Joseph H. Flom '40
Joseph H. Flom (born December 31, 1923) started his legal career as Skadden, Arps’s first associate in 1948 and has led the firm as it has grown into one of the largest full-service law firms in the world. With approximately 2,000 lawyers, the firm and its affiliates have offices in nine U.S. cities as well as offices in Beijing, Brussels, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Moscow, Munich, Paris, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto and Vienna.
Mr. Flom grew up in the Depression in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father Isadore was a union organizer in the garment industry who later went to work sewing shoulders pads for ladies dresses and his mother worked doing appliqué at home. Flom’s family was very poor and moved almost every year when he was growing up. He attended Townsend Harris High School, graduating in 1940.
Joe Flom wanted to become a lawyer since he was six years old. He got into Harvard without a college degree by simply writing them a letter explaining he was the answer to slice bread and was named to the Law Review – an honor reserved for the very top students in the class.
During the hiring season, Mr. Flom was amongst the only two students without a job. Then one day he heard about some guys who were starting their own firm and Joe decided to join them. In the beginning it was just Marshall Skadden and Leslie Arps, both of whom had just been turned down for partner at a major Wall Street law firms and John Slate, who had worked for Pan Am airlines. Mr. Flom became their associate and they did whatever kind of law came through their doors.
Mr. Flom took over as Skadden’s managing partner in 1954 and firm begin to grow by leaps and bounds and in no time grew to 100 lawyers, then 200 and then 300 lawyers. Today, Skadden Arps has around two thousand attorneys in twenty-three offices around the world and earn well over $1 billion a year making it one of the largest and most powerful law firms in the world.
Mr. Flom made it big and the old line Wall Street Law firms were the main reason for his success. They were the corporate law firm representing the largest clients in the country but did not do litigation and did not involve themselves in hostile corporate takeover. Proxy war is the main weapon for hostile takeover; an investor would take an interest in a company, he would denounce the management as incompetent and send letters to shareholders, trying to get them to give him their “proxy” so he could vote out the firm’s executives. And to run the proxy fight, the only lawyer the investor could get was someone like Joe Flom. There were lawyers who knew more about the rules of proxy contests, but no one was better in a fight than Joe Flom.
Mr. Flom’s will to win in hostile takeover was unsurpassed and he was often masterful. Then came the 1970s; the old aversion to lawsuits fell by the wayside. It became easier to borrow money. Federal regulations were relaxed. Markets became internationalized. Investors became more aggressive, and the result was a boom in the number and size of corporate takeovers. Joe Flom was the best at hostile takeover and he used it to grow his law firm to one of the biggest law firm in the world.
Mr. Flom is co-editor, with other members of the firm, of Disclosure Requirements of Public Corporations and Insiders and Texas Gulf Sulphur — Insider Disclosure Problems
, both Practising Law Institute publications.
Among the many honors and awards Mr. Flom has received are: the Legal Aid Society’s Servant of Justice Award in 1986; the Federal Bar Council’s Whitney North Seymour, Jr. Award in 1989; and the Department of Defense’s Distinguished Service Medal in 1992. Mr. Flom has also been awarded honorary doctorates by Queens College and Fordham University. In 2004, he received lifetime achievement awards from Chambers and Partners and The American Lawyer magazine and was presented with the CCNY Presidential Medal for Distinguished Achievement and Public Service. He is also the Founding Trustee of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation.
Picture above left: Mr. Flom with his wife, Judi.