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Davis Polk

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Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP
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; 175 years ago (1849)
Company typeLimited liability partnership
At the offices of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP in New York, New York.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, commonly known as Davis Polk, is a white-shoe, international law firm headquartered in New York City with offices in Washington, D.C., Palo Alto, London, Madrid, Brussels, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, and São Paulo. The firm maintains an all-equity partnership, with profits per partner of over $7 million. It is the third most profitable law firm in the world.[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,, Stetson, Jennings & Russell, and Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Gardiner & Reed.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6][7]

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.[8]

In November 2023, amid a wave of protests calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War at elite U.S. law schools, Davis Polk & Wardwell was among a group of major law firms who sent a letter to top law school deans warning them that an escalation in incidents targeting Jewish students would have corporate hiring consequences: "We look to you to ensure your students who hope to join our firms after graduation are prepared to be an active part of workplace communities that have zero tolerance policies for any form of discrimination or harassment, much less the kind that has been taking place on some law school campuses."[9]

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.[10] 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 2023),[11] 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.[12] It has also been reported that he never charged South Carolina in the first place.[13] 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.[12]

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.[14][15][16]


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.[17] In October 2008, a Davis Polk team working with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund won a $4.6 million judgment[18] on behalf of immigrant workers who were being paid below the statutory minimum wage by their employer, a popular Manhattan restaurant.[19]

In 2010, Davis Polk was ranked third in Revenue per Lawyer by the American Lawyer's top 100 National Firms.[20] In 2012 and 2013, Davis Polk was named America's Law Firm of the Year by the International Financial Law Review.[21]

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]

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]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Davis Polk". Law.com.
  2. ^ "The 2022 Global 100 Ranked by Profits Per Equity Partner". Law.com International. Retrieved 2023-06-22.
  3. ^ "JOHN W. DAVIS HEAD OF HIS LAW FIRM; Stetson, Jennings & Russell Is Now Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Gardiner & Reed". The New York Times. 1925-01-17. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-07-05.
  4. ^ Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, p.450.
  5. ^ Lat, David (January 5, 2012). "Oy Vey! Milbank Mistakenly Touts 'Only Orthodox Jewish Woman Partner' in Biglaw". Above the Law.
  6. ^ Lat, David (September 18, 2008). "Davis Polk: Making Bank". Above the Law.
  7. ^ "For Davis Polk, Dodd–Frank Pays" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-10-24. Retrieved 2019-03-14.
  8. ^ Scannell, Kara (April 13, 2009). "Davis Polk Recruits Ex-SEC Aide". The Wall Street Journal.
  9. ^ Sorkin, Andrew Ross; Mattu, Ravi; Warner, Bernhard; Kessler, Sarah; Merced, Michael J. de la; Hirsch, Lauren; Livni, Ephrat (2 November 2023). "Law Firms Warn Universities About Antisemitism on Campus". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 November 2023.
  10. ^ Maruca, Mary (2003). Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site. Western National Parks Association. ISBN 978-1-58369-030-7.
  11. ^ 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 February 29, 2024.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Patrice, Joe (2020-06-17). "Davis Polk Is Named After A Segregationist... Perhaps It's Time To Consider A New Name - Above the Law". Retrieved 2023-08-30.
  15. ^ Materson, Lisa G. (2009-03-15). For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932. Univ of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-9403-3.
  16. ^ Bob Navarro Solicitors General of the United States page 31 https://books.google.com/books?id=0oy3DwAAQBAJ&dq=%22Guinn+v+United+States%22+%22John+davis%22&pg=PA31
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/files/saigon_grill_decision.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  19. ^ Baxter, Brian (October 23, 2008). "Davis Polk Hands Big Tip to Saigon Grill Deliverymen". Law.Com(ALM/American Lawyer Magazine). Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  20. ^ "The Am Law 100 2010 – Revenue Per Lawyer (RPL) Falls Again". Law.com. 2012-09-09. Retrieved 2012-10-09.
  21. ^ "Davis Polk Wins Again at IFLR Americas Awards". International Financial Law Review. March 22, 2013.
  22. ^ Lattman, Peter (July 29, 2011). "Davis Polk Lawyer Nominated for Federal Bench". The New York Times.(subscription required)
  23. ^ LUBASCH, ARNOLD H. (July 26, 1985). "WALL ST. LAWYER WINS BACKING FOR U.S. JUDGEh". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Han Wong, Chun (May 6, 2011). "Candidate Q&A: Chen Show Mao". The Wall Street Journal.(subscription required)
  25. ^ GRIMES, WILLIAM (March 8, 2011). "S. Hazard Gillespie, Former U.S. Attorney, Dies at 100". The New York Times.
  26. ^ Easton, Nina J. (March 27, 2002). "The Wings of an Idea". The Washington Post.
  27. ^ DUNLAP, DAVID W. (February 25, 1996). "Lawyers Who Mold The Shape of a City". The New York Times.
  28. ^ "Alex Cushing, Founder of Squaw Valley, Dies". Snowboard Magazine. August 21, 2006.
  29. ^ HEVESI, DENNIS (July 1, 1990). "Eli Whitney Debevoise Dies at 90; Co-Founder of a Top Law Firm". The New York Times.
  30. ^ "CGI Leadership". Clintonglobalinitiative.org. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  31. ^ Francis L. Stetson, Lawyer, Dies at 74,' New York Times, December 6, 1920
  32. ^ "David M. Schizer". Columbia Law School. Retrieved 21 January 2018.

Further reading[edit]