Reflections On: Petrie-Flom Center’s Annual Conference


Faculty Director, I. Glenn Cohen, and Executive Director, Holly Fernandez Lynch, both of the Petrie-Flom Center at the Petrie-Flom’s 10th Annual Conference Celebration, The Future of Health Law and Policy.

I don’t remember the exact day I found out about Petrie-Flom, but I probably came across it while attending another event at Harvard Law School. So, upon discovering that the 2015 Conference was on Law, Religion, and Health in America. I had to attend this and see what this organization was like.I have had interest for many valid reasons. First, my own family has deeply religious roots and growing up, I was not able to brush off the idea that religion has impact both in public discourse, and in people’s personal lives. Religion, particularly Christianity, is there to stay in my family, regardless of the fact that I am considerably a non-believer with conviction. Second, although partisan politics are something that matters to me (and often a lot of other people), academia has always played a part in my life as it remains unwise to “stifle academic freedom and discourage alternative viewpoints” which generally is a lot easier to do in partisan political settings, or in public discourse, and certainly, this is never found at the dinner table of my family. Certainly, in partisan politics, we like to hear our own voices back to us with certainty we have been right all along, but I also exist in the real world as well, where that is hardly ever the case.

The first highlight of the Conference was that of University of Virginia Law Professor Douglas Laycock, which I had not anticipated as such until I heard him speak. I was mostly intrigued by what he said, rather than agree with it, but it was refreshing to be in a place where the expression of ideas was more valuable than a chorus of people who all must sing in the same tone, and temperament. He has supported the Religious Freedom Act, but dissents the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court case over the Affordable Care Acts contraceptive mandate.


Martha Minow, 12th Dean of Harvard Law School, speaking at Petrie-Flom’s 10th Annual Conference Celebration, The Future of Health Law and Policy.

In the two instances I have attended the Conference, the 12th Dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, has spoken, who succeeded then-Solicitor General to the United States, Elena Kagan, now Associate Supreme Court Justice, a position of which Minow was on the short list with now-Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The above video of a debate featuring Adèle Keim, Counsel to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Gregory Lipper, Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State was the supreme highlight of my attendance at this conference. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Joseph Flom at the dedication for the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard in 

The Petrie-Flom Center gets it’s name from the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, and pioneer lawyer, Joseph H. Flom, which according to The New York Times obituary:

After law school, by his account, many firms turned him down for a job because he was Jewish, but a small new firm in Manhattan run by Marshall Skadden, Leslie Arps and John Slate took him on. He became a partner in 1954 and within a few years effectively took over leadership.

In a 1994 book, “Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire,” the journalist Lincoln Caplan portrayed Mr. Flom as a scrappy, sometimes rough-edged iconoclast who retained an outsider’s sense of himself in the white-shoe world of corporate law.

“We’ve got to show the bastards that you don’t have to be born into it,” Mr. Caplan quoted him telling his colleagues. Skadden is now one of the largest law firms in the world, with annual revenue exceeding $2 billion and about 2,000 lawyers in 24 offices in the United States and abroad. Mr. Flom was the last surviving original principal of the firm.

Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter to Mr. Flom in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” (Little, Brown, 2008), crediting him with building out and diversifying the firm and anticipating the rise of mergers and acquisitions as a specialty. “For 20 years, he perfected his craft at Skadden,” Mr. Gladwell wrote. “Then the world changed and he was ready.”

In the 1960s Mr. Flom began making his mark in corporate mergers and acquisitions, the hostile takeover in particular. Lawyers for major corporations tended to look down on that area of law, but as more companies began to consider growth by acquisition, they bypassed their own legal advisers and turned to young Turks like Mr. Flom at Skadden and Martin Lipton of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

The watershed moment may have come in 1973, when the International Nickel Company of Canada made a hostile bid for ESB Incorporated. Morgan Stanley & Company, the investment bank advising International Nickel, proposed that the company hire Skadden to do the deal. Chosen because of his experience in the specialty, a rarity then, Mr. Flom commanded a team that helped Inco fend off a rival bid by United Aircraft. Inco eventually won ESB for $224 million.

In 1982 Mr. Flom represented the Allied Corporation in its acquisition of Bendix, a fiercely fought $1.96 billion transaction that prompted calls for new federal regulations governing mergers and acquisitions to protect shareholders’ interests and guard against concentrations of corporate power.

Some argued that the mergers were hurting the nation’s economy by transferring wealth from employees to bondholders and bankers, and diverting corporate funds from research and development. Mr. Flom, however, was skeptical about the need for changes.

“Shareholders already have a referendum,” he told The New York Times in 1982. “If they don’t like the results, they can fire the management, or sell their stock. The system, with all of its problems, is working. There’s no justification for questions about economic concentration.”

Mr. Flom developed a reputation for driving his staff. Lawyers would work around the clock for days to get deals done. (Skadden continues to be regarded as an aggressive, high-pressure firm that commands high fees.)

Concerned that Skadden could become a boutique law firm focused primarily on mergers and acquisitions, Mr. Flom headed an effort to expand into other areas, like real estate, product liability and energy.

To accomplish that, Skadden solicited retainer fees from client corporations that wanted to have the firm on call for mergers and acquisitions work. The clients were then offered the chance to use the retainer fees as credit toward other legal services. (Some said they were pressured into accepting the credits.) The strategy helped convert Skadden into the firm that Mr. Flom had envisioned: not a single expert boutique but a collection of them, offering a range of high-value specialized services to corporate clients.

As a philanthropist, Mr. Flom gave millions of dollars to Harvard Law School, where an endowed professorship bears his name. In November 2005, he and the Milton Petrie Foundation donated $10 million to the school for a center that would study legal issues related to biotechnology and health policy.

He also supported programs at City College of New York; pledged to make sure that college tuition would be covered for a class of 80 Harlem sixth-grade students whom he “adopted” in 1983; and supported Urban America, a development fund that invests in depressed areas. He served as a trustee of the New York University Medical Center and Barnard College and as the mayor’s representative on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At his firm he helped establish the Skadden Fellowship program, which gives money to recent law school graduates involved in public interest projects.

Mr. Flom’s first wife, the former Claire Cohen, died in 2007. His survivors include his wife, Judi Sorensen Flom; two sons by his first marriage, Jason and Peter Flom; his first wife’s daughter by an earlier marriage, Nancy Laing; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.


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