February 23, 2011
Joseph H. Flom ’48, the last living named partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and a leader in the field of mergers and acquisitions, died February 23, 2011 in New York City. He was 87. Flom helped transform a small New York firm into one of the most powerful legal institutions in the world, and he was also a dedicated philanthropist and supporter of Harvard Law School.
“Joe Flom was a giant in the legal profession, a giant in the world of corporate transactions, a giant in public service, and, a giant in the life of Harvard Law School,” said Dean Martha Minow. “No one could consult with Joe without coming away invigorated, challenged to reach higher, and enlarged by his imagination. No wonder Deans past and present here so valued his insights and his visionary thinking about law's role enabling and managing innovation in science and medicine. Legal education here and elsewhere wonderfully reflects his commitment to truly interdisciplinary collaborations and terrifically inspiring public service initiatives. As founding trustee of the Skadden Fellows program, he transformed the aspirations and careers of talented students and the lives of those they serve. We are forever indebted to him, and will forever be grateful for his wisdom, leadership, and encouragement, and his legacies will live on in what we and others strive for in the pursuit of law's service to the world.”
Flom’s association with Skadden began in 1948 during a lunch meeting with its founding partners, before he graduated from law school. That year, he became the firm’s first associate. “There were four lawyers and no clients,” he recalled during an interview with the 1991 Winter Harvard Law School Bulletin. “Helping to build this tremendous organization, so rich in collegiality and individual talent, is my pride and joy,” he said. In the 1960s, Flom rose to prominence as a top lawyer in corporate mergers and acquisitions, especially as an adviser in proxy battles. He is widely recognized as the pioneer of takeover strategies used today by bidders, targets and investment bankers. His practice included all forms of corporate transactions and he represented clients in corporate organization and reorganization, banking and securities.
Flom grew up in Brooklyn in the 1920s and served stateside during World War II. He was accepted to Harvard Law School without a college degree, and graduated cum laude in 1948, having served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He later received an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Queens College and an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Fordham University.
A strong supporter of Harvard Law School, serving on the Dean’s Advisory Board, he was involved in many far-reaching philanthropic endeavors over the course of his career, at the school and beyond. In 1988, he co-founded the Skadden Fellowships, a program through which the firm annually supports at least 25 law school graduates to work in public interest jobs for up to two years.
In 2005, with the Petrie Foundation, he founded the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School in response to the need for leading legal scholarship in these fields. In the Fall 2008 HLS Bulletin, Flom said of his support, “It’s what one ought to do. …I thought the biotech revolution was running a lot faster than the legal underpinnings.” And Harvard Law School, he said, is an ideal place for the study of these issues. The center tackles a wide range of issues, bringing together top scholars from a variety of fields in an interdisciplinary approach. He also helped endow the Carroll and Milton Petrie Professorship of Law at HLS, currently held by Einer Elhauge ’86.
"Joe Flom has been a hugely important in helping lead Harvard Law School in the fields of bioethics, biotechnology, and health law policy, providing not only generous financial support but important inspirational leadership in urging the school to confront the mass of issues raised by advances in biotechnology and to tackle today the bioethical and biopolicy issues of tomorrow,” said Elhauge, who is also the founding director of the Petrie-Flom Center. “I have never met someone so farsighted in the fields of others and so selfless in seeking to contribute to them.”
In 2006, Flom also founded the Joseph H. Flom Global Health and Human Rights Initiative, a partnership with the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. The Joseph Flom Professor of Law and Business, endowed by Skadden and its partners, including Flom, was established in 1998 at Harvard Law School and is held currently by Guhan Subramanian JD/MBA ’98 who teaches courses in negotiation and corporate law.
"Joseph Flom has been an influence on me for two decades,” said Subramanian. “When I was a student at Harvard Law School in the 1990s, I found myself agreeing with his views on corporate law more so than alternative views. When I became an academic, I interviewed Mr. Flom on occasion for my various research projects and always found him to be generous with his time and thoughtful in his insights. It is a great honor to hold the chair that bears his name, and I am deeply saddened–personally and professionally–by his passing away. The world of corporate law has lost one of its giants, and I have lost a mentor."
Robert Clark ’72, who served as dean of Harvard Law School from 1989 to 2003, said of Flom: “He was one of the first alums I visited, right after I was nominated to be dean. The more I got to know Joe, the more I felt we were soul mates in important ways. We both felt that the law school played a really important role in society by training a lot of good corporate lawyers. Having businesses run according to a sound set of corporate law rules contributes to the way they function and how much good they do for all the people touched by them. He was also a person who had very broad and outward looking interests. Joe was not only one of the very best corporate lawyers—and certainly one of the star figures of the 1980s—but he was someone who cared about other social policy matters, as we know from his ultimate gifts to the law school, which were aimed at improving health care law and policy.”
Flom was 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. He is profiled in Lincoln Caplan’s ’77 book “Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire,” and Malcolm Gladwell’s, “Outliers: The Story of Success.”
A recipient of many honors and awards, he received 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. In 2004, he received lifetime achievement awards from Chambers and Partners and The American Lawyer magazine (video of acceptance speech) and was presented with the CCNY Presidential Medal for Distinguished Achievement and Public Service. He was the founding trustee of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation.
Obituaries for Joseph Flom can be found in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Skadden website and Bloomberg. A tribute to Joseph Flom written by Peter Atkins '68, a partner for corporate and securities law matters at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, can be found on Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation's web site.