Jewish American Heritage Month celebrates the generations of Jewish Americans whose accomplishments continue to leave a lasting mark on the American story. With contributions throughout the military, science, government, and popular culture, Jewish Americans continue to help weave the ever strengthened and esteemed fabric of our nation.
This year, for Jewish American Heritage Month, we turn our attention to a topic that is near and dear to our hearts: the history and growth of law firms founded in part by Jewish Americans, including our very own Goulston & Storrs.
Goulston & Storrs was founded in 1900 by Edward S. Goulston and Leslie K. Storrs at 17 Milk Street in Boston. Leopold Morse Goulston, Edward’s younger brother, was also instrumental in the firm’s early history.
To say that the Goulstons were a prominent Jewish family in nineteenth century Boston would be an understatement. Edward and Leopold’s father, Edward Goulston Sr., emigrated to America in 1846 at the age of 10 from Liverpool, England. He became a successful tobacco merchant, whom the Boston Globe reported to be the largest commission merchant of leaf tobacco in Boston. Storrs was not Jewish and came from a Yankee family with deep roots in Connecticut.
During the early 1900s, the practice of law as a profession was developing and large law firms did not exist. The typical partnership was a two-person affair, such as that between Goulston and Storrs. Through the 1920s, a firm of four lawyers was considered large and by the late 1960s, large firms meant 100 lawyers. It is not clear whether the partnership between Jewish Goulston and non-Jewish Storrs was unusual at the time, but rising anti-Semitism fueled by Nazi propaganda in the 1930s spilled into the United States, making Jewish people and professionals the targets of violence, discrimination, and professional exclusion.
With a “gentleman’s agreement,” cordon of bigotry, and antisemitism blocking them, excluded Jewish lawyers began starting their own firms out of necessity.
Though intending the opposite, the discriminatory recruitment and promotion practices of other firms facilitated the growth and success of Jewish firms because the discrimination was so successfully enforced. Jewish firms had no competition for the top Jewish graduates of law schools. And after Jewish lawyers were hired by other firms, the Jewish firms benefited from lateral transfers of senior Jewish associates from other firms, who saw they would never be accepted into the upper echelon of partnership.
Another factor contributing to the success of Jewish law firms was that Jewish law firms were willing to engage in practices that the other firms eschewed as undignified — litigation, bankruptcy, and real estate. These became “protected practice arenas” for Jewish law firms.
By the mid-1960s, Jewish firms attained elite status, and accounted for six of the twenty largest law firms in New York City. By 1980, four of the ten largest firms were Jewish. The number of established Jewish law firms and practicing attorneys grew at an outstanding and rapid pace.
The continued success of Jewish attorneys in America – in firms of every stripe – is a testament to what the fabric of this country represents: that the union of our cultures and perspectives makes this nation truly unique, and that opportunity exists for all through hard work, determination, and perseverance. This Jewish American Heritage Month, we reflect on our founders and the journey they pursued to pave the way for the collaborative firm we are today.