White & Case LLP History
New York, New York 10036-2787
Telephone: (212) 819-8200
Fax: (212) 354-8113
Employees: 2,300 (est.)
Sales: $351.5 million (1998)
NAIC: 54111 Offices of Lawyers
- The firm is founded in New York City.
- White & Case is hired to help establish the Bankers Trust in New York.
- A Paris branch office is opened.
- The Paris office commences operations again after being shuttered during World War II.
- The firm's London office is opened.
- The Washington, D.C. office is opened.
- The Hong Kong office is established.
- James B. Hurlock is named managing partner.
- White & Case helps facilitate the deal in which Bankers Trust is sold to Deutsche Bank AG.
White & Case LLP is one of the largest law firms in the world and in November 1999 ranked fifth among the International Financial Law Review list of fastest growing firms in the world, based on its annual growth rate of about 20 percent. Unlike most American-based law firms, White & Case operates numerous overseas offices to meet its clients needs. Sending its associates abroad helped White & Case avoid layoffs in the early 1990s, when many other large law firms released both associates and even partners as a way to deal with the nation's economic slump. According to a spokesperson in White & Case literature: 'International practice in the foundation of our firm.' The firm counsels clients on taxation, litigation and other means of dispute resolution, acquisitions and mergers, privatization, disputes over intellectual property issues, and virtually all areas of the law. Thus White & Case plays a major role in the increasingly globalized economy of the 21st century.
Origins and Practice through the 1950s
The law firm of White & Case was founded in 1901 by Justin (J.) DuPratt White and George B. Case. White was born and raised in New York; he graduated from Cornell University in 1890 and was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1892. He would go on to become one of Cornell's distinguished alumni, and the university would later establish an honorary chair, known as the J. DuPratt White Professor of Law, at their law school. Case, on the other hand, was a graduate of Yale, where he studied law and also played baseball, reputedly inventing baseball's 'squeeze play' during his tenure on the Yale team. Both White and Case were well-connected socially and in business circles, and from the start their firm, which they established in New York City, was regarded as 'white shoe,' or formal and conservative.
In 1903 the partners gained an important client when they were employed to provide the legal counsel necessarily to establish the Bankers Trust Company. Bankers Trust was founded by J.P. Morgan and other prominent financiers to provide trust services to customers of state and national banks throughout the United States. Bankers Trust, later known as Bankers Trust New York Corporation, would remain the firm's single largest client in the decades ahead. Case, in particular, proved a valuable resource for J.P. Morgan, accompanying him and advising him during 1912 antitrust hearings with the House Banking and Currency subcommittee.
Though they boasted an influential, prosperous clientele, including Bankers Trust and U.S. Steel, White & Case grew slowly in work force during the prewar years. According to Hubbell's Legal Directory, the firm consisted of five lawyers in 1913. In 1926 the partnership opened its Paris office. Three years later White & Case had a work force of 14 lawyers. Unlike many businesses that declined or disappeared in the Great Depression of the 1930s, White & Case increased in size to include 21 lawyers by 1940, according to the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory.
Some of the companies represented by White & Case after World War II included Seagram's, Federal Paper Board, Detroit Edison, Heublein, and Lincoln National Life Insurance Company. With the death of White in 1939 and Case in 1955, the firm's key leader for years was Joseph M. Hartfield. Hartfield had been with White and Case since the early days, present on their work force roster in 1913. He was one of the first, and of only a few, Jewish attorneys to work on Wall Street during this time; he was also a colorful character, a flamboyant bachelor, known as the Colonel since his days as a young man in Kentucky. Recalling Hartfield's strengths during his tenure at White & Case, one attorney told author Paul Hoffman that Hartfield 'was the best damned business-getter I ever saw.' Hartfield died in 1964 at age 82.
Another key White & Case leader after World War II was Orison S. Marden. A prominent litigator, Marden became the head of the New York City and New York State bar associations, as well as the American Bar Association. In the 1960s Marden served on the committee that founded the Legal Aid Society, and he served as that society's chairman from 1970 to his death in 1975.
In 1960 White & Case expanded its international practice by reopening its office in Paris, which had closed for the duration of World War II. Moreover, in 1967 the firm opened a Brussels office in the home city of the European Community.
Challenges in the 1960s-70s
As it focused on its global expansion program, White & Case faced some challenges on the U.S. front in the 1960s. In September 1968 White & Case accepted National Student Marketing (NSM) Corporation as a new client. Founded in 1966, NSM was a new and rapidly growing company that had been unceremoniously dropped by its previous law firm, Covington and Burling, which alleged that NSM management had lied and acted unethically in their business dealings both before and after its 1968 initial public offering.
