Lawyer or attorneys practice in a variety of fields, including family law, commercial law, personal injury, criminal defense, and others.

What is a White Shoe Law Firm?: Unveiling the Enigma

White Shoe Law Firm

Have you ever come across the term “white shoe law firm” and wondered what it means? Well, you’re not alone! In the complex and dynamic world of law, various terminologies might leave you scratching your head. 

what is a white-shoe law firm

In this blog post, we will unravel the mystery behind the phrase “white shoe law firm” and explore its historical significance and modern-day implications. So, what is a white shoe law firm, you ask? Brace yourself, as we delve into the essence of this prestigious legal tradition, demystify its origins, and shed light on its enduring influence in the legal landscape.

why is it called a white-shoe law firm

A white-shoe firm, by definition, refers to prestigious professional services firms historically associated with the upper-class elite who graduated from Ivy League colleges. This term is primarily utilized to characterize prominent old-line law firms, Wall Street financial institutions, and accounting firms that boast a century-old legacy, typically located in the urban hubs of New York City and Boston.

What is the origin of the term ‘white-shoe firm’?

The term “white-shoe firm” traces its origins back to the unique white buckskin shoes that were a hallmark of Ivy League undergraduates during the 20th century.

It was first used in the 1950s and is derived from “white bucks,” which were laced suede or buckskin derby shoes, usually with a red sole, popular among Ivy League college students. The phrase “white-shoe firm” was used to describe prestigious professional services firms that have been traditionally associated with the upper-class elite who graduated from Ivy League colleges.

Historically, the term carried antisemitic undertones, as many of the New York firms referred to as “white-shoe” were seen as not welcoming to Jewish lawyers until the 1960s.

However, over time, the phrase “white shoe law firm meaning” has shed much of its original connotation and has come to be used more broadly to describe firms perceived as prestigious or of high quality. The term’s early usage can be traced back to J.D. Salinger’s novel “Franny and Zooey” (1957), where it appears as “white-shoe college boys,” as noted by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Additionally, in a 1958 Fortune article by Spencer Klaw, certain firms were described as having a preference for young men listed in the Social Register. These firms were referred to as “white-shoe outfits,” a term derived from the buckskin shoes that were once part of the standard attire at specific eastern prep schools and colleges.

Characteristics of White-Shoe Firms

White-shoe firms are known for their long-standing reputation, conservative approach, and association with the upper class. They are often characterized by their exclusivity, traditional values, and cautious way of operating.

While the term originated in the Ivy League colleges and initially reflected a stereotype of old-line firms populated by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), it has evolved. Today, it is sometimes used in a derogatory manner to denote stodginess, elitism, or a lack of diversity.

White shoe law firms possess certain distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from other law firms. These include:

1. Longevity and Prestige: White-shoe law firms have a rich history and are regarded as institutions within the legal profession.

2. Exceptional Legal Talent: These firms attract some of the brightest legal minds who have graduated from top law schools and possess extensive experience.

3. Broad Range of Practice Areas: White shoe law firms offer a wide array of legal services across multiple practice areas, including corporate law, litigation, intellectual property, and more.

4. High-Profile Clientele: These firms represent powerful clientele such as Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, high-net-worth people, and international organizations.

5. Global Reach: Many white-shoe law firms have a global presence with offices in major cities around the world, allowing them to serve clients on an international scale.

6. Commitment to Excellence: White shoe law firms maintain a culture of excellence, emphasizing meticulous attention to detail, thorough research, and zealous advocacy for their clients.

Read More – What is a Boutique Law Firm?

list of white-shoe law firms

While there are numerous prominent white shoe law firms, some of the most notable ones include:

  1. Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
  2. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
  3. Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP
  4. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
  5. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
  6. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
  7. Latham & Watkins LLP
  8. Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
  9. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
  10. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP

Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and there are other reputable white shoe law firms as well.

Importance of White Shoe Law Firm

White-shoe law firms are important in the legal scene for various reasons:

Legal Expertise: These firms have highly skilled lawyers who have extensive knowledge and skills in numerous areas of law, allowing them to efficiently handle difficult legal situations.

Credibility and Reputation: Clients who hire a white-shoe law firm benefit from the firm’s flawless reputation and credibility, which can have a substantial impact on the result of their legal matters.

Access to Resources: White-shoe law firms have substantial resources at their disposal, including extensive research libraries, advanced technology, and networks of experts, enabling them to provide comprehensive legal solutions.

Influence and Connections: These firms often have strong ties with key stakeholders, including judges, regulators, and other influential individuals, which can be advantageous for their clients.

Precedent-Setting Cases: White shoe law firms have a history of handling precedent-setting cases that shape legal principles and have far-reaching impacts.

How do I become a partner at a white-shoe law firm?

Becoming a partner at a prestigious law firm, often referred to as a “white-shoe” firm, presents a formidable and competitive journey. Typically, this process spans 5 to 7 years within American law firms. To attain partnership, one must showcase outstanding legal expertise, business savvy, and the ability to both attract new clients and bolster the firm’s standing.

The path to becoming a white-shoe lawyer doesn’t follow a set route. However, most individuals in this field have attended Ivy League institutions and gained experience at other respected law firms before securing a position at a white-shoe firm.

Upon joining a white-shoe law firm, your journey typically commences as an associate, gradually progressing toward partnership over several years. During this period, your responsibilities will include honing your legal skills, fostering client relationships, and demonstrating your value to the firm.

