White Shoe: How a New Breed of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business and the American Century

John Oller. Dutton, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-1-524743-25-3
Oller (The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution), a retired partner from the New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, makes the history of such firms surprisingly fascinating in this nuanced look at how their formation and development during the Progressive Era (1890–1916) “led to the creation of a new organizational society” in the United States. Relying on a variety of sources, including oral histories, judicial decisions, and congressional hearings, Oller traces the origins of the “white shoe” law firm back to the 1890s, when law firms shifted from employing clerks with no legal training to hiring skilled graduates from the nation’s top law schools. With the increase in the number, complexity, and size of corporations, lawyers were needed less as courtroom advocates than as practical businessmen able to negotiate disputes with rivals or the government. Oller shows how lawyers’ influence extended well beyond corporate boardrooms; the book’s most interesting section delineates the pivotal role that attorney William Cromwell played in the building of the Panama Canal, which may have included inciting Panama’s revolt against Colombia. Oller doesn’t shy away from detailing early corporate lawyers’ role as tools of monopolistic robber barons, or the endemic prejudice against Jewish lawyers. That balance makes this a valuable addition to the literature on America’s transformation during the Gilded Age. Agent: Jim Donovan, Jim Donovan Literary. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 01/16/2019
Release date: 03/19/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-1-5247-4327-7
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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