White & Case gave a new partner, Marion Jay Epley III, responsibility for NSM in 1969. In what author Joseph C. Goulden called 'the most celebrated case ever on the obligation of a securities lawyer,' Epley counseled NSM in its acquisition of three companies in 1969. In 1972 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Epley, White & Case, and other defendants for fraud and deceptions in their SEC acquisition filings. Specifically, Epley and White & Case were charged with failing to inform the SEC of NSM's unethical dealings. An out-of-court settlement in 1977 resulted in Epley being banned from any SEC work for six months, while White & Case agreed to various changes in their practice. 'The agreement ... amounted to a rare surrender of internal autonomy by an American law firm,' said Goulden, explaining 'A federal agency was telling lawyers how to conduct their profession.' This was the first time the firm or its lawyers had been disciplined since the firm's founding in 1901. Although the settlement cost White & Case almost $2 million, the damage to its reputation was also significant. Cherovsky, in his 1991 book, concluded, 'It cost the firm far more by way of prestige and standing than dollars expended.' In spite of the bad publicity, one White & Case attorney told Goulden, 'We keep growing at the same percentage rate every year.'
During this time, White & Case had fallen from its status as Wall Street's fourth largest firm to rank 18th, due in part to the NSM scandal. Other challenges to its ranking included the loss of some business; Seagram switched to another firm for its representation, and as Bankers Trust built up its own legal department they needed fewer services from its outside counsel.
In the 1970s White & Case opened new offices in London, Washington, D.C., and Hong Kong, its first Asian office. More women started entering the legal profession in the 1970s, and by 1980 White & Case had two women partners and 27 associates. In early 1981 the firm reported having no African Americans among its attorneys but that summer hired its first, two black female associates.
In the late 1970s, White & Case, along with several other law firms, played an important role in the release of the U.S. hostages in Iran. The crisis occurred during the Carter Administration, when Moslem fundamentalists took over the government of Iran and soon took 52 Americans hostage in the capitol of Teheran. President Carter froze Iranian deposits in American banks, while huge American bank loans to Iranian entities were in danger. In 1980, after Carter failed to gain the release of the American hostages through military force, 12 law firms representing 12 large American banks began negotiations of their own with Iranian government officials and the German lawyers representing Iranian banks. Among the group of 12 law firms, Shearman & Sterling represented Citibank; Milbank Tweed represented Chase Manhattan Bank; and White & Case represented its long term client Bankers Trust. For nine months they labored to find a behind-the-scenes solution to the financial and hostage crisis. President Carter's decision to finally unfreeze the Iranian accounts in American banks, as well as the long, difficult negotiations on the part of the 12 American law firms with the Iranians, eventually resulted in the release of the hostages on January 20, 1981, shortly after President Reagan's inauguration.
Expansion under James Hurlock in the 1980s-90s
Rapid expansion at White & Case ensued in the 1980s; the firm's number of lawyers increased from 169 in 1986 to 304 in 1990, an 80 percent increase in just four years. Meanwhile, the firm's gross revenues rose from $77 million in 1986 to $144 million in 1989. White & Case associate starting salaries rose from $66,000 in 1986 to $83,000 in 1990, part of a general trend as law firms competed for new law school graduates. White & Case recruited most of its new associates from the law schools of Harvard, Columbia, and New York University, according to Cherovsky's study of New York law firms.
Such rapid expansion by White & Case and other large law firm was influenced by two events in the late 1970s. First, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that professional societies could not restrict advertising because that represented a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. Soon, more lawyers, dentists, and other professionals began advertising just like other businessmen. Second, the field of legal journalism changed with the start of The National Law Journal and The American Lawyer. Their articles on law firm management and finances provided crucial data so that experienced lawyers had comparative data about rival law firms, thus leading to a huge increase in lateral hiring, rising salaries, and a loss of law firm collegiality.
Thus White & Case's increased lawyer count was matched by its opening of numerous new offices in the 1980s, many of them overseas. The Singapore and Stockholm offices were opened in 1983, followed by Ankara and Istanbul offices in 1985; Los Angeles in 1986; Tokyo and Miami in 1987; and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1989.
Elected in 1980 as the managing partner at White & Case, James Hurlock oversaw this massive foreign expansion. 'His personal success in representing the central bank of Indonesia and later the central banks of Turkey, Gabon, Zaire, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras persuaded him to emphasize building up White & Case's overseas branches,' wrote Cherovsky, who noted that 'Under Hurlock's leadership White & Case has transformed itself into a modern firm. It seeks top talent from all quarters, broader fields of expertise and an expanded client base while it encourages and rewards hard work and business productivity.' Cherovsky concluded that 'although this approach has placed the firm on the upswing, it still has not regained the standing it once enjoyed.'
As more multinational corporations expanded their overseas operations, law firms chose different ways to serve their clients. A few like White & Case opened many overseas branches. Other firms opted to build up their U.S. offices and spend more money for their lawyers to travel abroad, relying on advanced telecommunications and a few key foreign offices. Another strategy was to join alliances or networks of independent law firms.
