Obituaries

Peter Mullen, Skadden Partner Who Built Megafirm With Joseph Flom, Is Dead of Heart Attack at 83


Peter Mullen, a New York lawyer who worked with Joseph H. Flom for many years to build Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom into a powerhouse megafirm, died Saturday of a heart attack. He was 83 years old.

When Mullen joined Skadden in 1961, after being refused a partnership at Dewey Ballantine, the firm had 10 lawyers. He made partner at Skadden after a year and became managing partner in 1967. When he stepped down in 1994 from his role as de facto chief executive, Skadden was one of the world’s biggest and most powerful law firms, recounts the New York Times (reg. req.).

A top choice in mergers and acquisitions matters, Skadden was considered so strong in this field that, at least as popular lore had it, clients often retained the firm simply to ensure that corporate opponents would be unable to do so.

Outsiders in the white-shoe world of New York corporate law, Mullen and Flom successfully focused the firm’s practice on M&A during what turned out to be a golden era for such work and also expanded in a number of other areas as the firm grew. As Flom reveled in takeover battles, Mullen focused on Skadden’s finances and worked behind the scenes to build partner consensus about strategic decisions, the newspaper reports.

Mullen also headed the firm’s corporate practice group for several years, Skadden notes.

As the firm helped corporate clients develop exotic financial instruments, it used an old-fashioned method–savings–to finance its own growth. Mullen is credited with developing a practice of withholding 7.5 percent, after tax, from each partner’s account for this purpose.

The approach “left Skadden with a mountain of cash—100 percent more capital than it needed, by the firm’s estimation, and the means to grow in any direction it wanted,” wrote Lincoln Caplan in Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire.

A graduate of Columbia Law School, Mullen was not considered top-drawer socially in his early years as a lawyer because of his Roman Catholic family background and Jesuit education, the Times writes. (Flom, who died in February at age 87, also was an outsider at this time despite his Harvard Law School credentials because he came from a Jewish family.)

After working for Dewey Ballantine for nine years only to be dinged as a potential partner, Mullen came to Skadden at 32 ready to make his mark.

“He was mature, confident and ambitious, and a very good corporate lawyer,” Caplan told the Times in an email. “But he had that essential Skadden need and drive because, in the eyes of the New York City bar then, not making partner was a public failure from which he needed to recover.”

Flom and Mullen created the Skadden Fellowship Foundation in 1988. It allows young lawyers to spend two years on public interest work, notes Bloomberg.

“This will tend to contradict the view that the established bar has about large law firms, the view that we take from society and do not give back,” Mullen told the New York Times at the inception of the program. “We have been successful, and we have made money, and we have decided to put some of it back.”

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