What is a 'White-Shoe Firm'

White-shoe firm is a slang term for the most prestigious firms in professions such as law, investment banking and management consulting. White-shoe firms typically have a blue-chip clientele, acquired over the several decades that they have been in existence. The term is believed to have been derived from the "white buck" suede oxford shoes that were popular among certain sections of the student population at Yale and other Ivy League colleges during the 1950s. Although the term initially referred to leading U.S. firms such as J.P. Morgan or Goldman Sachs (banking), Cravath, Swaine & Moore (law) and McKinsey & Company (management consulting), its usage has expanded to denote top-tier firms in most countries.

BREAKING DOWN 'White-Shoe Firm'

Although white-shoe U.S. firms in relatively stable businesses such as law and management consulting have managed to thrive over the decades, those in the investment banking business have struggled to retain their independence in the face of sweeping change and challenges in recent years. Over the years, a number of white-shoe investment banking firms in the U.S. have been acquired by bigger rivals — thereby becoming victims of their own success — while a few others have gone out of business. The global financial crisis of 2008 claimed several long-standing white-shoe firms in the areas of investment banking and financial services.

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