White & Case continued to cultivate a work force of popular and influential attorneys. In 1989, White & Case hired a new partner, U.S. Attorney from Manhattan Rudy Guliani. Guliani did not stay long at White & Case, however, leaving soon thereafter to join another firm; he was later elected Mayor of New York City.
White & Case's largest client in the early 1990s remained Bankers Trust, although that company's percentage of the law firm's revenues fell from earlier highs of 20 to 25 percent to around ten percent. Other clients included U.S. Steel, Prudential, Aetna, Cigna, General Electric, General Electric Credit Corporation, as well as the governments of Indonesia and Turkey, and Germany's Deutsche Bank, which it counseled in that firm's purchase, for $10.1 billion, of Bankers Trust in 1998.
In spite of the economic downturn in the early 1990s, White & Case continued to grow rapidly. It opened 17 new offices in the 1990s, including facilities in Prague, Helsinki, Bangkok, Saudi Arabia, Hanoi, and Johannesburg, the latter making White & Case the only American law firm with a South African presence. In turn, some of the new foreign offices expanded rapidly. For example, the Bangkok office grew from its inception in 1993 to employ 35 lawyers by March 2000. With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union, White & Case offices in those areas grew rapidly. The Warsaw office grew to 36 lawyers between its origin in 1991 and March 2000.
As its worldwide presence increased, White & Case aided in the expansion of the globalized economy and gained new opportunities as local markets began looking outward. For example, from 1998 to 2000 the German legal market went 'from an insular business--German law firms often confined their sphere to a single city in Germany&mdashø one that recognizes the legal profession's role in a globalizing profession,' according to White & Case's yearly review dated March 2000.
Statistics clarified the huge expansion project at White & Case in the 1990s. The firm tripled its number of attorneys, from 304 in 1990 to 1,025 in 2000. Its gross revenues increased from $144 million in 1989 to $318 million in 1997, which ranked it as the nation's 15th largest law firm, according to The American Lawyer of July/August 1998. The firm ranked 16th based on its 1998 gross revenues of $351 million, said The American Lawyer in July 1999.
As the economy recovered and then boomed with the startup and rapid growth of many high-tech and Internet companies, White & Case decided to build up its intellectual property (IP) practice, especially after two of its partners left the firm to establish IP practices for rival firms. In 1999, for example, White & Case opened its Palo Alto office to better serve Silicon Valley clients. It also strengthened its IP capabilities in London, where it became 'the first full service US law firm to recruit an entire IP department staffed by English-law qualified practitioners,' according to the September 1999 issue of Managing Intellectual Property.
On April 1, 2000, Managing Partner James Hurlock retired after serving since 1980 as the head of White & Case. Elected unanimously as the new managing partner, Duane Wall promised to continue emphasizing the firm's international practice. Unlike most American law firms, White & Case stationed about half its 1,000 plus lawyers overseas. 'Our primary goal remains having the capability to represent clients whenever and wherever they need us, regardless of geographic, cultural or jurisdictional differences,' said Wall in the February 23, 2000 Financial Times.
White & Case opened new overseas offices in Manama and Beijing in 2000. Although it faced tough competition from other large firms, including London's Clifford Chance with about 3,000 attorneys, White & Case continued to focus on expansion as it headed into a new millennium. Once known as a fairly formal, conservative, Wall Street icon, in going global White & Case had also reportedly loosened up its corporate culture somewhat. Those involved in the process of interviewing prospective new lawyers at White & Case reported being less interested in Ivy League credentials than in a candidate's leadership qualities, foreign language proficiencies, and potential for generating new business for the firm.
Principal Competitors: Shearman & Sterling; Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue; Clifford Chance; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
- Cherovsky, Erwin, 'White & Case,' in The Guide to New York Law Firms, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991, pp. 217-221.
- Eaglesham, Jean, 'Wall Elected Managing Partner of White & Case,' Financial Times (London), February 23, 2000, p. 18.
- Fennell, Edward, 'That First Foot and the Right Door,' The Times (London), February 1, 2000.
- Forster, Richard, 'New York Firms Seek the World's Business,' International Financial Law Review, December 1997, pp. 36-39.
- Goulden, Joseph C., The Million Dollar Lawyers, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1977, pp. 151-188.
- Hoffman, Paul, Lions of the Eighties: The Inside Story of the Powerhouse Law Firms, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982.
- 'J. DuPratt White: Rockland County, New York, Legacy,' South of the Mountains, April 1972.
- Spar, Debora L., 'Lawyers Abroad: The Internationalization of Legal Practice,' California Management Review, Spring 1997, pp. 8-28.
- 'US Firm Shakes Up London IP Scene,' Managing Intellectual Property, September 1999, p. 10.
- 'White & Case: Colombian Government Sues Ecuadorean Bank in Miami to Recover $64 Million in Public Monies That Vanished,' Business Wire, September 9, 1999, p. 1.
- 'White & Case,' Vault.com: The Insider Career Network, www. vault.com.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 35. St. James Press, 2001.