Joseph H. Flom ’48: 1923-2011

A Giant in Corporate Law and Public Service

Joseph H. Flom ’48, the last living name partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and an architect of takeover practice, died Feb. 23, 2011, in New York City. He was 87. Flom helped transform a small New York City firm into one of the most powerful legal institutions in the world. He was also a visionary philanthropist who launched transformative initiatives at Harvard Law School and elsewhere.

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. He is profiled in Lincoln Caplan’s (’76) book “Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire” and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.”

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.

“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. His legacies will live on in what we and others strive for in the pursuit of law’s service to the world.”

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. He later received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Queens College and an honorary doctorate of laws from Fordham University.

In 2005, with the Petrie Foundation, he founded the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at HLS in response to the need for leading legal scholarship in these fields. 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 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 founded the Joseph H. Flom Global Health and Human Rights Initiative, a partnership between the Petrie-Flom Center and the Human Rights Program at HLS. The Joseph Flom Professor of Law and Business, endowed by Skadden and its partners, including Flom, was established at the school in 1998. It is currently held by Guhan Subramanian J.D./M.B.A. ’98, who teaches courses in negotiation and corporate law.

Professor Robert Clark ’72, who served as dean of HLS from 1989 to 2003, said of Flom: “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 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. … But Joe was not only one of the very best corporate lawyers … he was someone who cared about other social policy matters, as we know from his ultimate gifts to the law school.”

See also:
Tribute: William Stuntz: 1958-2011

Next: In Memoriam