If you are interested in the legal profession, you may have heard the term “white shoe law firm” and wondered what it means.
In this article, we will explain the origin, meaning, and characteristics of white shoe law firms, as well as some examples of famous white shoe law firms in the United States and other countries.
What is the origin of the term white shoe law firm?
The term white shoe law firm dates back to the early 20th century when white shoes were a symbol of wealth and privilege among the upper-class men who attended Ivy League universities and joined elite social clubs.
These men often wore white shoes with their suits, especially in the summer months, to distinguish themselves from the lower-class workers who wore black or brown shoes.
White shoes also represented a conservative and traditional style of dress and behavior, which was associated with the prestigious law firms that these men founded or joined.
These law firms catered to the needs of large corporations and wealthy individuals and maintained a high level of professionalism, discretion, and exclusivity.
The term white shoe law firm was popularized by John O’Hara, a novelist and journalist who wrote about the social elite of New York City in the 1930s and 1940s.
He used the term to describe the law firms that employed or represented his characters, such as Davis Polk & Wardwell, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
What are the characteristics of a white shoe law firm?
Although the term white shoe law firm is not officially defined or regulated, it generally refers to a law firm that has the following characteristics:
- It is old, well-established, and prestigious. Most white shoe law firms have been in existence for over a century, and have a long history of serving prominent clients and handling landmark cases. They often have a strong reputation and influence in the legal industry and society at large.
- It is large, global, and diversified. White shoe law firms typically have hundreds or thousands of lawyers across multiple offices in major cities around the world. They offer a wide range of legal services, covering various practice areas and industries. They also have extensive networks and connections with other elite institutions, such as banks, corporations, governments, and universities.
- It is selective, competitive, and demanding. White shoe law firms are known for their high standards of hiring, training, and retaining their lawyers. They only recruit the best graduates from top law schools, and provide them with rigorous mentoring and development programs. They also expect their lawyers to work long hours, produce high-quality work, and adhere to strict ethical codes.
- It is profitable, prestigious, and powerful. White shoe law firms charge high fees for their services, and generate huge revenues and profits. They also enjoy a high status and recognition in the legal market and beyond. They often represent influential clients in complex and high-profile cases, and have a significant impact on the development of laws and policies.
What are some examples of white shoe law firms?
There is no definitive list of white shoe law firms, as different sources may have different criteria or opinions on which firms qualify as such. However, some of the most commonly cited examples of white shoe law firms in the United States are:
- Cravath, Swaine & Moore
- Davis Polk & Wardwell
- Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom
- Sullivan & Cromwell
- Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz
These firms are often referred to as the “Big Five” or the “Wall Street Five”, as they are based in New York City and have strong ties with the financial sector.
Other examples of white-shoe law firms in the United States include:
- Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
- Covington & Burling
- Debevoise & Plimpton
- Gibson Dunn & Crutcher
- Kirkland & Ellis
- Latham & Watkins
- Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison
- Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
- Weil Gotshal & Manges
White shoe law firms are not exclusive to the United States.
There are also similar firms in other countries that share some of the characteristics of white shoe law firms. For example:
- Allen & Overy
- Clifford Chance
- Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
- Slaughter and May
These firms are known as the “Magic Circle” in the United Kingdom, as they are considered to be the most prestigious and elite law firms in the country.
Other examples of white shoe law firms in other countries include:
- Blake Cassels & Graydon
- Herbert Smith Freehills
- King & Wood Mallesons
- Nishimura & Asahi
White shoe law firm is a term that describes an old, well-established, and prestigious law firm that usually represents large corporations and wealthy individuals. The term originated from the white shoes worn by the upper-class men who attended Ivy League universities and joined elite law firms in the early 20th century. White shoe law firms are characterized by their size, global reach, diversity, selectivity, competitiveness, profitability, status, and influence. There are many examples of white shoe law firms in the United States and other countries, but there is no definitive list or criteria for identifying them.