The Rise and Fall of the WASP and Jewish Law Firms

66 Pages Posted: 29 May 2008

See all articles by Eli Wald

Eli Wald

University of Denver Sturm College of Law


During their golden era in the 1950s and 1960s, large American law firms were segregated along religious and cultural lines between WASP and Jewish law firms. 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.

This Article asserts that the large WASP law firm, despite its ostensibly a-religious organizational structure, had a deeply rooted religious and cultural identity. Its commitments to Protestant values and white-shoe ethos help explain its rise at the turn of the nineteenth century, its successful campaign for elite professional status within the ranks of the legal profession, and its dominance until 1945. Moreover, the religious and cultural identity of the large WASP firm also explains the rise and success of its main competitor after 1945 - the Jewish law firm. Exploring the consequences of the WASP firm's commitments to Protestant values and white-shoe culture, this Article identifies unique reasons for the remarkable success story of the Jewish firm, whose growth rate far exceeded that of the WASP firm. Finally, the Article chronicles the disintegration of the religious identity of the large firm, WASP and, as a result, Jewish alike.

Suggested Citation

Wald, Eli, The Rise and Fall of the WASP and Jewish Law Firms. Stanford Law Review, Forthcoming, U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-15, Available at SSRN:

Eli Wald (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States


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