Thursday, February 24, 2011

Joe Flom of Skadden Dies At 87

(thanks to

Joe Flom died Wednesday 23 February 2011. The American Lawyer presents his obituary here. Victor Li has written reflection on Flom here.
It might seem strange that a Harvard Law School graduate who ranked in the top 5 percent of his class and served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review would fail to land a job at any of New York's top law firms upon graduation.
But that's just what happened to Joseph Flom after he earned his law degree in 1948. And in most instances, it was the anti-Semitic mindset that prevailed at the city's leading firms that cost Flom the opportunities his academic achievements seemed to guarantee.
Shunned by the establishment, Flom instead joined a small firm then called Skadden, Arps and Slate, a four-lawyer shop that he helped transform into a legal powerhouse with 24 offices in 13 countries known as Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.
Over the course of his six-decade career, Flom not only added his name to the firm's, but also--thanks to particular expertise in mergers and acquisitions--carved out a singular niche in the history of the legal industry.
Flom, like other imaginative legal entrepreneurs--eg. Russell Baker at Baker and McKenzie--was able to identify opportunities created by legislators that had definite unintended consequences. As Li writes,

"He was prescient in recognizing that change of control transactions would be a major area of legal practice," said Flom's celebrated rival and contemporary, Martin Lipton of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz in a statement. "After honing his great skills on proxy fights, he graduated to tender offers and hostile takeover bids. He so dominated the field that in 1973 I wrote, 'The first question an arbitrageur asks is, Which side has Joe?'"
In the 1970s, Flom--seeing growth potential in work that others considered unsavory--began to establish himself as the preeminent takeover attorney
"[Flom] made the mergers and acquisitions practice a mainstream practice," Cravath, Swaine and Moore's Allen Finkelson told The American Lawyer Magazine in 1999. "Hostile takeovers were viewed by major law firms as something you didn't touch...We were all representing blue-chip America and viewed it as dirty business...[Now] there are thousands of lawyers making hundreds of millions of dollars because of the practice Joe made respectable."
There is a fascinating interview with Joe Flom at The Deal Magazine where he tells his history with Skadden, the firm, Marty Lipton, and his vast roster of clients.

As with Eli Wald, I have found the role of the "marginal" lawyer fascinating. It is where one sees true innovation and creative thinking. Let me be clear by what I mean by marginal. I refer to those who are displaced by virtue of characteristics over which they have no control--ethnicity, religion, parentage, gender and so forth. In the 1960s and 70s these were powerful weapons for excluding people from the professions. And to some extent still are. The displacement felt was often a spur to new ideas.

In a small way I owe debt of gratitude to Joe Flom because he was one of the first lawyers to engage with the new legal media. Joe would talk while others hung back. In so doing, I became an avid reader of American Lawyer, and those that followed both in the US and the UK. He made my job as a researcher of the legal profession much easier and more fun.

No comments: