Davis Polk

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Davis Polk
Davis Polk logo.svg
Headquarters450 Lexington Avenue
New York City
No. of offices10
No. of attorneys980 (2020)[1]
Major practice areas
  • Capital markets
  • Corporate/M&A
  • Financial services regulation
  • Investment management
  • Private equity
  • Litigation
  • Insolvency/restructuring
  • Antitrust
  • Credit/financing
  • Tax
Key peopleNeil Barr, Managing Partner
RevenueIncrease $1.77 billion (2020)[1]
Date founded1849; 174 years ago (1849)
Company typeLimited liability partnership
At the offices of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP in New York, New York.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, better known as Davis Polk is a white-shoe, international law firm headquartered in New York City with 980 attorneys worldwide and offices in Washington, D.C., Northern California, London, Madrid, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, and São Paulo. The firm has consistently been recognized as a global leader in banking & financial services as well as in capital markets.[2]


Davis Polk traces its origin to a one-man practice in Manhattan opened by a 21-year-old lawyer, Francis N. Bangs. The firm changed its name several times to account for new partners, using names such as Bangs & Stetson; Bangs, Stetson, Tracey & MacVeagh, and Stetson, Jennings & Russell. Towards the end of the 19th century, J. P. Morgan hired Francis Stetson, then name partner of the firm, as his chief counsel. During Stetson's tenure, the firm helped Morgan to restructure the Pennsylvania Railroad as well as create General Electric. The modern incarnations of Morgan's business, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, have remained key clients of the firm. Among other high-profile lawyers, President Grover Cleveland served as a member of the firm during the interval between his two non-consecutive presidential terms.[3]

The firm was located at 15 Broad Street from around 1889 to 1962, and then at One Chase Manhattan Plaza until 1992. The firm voted in 1967 to take its current name from three of the firm's most influential partners from the early-to-mid 20th century: John W. Davis, Frank Polk, and Allen Wardwell.

In 1935, In response to the Glass–Steagall Act of 1932, the firm performed the legal work to spin off the investment banking arm of J.P. Morgan & Co., which became known as Morgan Stanley.

In 1938, the firm represented Erie Railroad in the landmark case Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), in which Justice Louis Brandeis introduced the Erie doctrine.

In 1952, John W. Davis represented U.S. Steel and successfully challenged the constitutionality of President Harry S. Truman's attempted takeover of the company in a famous case that has been referenced by most legal scholars today to assess executive power (see Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952)).

In 1962, the firm opened its first overseas office in Paris.

In 1971, Lydia Kess was the first woman to be promoted to partner, becoming the second female partner at a major Wall Street law firm.[4]

In 1981, the firm played an important role in negotiating the financial aspects of the resolution of the Iranian hostage crisis.

In 1998, the firm advised Exxon on its $81 billion merger with Mobil, the largest merger in history at the time.

In 2000, the firm advised its long-term client, J.P. Morgan & Co., on its merger with Chase Manhattan Bank to form JPMorgan Chase.

From 1999 to 2010, the firm worked on the initial public offerings of United Parcel Service, AT&T Wireless, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Visa Inc., General Motors and Agricultural Bank of China, some of the largest IPOs in history.

During the financial crisis of 2007–2008, the firm represented many government clients, including the United States Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the firm had important roles in the AIG, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and Citigroup matters, as well as in the drafting of the Dodd–Frank Act.[5][6]

In 2009, to bolster its financial regulatory practice, the firm hired three former Securities and Exchange Commission officials: Commissioner Annette Nazareth, Director of Enforcement Linda Chatman Thomsen, and Deputy Director of Trading and Markets Robert Colby—as well as former White House Staff Secretary Raul Yanes and former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation General Counsel John Douglas.[7]

Controversy about race relations[edit]

John W. Davis's legal career is most remembered for his final appearance before the Supreme Court, in which he unsuccessfully defended the "separate but equal" doctrine in Briggs v. Elliott, a companion case to Brown v. Board of Education. Davis, as a defender of racial segregation and state control of education, argued that South Carolina had shown good faith in attempting to eliminate any inequality between black and white schools and should be allowed to continue to do so without judicial intervention.[8] He expected to win, most likely through a divided Supreme Court, even after the matter was re-argued after the death of Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson. After the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against his client's position, he returned the $25,000 (equivalent to $300,000 in 2021),[9] that he had received from South Carolina, although he was not required to do so, but kept a silver tea service that had been presented to him.[10] It has also been reported that he never charged South Carolina in the first place.[11] He declined to participate further in the case, as he did not wish to be involved in the drafting of decrees to implement the Court's decision.[10]

In Guinn v. United States, as Solicitor General, while he argued against the legality of the “grandfather clause”, he conceded the legality of the literacy tests, which was used to disenfranchise African Americans and others.[12][13][14]

Notable attorneys and alumni[edit]

Current attorneys[edit]

Among its current partners and counsel are:

Former attorneys[edit]


Elected office[edit]

Law enforcement and financial regulation[edit]

Other government service[edit]


Media and entertainment[edit]



In March 2007, Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) awarded Davis Polk its Heroes Honors 25th Anniversary Award for the corporate pro bono work the firm has done on the organization's behalf.[26] In October 2008, a Davis Polk team working with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund won a $4.6 million judgment[27] on behalf of immigrant workers who were being paid below the statutory minimum wage by their employer, a popular Manhattan restaurant.[28]

In 2010, Davis Polk was ranked third in Revenue per Lawyer by the American Lawyer's top 100 National Firms.[29] In 2012 and 2013, Davis Polk was named America's Law Firm of the Year by the International Financial Law Review.[30]

The firm placed 15th on The American Lawyer's 2021 AmLaw 200 ranking,[1] and, on the 2021 Global 200 survey, Davis Polk ranked as the 20th highest grossing law firm in the world.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Davis Polk". Law.com.
  2. ^ "Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP". Vault. Vault.
  3. ^ Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, p.450.
  4. ^ Lat, David (January 5, 2012). "Oy Vey! Milbank Mistakenly Touts 'Only Orthodox Jewish Woman Partner' in Biglaw". Above the Law.
  5. ^ Lat, David (September 18, 2008). "Davis Polk: Making Bank". Above the Law.
  6. ^ "For Davis Polk, Dodd–Frank Pays" (PDF).
  7. ^ Scannell, Kara (April 13, 2009). "Davis Polk Recruits Ex-SEC Aide". The Wall Street Journal.
  8. ^ Mary Maruca Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site page 12 https://books.google.nl/books?id=xZJmJcHYnP0C&pg=PA12&lpg=PA12&dq=%22Briggs+v.+Elliott%22+%22john+davis%22&source=bl&ots=u3vlM-ruxW&sig=ACfU3U2ZxLrm1v44ugHL05fZQT9rKeeXhQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjYloX7mqTqAhXF0aQKHfDIDToQ6AEwBXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Briggs%20v.%20Elliott%22%20%22john%20davis%22&f=false
  9. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved April 16, 2022.
  10. ^ a b Kluger, Richard (1976). Simple Justice: the History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle For Equality. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-47289-6.
  11. ^ Harbaugh, William Henry (1973). Lawyer's Lawyer: the Life of John W. Davis. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. pp. 507. ISBN 0-19-501699-8.
  12. ^ Joe Patrice E Davis Polk Is Named After A Segregationist… Perhaps It’s Time To Consider A New Name 17 January 2020 https://abovethelaw.com/2020/06/davis-polk-is-named-after-a-segregationist-perhaps-its-time-to-consider-a-new-name/
  13. ^ Lisa G. Materson For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932 page 132 https://books.google.nl/books?id=GjGim031-CMC&pg=PA132&lpg=PA132&dq=Guinn+v+United+States+%22John+davis%22&source=bl&ots=Rf6APTXWQe&sig=ACfU3U1CTYtUoqKcUCn65hXwwHiGuvKXjw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi64POQmaTqAhVC-qQKHZ-qAyMQ6AEwAXoECAYQAQ#v=onepage&q=Guinn%20v%20United%20States%20%22John%20davis%22&f=falsee
  14. ^ Bob Navarro Solicitors General of the United States page 31 https://books.google.nl/books?id=0oy3DwAAQBAJ&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=%22Guinn+v+United+States%22+%22John+davis%22&source=bl&ots=CHu5t72Zvo&sig=ACfU3U18iCbXT1L1LwLXlJbFfcBxcIWzZw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwizpa3AmqTqAhVmMOwKHReiDYoQ6AEwAHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Guinn%20v%20United%20States%22%20%22John%20davis%22&f=false
  15. ^ Lattman, Peter (July 29, 2011). "Davis Polk Lawyer Nominated for Federal Bench". The New York Times.(subscription required)
  16. ^ LUBASCH, ARNOLD H. (July 26, 1985). "WALL ST. LAWYER WINS BACKING FOR U.S. JUDGEh". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Han Wong, Chun (May 6, 2011). "Candidate Q&A: Chen Show Mao". The Wall Street Journal.(subscription required)
  18. ^ GRIMES, WILLIAM (March 8, 2011). "S. Hazard Gillespie, Former U.S. Attorney, Dies at 100". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Easton, Nina J. (March 27, 2002). "The Wings of an Idea". The Washington Post.
  20. ^ DUNLAP, DAVID W. (February 25, 1996). "Lawyers Who Mold The Shape of a City". The New York Times.
  21. ^ "Alex Cushing, Founder of Squaw Valley, Dies". Snowboard Magazine. August 21, 2006.
  22. ^ HEVESI, DENNIS (July 1, 1990). "Eli Whitney Debevoise Dies at 90; Co-Founder of a Top Law Firm". The New York Times.
  23. ^ "CGI Leadership". Clintonglobalinitiative.org. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  24. ^ Francis L. Stetson, Lawyer, Dies at 74,' New York Times, December 6, 1920
  25. ^ "David M. Schizer". Columbia Law School. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  26. ^ "Gay Men's Health Crisis to Commemorate 25 Years of Leadership in the Fight Against AIDS at GMHC Heroes Honors 25th Anniversary Dinner" (Press release). PRNewswire. March 7, 2007. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  27. ^ http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/files/saigon_grill_decision.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  28. ^ Baxter, Brian (October 23, 2008). "Davis Polk Hands Big Tip to Saigon Grill Deliverymen". Law.Com(ALM/American Lawyer Magazine). Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  29. ^ "The Am Law 100 2010 – Revenue Per Lawyer (RPL) Falls Again". Law.com. 2012-09-09. Retrieved 2012-10-09.
  30. ^ "Davis Polk Wins Again at IFLR Americas Awards". International Financial Law Review. March 22, 2013.

Further reading[edit]