Becoming a partner at a white-shoe law firm offers substantial rewards to those who rise to the occasion. Nevertheless, it demands significant hard work, unwavering dedication, and a high level of skill to achieve success.

white shoe law firm partner salary

According to a source, a junior partner at a white-shoe law firm can expect to make as much as $1 million in total compensation. Another source reports that each equity partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, the richest of the lot, raked in $7.5m in 2020.

It’s important to note that partner salaries can vary widely depending on the firm, the region, and other factors. However, it’s clear that partners at white-shoe law firms are among the highest-paid lawyers in the industry

What is it like to be a partner at a White Shoe law firm?

Becoming a partner at a white-shoe law firm offers a mix of challenges and rewards. These firms are synonymous with their enduring prestige, conservative practices, and close ties to the upper echelons of society. They are often marked by their exclusivity, adherence to traditional values, and a meticulous approach to their operations.

Partners at these esteemed law firms typically represent a cadre of highly skilled and seasoned attorneys who have showcased remarkable legal prowess and business acumen. Their responsibilities encompass the management of the firm’s day-to-day affairs, supervision of associates and fellow attorneys, and the cultivation of new business prospects.

Compensation for partners at white-shoe law firms often scales to impressive heights, with annual salaries that can reach into the millions. Nevertheless, the role can be demanding, characterized by long hours and substantial stress levels.

Partners are expected to remain accessible to clients around the clock and demonstrate the ability to deftly handle intricate legal matters with speed and precision.

In summary, ascending to the position of partner at a white-shoe law firm can yield substantial rewards for those who rise to the occasion. However, it’s a role not suited for everyone, demanding an abundance of hard work, unwavering dedication, and a high level of skill to thrive in this prestigious realm.

Read more – How To Manage A Small Law Firm Reviews

White Shoe Law Firm vs. Boutique Law Firm

White-shoe law firms are known for their prestige, linked traditionally to the upper-class elite who graduated from Ivy League schools. They stand out due to their exclusivity, adherence to traditional values, and cautious approach. These firms, often situated in places like New York City and Boston, usually have a century-old history.

In contrast, boutique law firms are smaller and specialize in specific areas of law or client types. They offer more flexibility and a personalized touch compared to their larger counterparts. While boutique firms may be more cost-effective, they might not possess the same resources or breadth of expertise.

The choice between a white shoe and a boutique law firm depends on your unique needs and preferences. If you prioritize prestige, a long-standing reputation, and exclusivity, a white-shoe firm may be the right fit.

On the other hand, if you favor a more personalized, specialized, and potentially cost-effective approach, a boutique law firm could be the better choice for you.

Industries Served by White-Shoe Law Firms

White shoe law firm caters to clients across various industries, including:

  1. Banking and Finance
  2. Technology and Telecommunications
  3. Energy and Natural Resources
  4. Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals
  5. Media and Entertainment
  6. Real Estate and Construction
  7. Manufacturing and Consumer Goods
  8. Transportation and Logistics

Notable Cases Handled by White-Shoe Law Firms

White shoe law firms have been involved in several high-profile and influential cases throughout history. Some noteworthy examples include:

1. Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP represented the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in this landmark case that led to the desegregation of public schools in the United States.

2. United States v. Microsoft Corp. (2001): Sullivan & Cromwell LLP represented Microsoft in this antitrust lawsuit, which had significant implications for the technology industry.

3. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010): Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP played a key role in this Supreme Court case that expanded the rights of corporations in political spending.

These examples highlight the impact of white-shoe law firms on legal precedents and social change.

Do lawyers at white-shoe firms wear white shoes on the job?

The term white-shoe firm is not a reference to the footwear worn by lawyers at these firms. Rather, it is a term used to describe prestigious professional services firms that have been traditionally associated with the upper-class elite who graduated from Ivy League colleges. The phrase “white-shoe firm” was first used in the 1950s and is derived from “white bucks,” which were laced suede or buckskin derby shoes, usually with a red sole, popular among Ivy League college students.

While some lawyers at white-shoe firms might wear white shoes on the job, no dress code requires them to do so. Most law firms have a dress code that requires lawyers to dress professionally but does not specify the color of their shoes.


White Shoe Law Firm represents the epitome of legal excellence and prestige. With their rich history, exceptional legal talent, and high-profile clientele, these firms continue to shape the legal landscape and handle significant cases that impact society.

As the legal industry evolves, white shoe law firms must adapt to emerging trends and challenges while maintaining their commitment to excellence and client service.


Q1: Why are law firms called white shoes?

Law firms are called white shoes due to the traditional practice of lawyers wearing white shoes, symbolizing their conservative and prestigious nature.

Q2: How much do you get paid at the white shoe firm?

Compensation at white shoe firms varies but is generally high, with salaries ranging from six figures for junior associates to millions for partners.

Q3: Is PWC a white shoe firm?

No, PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) is not typically considered a white-shoe law firm. The term is primarily associated with elite, long-established law firms with prestigious clientele and a focus on corporate law.

Q4: Are white shoe law firms involved in pro bono work?

Many white shoe law firms have active pro bono programs and contribute their legal expertise to serve disadvantaged individuals and communities.

Q5: Are white shoe law firms more expensive than other law firms?

White-shoe law firms tend to have higher billing rates due to their reputation and expertise. However, the cost may vary depending on the specific firm and the nature of the legal matter.

Q6: What is the origin of the term “white shoe law firm”?

The term “white-shoe” originated from the old-fashioned footwear that was associated with the elites. It signifies the prestigious and elite nature of these law firms.