I wrote a comment earlier about the challenge many Jewish lawyers faced getting hired by law firms, particularly those considered among the finest in the country, in large markets such as New York. By sheer accident, I stumbled across this very informative article published today about the very same topic. Apparently it is a topic covered by Dr. Eli Wald, an Israeli born professor of law at Denver College of Law, who at one point practiced at one of the big New York firms that presumably had Jewish origins.

While the article doesn’t mention it, part of the problem was not only that the firms didn’t want to hire Jews, but that clients often did not wish to have Jewish attorneys work on their cases. We’re talking about the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and even ’70s for some of these firms. Slowly but surely, however, the market changed and Jews, who often were compelled to form their own firms because they couldn’t find jobs at the best firms in town, were able to find areas of practice that were not areas of focus for the big firms and mined these specialties to develop into much larger firms. Slowly, the Jewish firms grew in prominence to rival the non-Jewish firms. It also turns out that as these specialty areas like litigation and bankruptcy became lucrative practices, that unspoken bigotry began to break down – apparently money spoke to the formerly closed-minded firms and when they wanted to bring in successful practitioners in these practices where they did not possess expertise or a pool of clients, they ended up hiring Jewish partners.

Once those walls had broken down, these firms began to evolve into what they are today where there seems to be no or very little bias in the legal marketplace and you can find Jewish and non-Jewish practitioners at both the historically Protestant firms as well as at the historically Jewish firms. The article points to Joseph Shenker, an ordained Orthodox Jewish rabbi, who is now the vice-Chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell, a pre-eminent firm and, as one can tell by its name, not one of the ‘Jewish firms.” These days, law firms get to focus on more important matters, such as how to market their business in an increasingly digital world. Many firms decide to go down the route of looking for Criminal Defense SEO help, which is seen as an effective, modern method of bringing a company into today’s digital stratosphere.

It’s a fascinating article and well worth the read. Here are some highlights:

Ezra G. Levin, co-chair of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel recalled that a classmate of his from Columbia Law School interviewed at a white-shoe firm in the late 1950s.

“It wasn’t possible to tell from the candidate’s name whether he was Jewish or not,” said Mr. Levin. The interviewing partner led the candidate into a conference room festooned with the seals of Ivy League universities and pointed to Yale’s insignia, which bears a Hebrew inscription.

“The partner wanted to know if he could read it,” said Mr. Levin.


According to Mr. [Eli] Wald, for the first half of the 20th century, the dominance of the New York corporate bar by the white-shoe, Wall Street firms was unquestioned, as were their hiring practices, which either excluded Jews, Catholics and other groups or severely restricted their numbers based on the belief that the “best men” came from privileged, Protestant backgrounds. Similar admission policies at top law schools ensured that the pool of candidates applying to elite firms from disfavored groups was small.


Mr. Wald, who interviewed 22 Jewish partners who joined large firms between 1945 and 1962, identifies Jewish firms by the predominance of Jews among their partners during the postwar period. Some of the firms, like Paul Weiss, actually had fairly mixed partnerships, he notes, while others, like the firm now known as Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, were heavily Jewish. Kaye Scholer; Stroock & Stroock & Lavan; Weil Gotshal; Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom [The Middle says: these are among the biggest and most successful firms in the US and Weil Gotshal and Skadden Arps can probably boast that they rank among the largest in the world] are other firms Mr. Wald says were once regarded as Jewish. Cahill Gordon & Reindel, he notes, was an analagous Catholic firm.

These firms, Mr. Wald notes, were generally willing to engage in practices that the white-shoe firms eschewed as undignified — litigation, bankruptcy and real estate. These became “protected practice arenas” for Jewish law firms, he said.

One of the lawyers interviewed by Mr. Wald described one Jewish firm as being headed by a real estate lawyer, who had also become wealthy as a real estate investor.

“Real estate was viewed as dirty work,” the lawyer told Mr. Wald. “And WASP lawyers didn’t get involved in real estate or developers either until they saw there was something worth happening in the area.”


even though Jewish lawyers actually comprised 60 percent of the city’s bar membership in 1960, these lawyers were overwhelmingly found in solo practices or small firms, comprising only 25 percent of lawyers at larger firms. By contrast, Protestant lawyers, who comprised only 18 percent of the bar, accounted for half of all large firm lawyers at the time.

and, describing how things began to change in the ’60s and ’70s:

“You sort of had no choice, even if at your heart you were racist,” one of Mr. Wald’s interviewees told him. “You had to understand that the economics of the business could no longer support your racism.”

