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Being Jewish and Born in the 1930s a Boost for Many Lawyers, Author Says

Posted Nov 19, 2008 11:39 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Lawyer Joe Flom was born in the Great Depression to Jewish parents who worked in the garment industry. And those three traits were advantages that helped bring success to the lawyer, a name partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, according to author Malcolm Gladwell.

Flom is one of the subjects in Gladwell’s new book, Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell’s thesis is that successful people are the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and cultural legacies, the Am Law Daily reports.

In Flom’s case, he was born in a “demographic trough” when there were few rivals for coveted school spots, according to a summary of the book in the New York Times. His Jewish immigrant parents had skills that allowed them to set up businesses and benefit from hard work. And Flom’s rejection from establishment law firms forced him into new legal practice areas such as corporate takeovers.

Gladwell says the four lawyers who formed Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, & Katz had the same backgrounds as Flom. The author told the Am Law Daily in an interview that the lawyers appreciated how adversity helped them.

“I remember one of the name partners at Wachtell saying to me that the fact that he couldn't get a job at a fancy law firm coming out of NYU was the best thing that ever happened to him, even though it didn't seem so at the time,” Gladwell said. “And Joe Flom said the same thing, what seemed to be a denial of a great opportunity was actually their break and made their success possible.”

But the experiences of the lawyers doesn’t mean it is the only formula for success, Gladwell told the Am Law Daily. “One of the themes of the book is that success often has serendipitous routes and there is no simple formula you can follow,” he said.

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