Things I learned from the Greatest Corporate Lawyer

We often hear stories of how unfathomable odds make it impossible for a common man to achieve success. Still some people rise from clutches of adversity to not only achieve great heights but become leaders in their fields despite life crushing them down to their knees. This is the story of a man who braved all odds to become the most admired Lawyer in the field of Corporate law.


He was born at the time of the Great Depression in the family of poor Jewish immigrants from East Europe to a garment factory worker. His grandfather was ragpicker and union organizer. They were so desperately poor they had to change houses often because they couldn’t afford to pay rent. He talked his way to Harvard Law School without earning an undergraduate degree.

When you don’t have enough to eat. You never forget that. Hunger became motivation to study law.


Jewish lawyers were avoided like rat poison by the big Wall Street firms and because of discriminatory hiring policies. No one would give them jobs.

His Jewish heritage and lack of social graces closed his door to the Big law firms. And was left with no option but to join as a lone associate in a law firm just started by three young graduates who were also, turned down by the established firms and the best part they didn’t have any clients. They had to take whatever came their way. Sometimes they had to do odd jobs like painting to pay the bills. The odds couldn’t be any more worse.

When asked he told “What kind of law did we do? Whatever came in the door! But this gave the Jewish lawyers competitive edge in cases the typical white shoe firms would not touch as they considered such work beneath their dignity and the need to handle these untouchable cases would substantially increase. And the only ones with the experience were the Jewish lawyers.

The rejections and defeats in life can sometimes be turned into the best propellent to push you to great heights.

This, in effect, made them rich and powerful, sometimes more than the firms that rejected them.

He turned his lack of social grace to his advantage to build a reputation for determined aggression, especially in corporate proxy fights and often told his colleagues: We’ve got to show the bastards that you don’t have to be born into it.


Things weren’t getting any easy for him due competition from an arch-rival firm made up of Jews from similar poor background and rose to the prominent fame. Not just any arch rivals but none other than Martin Lipton and his firm the Inventor of Poison Pill the most important invention in corporate law.

Despite all this he was able to build an impeccable reputation as a master architect of hostile takeovers or whenever corporates faced any mortal threat. Hostile takeovers are those in which a shark eats your company for breakfast without any mercy.

You should recognize that criticism is not always a put-down. If you take it to heart, maybe it will guide the way you ought to be going.

There was a practice known in the business as “sterilizing Joe” — as long as he worked for you, No one could dare to come after you. It was a great comfort to have him on your side. He was involved in almost every major takeover battle of his time. But a sore distress to have him against you, other companies often hired his firm simply to ensure that he and his team could not oppose them.

He was best known as a strategist on behalf of buyers, often engineering costly and risky raids in which his clients attempted to swallow companies by offering more than the market rate for shareholders’ stock. He was so feared as an adversary that he was frequently paid handsome retainer fees by companies nervous about becoming takeover targets.

His work gave hostile takeovers a legitimacy and wide acceptance. This was firmly established when he advised Morgan Stanley and the International Nickel Co. of Canada in a hostile takeover of a battery manufacturer called ESB.

He turned his 4 people firm —into one of the largest legal business in the world and became one of the most successful attorneys in american history. His firm became the first to advise on more than $1 trillion worth of deals in a year. Also, was the first among the big firms to make a woman partner, and the first to promote a Black person to partnership.

This is the story of Joseph Flom also know as Mr. Takeover, the greatest M&A Lawyer to have ever lived and his firm Skadden. Sometimes our background helps in shaping us, but we are not limited by it and can certainly affect how successful we are in certain fields.

The oppressed either fade into obscurity or rise above adversity to become a force to be reckoned with.

I’m an aspiring technology lawyer who wishes to build such a reputation in technology law practice and litigation. I teach mooting — here


Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire by Lincoln Caplan Outliers: Stories of Success by Malcom Gladwell