But even if most of the white-shoe firms thrived [“firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Sullivan & Cromwell, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Shearman & Sterling], the Jewish firms achieved parity with the previously much-larger old-line firms between the 1960s and 1980s. Corporations’ appetite for legal services continued to grow and the established, white-shoe firms were too small to meet the demand on their own. Moreover, the Jewish law firms’ accumulated expertise in litigation, antitrust, bankruptcy and mergers and acquisitions gave them a competitive edge over the white-shoe firms for a considerable length of time.

and, incredibly,

Mr. Wald also points out that Jewish lawyers perversely benefited from what he calls “the flip side of bias.” He notes that the white-shoe ethos of the first half of the 20th century rejected most Jewish lawyers based on stereotypes of their being aggressive and money-grubbing. By the late 1960s, however, being aggressive and “maximizing profits” have become virtues at large firms, and Mr. Wald says he thinks Jewish lawyers were then able to benefit from the negative stereotype.

In some ways, it is amazing how the world has changed (even to the point where law firms can use the internet to draw in potential clients by using something like https://one-400.com/law-firm-webite-design), and yet in some other ways, as we can see from the Mearsheimer and Walt paper, some things are no different. In fact, the success and parity achieved by these lawyers merely makes them prospective targets of the M&W paper since they are now influential members of our society…and by extension, if they support Israel in any way, directly or even by indirectly supporting any Jewish organization that supports Israel, they would be considered members of the notorious, nefarious Mearsheimer and Walt’s “The Lobby.”

Now tell me you wouldn’t visit Broadway if you could attend a musical called Mearsheimer and Walt’s The Lobby.

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  • Oy, Middle. I worry about you. M&W have pervaded your consciousness just as surely as The Lobby has spread its infected fingers throughout our government….

    Interesting article. Certainly part of the story is bias; part of it, too, is the tribal quality of private firms. There’s always been a ‘good old boy’ element to it: you hire the guy who went to your law school and whose kids go to school with yours, and who you see on weekends at your church or synagogue. This has broken down as society generally has become increasingly integrated.

    If you went to BC High and Boston College and Boston College Law School in the ’50s, Jews were as exotic to you as Togolese. Now, even a nominally Catholic environment like BC Law has a substantial Jewish rep. in its student body. Thus, a non-Jew is now likely to study and socialize and, ultimately, share a law practice with his Jewish classmates.

    Prejudice and, equally, that tribal stuff is becoming a thing of the past.

    Another tribute to the insidious power of . . . THE LOBBY!!

  • Part of that is analogous to Jews’ involvement in usury during the middle ages and subsequent establishment of banking and real estate wealth.

  • “M&W have pervaded your consciousness just as surely as The Lobby has spread its infected fingers throughout our government”


    Tom, I’m glad you’re around.

    Tribal character is a fair assessment, I guess, and probably one that has broken down as much for Jewish lawyers as it has for all those nefarious Protestants at Sullivan & Cromwell.

    I am in agreement that there is far less prejudice and this “tribal stuff” going on in our present day America. I guess where W&M get me is that their work is the kind of stuff that brings back prejudices and rekindles the “tribal stuff.” I mean, if a single American soldier, much less the 2000 we’ve lost in Iraq plus 20,000 injured, is the fault of a particular tribe, wouldn’t that rekindle this type of animosity towards the group under discussion?

    Anyway, I found it interesting to see which firms were the “white shoe” firms and which were the “Jewish firms.” Was there a similar breakdown in Boston? Which firms in Boston, say, 30 or 40 years ago, would have been the Catholic, Protestant or Jewish firms?

  • It’s interesting that the same sort of thing happened with hospitals. Jewish doctors were victims of discrimination and quotas. They started their own hospitals. Those hospitals became some of the best and were reabsorbed into the mainstream.

  • Middle, the ethnic character of law firms back in the day was well-known to all. But generalizing along those lines now is much dicier. Certainly, most firms of any size in town today, lack an ethnic/religious identity.

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