another strategic tool at the hands of corporate clients. Litigation, bankruptcy and takeover law were needed only when the corporate attorney failed to successfully reorganize and restructure the affairs of his client. Because the need to practice in these areas of law was perceived to result from attorneys’ failures, they were deemed unbecoming practice areas for the elite corporate attorney. Similarly, real estate law, in an era preceding large commercial realestate transactions was thought of as an area of individual representation and consequently of low professional esteem.

[. . .] The reluctance of the WASP firms to occupy certain practice arenas led Jewish law firms to flock to those areas. 139 The snobbish habits of the elite firms thus created protected pockets of practice for Jewish law firms, where they were less likely to face competition from the WASP law firms.

[. . .] The rise and incredible growth of Skadden, Arps and of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz between 1965 and 1985 is demonstrative of the consequences of white-shoe ethos and elitist professional culture enabling the creation of protected “Jewish” areas of practice and facilitating the growth and success of Jewish law firms. This era featured increased client activity in the mergers and acquisitions field, including hostile takeovers. Whereas to a significant extent elite WASP firms shunned representation of such “dishonorable” client conduct, Skadden, Arps and Wachtell, Lipton were able to develop expertise in these protected arenas and thus to capture a significant market share of corporate clients in merger and acquisitions matters.

[. . .] Contrary to Hoffman and Smigel’s observations, however, the decision by the WASP firms to adhere to the constraints of the tournament theory and the hidden socioeconomic, cultural, and religious aspects of the Cravath System was not at all “strangely cavalier.”173 The WASP firm’s claim to elite status was tied to its commitment to these “cavalier” notions of the white-shoe ethos and Protestant values. Abandoning this firm culture was too high a price to pay, even if it meant sacrificing competitive ground to the Jewish firms. Ironically then, the very same white-shoe ethos and Protestant values that enabled the WASP firms to sustain a credible claim for elite professional status before 1945, and which in turn allowed them to grow and thrive, later constrained their growth and opened the door for competitors, who were not constrained by a thick religious, socioeconomic, and cultural identity, to grow at an even faster rate. Jewish firms, not restricted by these notions of ungentlemanly growth, both recruited new attorneys in relatively high numbers and openly resorted to aggressive lateral hiring.174

[. . .]

Over time, Jewish firms were able to capitalize on their expertise and reputation within the Jewish pockets of practice, cross over and compete with the WASP firms in the respected areas of the law. Joe Flom of Skadden Arps explained the crossover phenomenon during the 1980s. Mainstream clients were seeking to hire Skadden to prevent it from representing competitors. Skadden conditioned such representation on the clients’ hiring the firm to do more than tender-offer protection:
As for that "increased client activity in the mergers and acquisitions field, including hostile takeovers" that fueled the growth of Jewish law firms:
The corporation which launched the takeover was International Nickel Company (INCO) and its investment banker was Morgan Stanley, the Cadillac of the investment banking firms. Until INCO moved against the Philadelphia battery maker, ESB, Inc., hostile takeovers bore for the investment bankers and law firms the moral stigma of spitting on the floor, in the colorful phrase of takeover atorney Marty Lipton. Even if somehow you could overcome that stigma, there was no way you could afford anything as adventurous as trying to knock over a big-league corporation: the banking establishment frowned upon providing loans for such high-risk, nervy gambits.

Gradually that would change. A new merger boom would hit the business community in the lat 1970s. But this time the stakes would be much greater. As it became easier to organize large-sized mergers, as the profits to be made in them became apparent, an intense competition began among the investment banking community for a piece of the action. A parade of investment banker stars would emerge, at first Felix Rohatyn at Lazard Freres, Ira Harris at Salomon Brothers, and Bob Greenhill at Morgan Stanley; then others, Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lamber, Joe Fogg and Eric Gleacher at Morgan Stanley, Jay Higgins at Salomon Brothers, Geoffrey Boisi of Goldman Sachs, and Marty Siegel at Kidder, Peabody. Some would represent the new breed of corporate raiders, T. Boone Pickens, Carl Icahn, Saul Stenberg, Sir James Goldsmith. Others would line up in defense of corporations under attack.

[Robert Slater. The Titans of Takeover. p. 108.]


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