The Rise of the Jewish Law Firm or is the Jewish Law Firm Generic?
57 Pages Posted: 29 May 2008 Last revised: 11 Jun 2008
The rise and growth of large Jewish law firms in New York City during the second half of the twentieth century is nothing short of an astounding success story. As late as 1950, there was not a single large Jewish law firm in town. By the mid 1960s, six of the largest twenty law firms were Jewish, and by 1980, four of the largest ten law firms were Jewish firms. Moreover, the accomplishment of the Jewish firms is especially striking because, while the traditional large White Anglo-Saxon Protestant law firms grew at a fast rate during this period, the Jewish firms grew twice as fast, and they did so in spite of explicit discrimination.
What happened? In this article, I study the rise and growth of large New York City Jewish law firms. I do so on the basis of the public record, with respect to both the law firms themselves and trends in the legal profession generally, and through over twenty in-depth interviews with lawyers who either founded and practiced at these successful Jewish firms, attempted and failed to establish such firms, or were in a position to join these firms but decided instead to join WASP firms.
According to the informants interviewed in this article, while Jewish law firms benefited from general decline in anti-Semitism and increased demand for corporate legal services, a unique combination of factors explains the incredible rise of the Jewish firms. First, white-shoe ethos caused large WASP firms to stay out of undignified practice areas and effectively created pockets of Jewish practice areas, where the Jewish firms encountered little competition for their services. Second, hiring and promotion discriminatory practices by the large WASP firms helped create a large pool of talented Jewish lawyers from which the Jewish firms could easily recruit. Finally, the Jewish firms benefited from a flip side of bias phenomenon, that is, they benefited from the positive consequences of stereotyping.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation