Sweet Sixteen: Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom

Star practices/people
Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom is the ultimate M&A machine. In comparison with, say, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Skadden is focused more on corporates than private ­equity firms, but its ranks of corporate relationships and ­extensive ­office coverage across the US, ­Europe and Asia mean it is as well positioned for global deals as any of its rivals.

In New York the firm’s top deal-doers include partners Peter Atkins, Roger Aaron, Lou Kling, Morris Kramer and ­Phyllis Korff. In London former White & Case partner-turned-Chelsea-supremo Bruce Buck runs the show, while M&A ­partners Scott Simpson and Michael Hatchard garner respect on both sides of the Atlantic.

The ability to move with the times has been one of Skadden’s core strengths since it was founded in 1948. Whether it was the proxy fights of the 1960s, fought by legendary partner Joe Flom, the hostile bids of the 1970s or the mega M&A of more recent days, Skadden has been there.

Ditto international investment. In 60 years Skadden has gone from a handful of lawyers in Manhattan to 2,000 lawyers globally in 24 offices. It is not afraid of growth.

The words ‘weak’ and ‘Skadden’ do not sit well together. The firm is the epitome of a muscular transactional powerhouse.

Skadden has plenty of offices, but arguably some of these are also distractions. Does a firm with Skadden’s brand really need to be in Boston nowadays?

In March this year, Skadden announced the opening of an office in Sao Paulo, its 24th overseas outpost. But despite the obvious commitment to international investment, it has been slow and steady expansion for Skadden over a number of years, adding key partners strategically in the world’s leading financial centres.

The return on investment has been clear in Skadden’s apparent divine right of being the number one largest US firm for the best part of two decades. Last year, however, it was overtaken by DLA Piper, while the gap between itself and fellow US expansionist Latham & Watkins closed to just $15m (£7.58m).

The verdict
A great franchise, a great brand, Skadden has muscled its way into the New York elite and is there to stay. The firm has come from behind, driven by the ­entrepreneurialism of iconic partners such as Flom. It is proof that margins can remain sky-high even with overseas ­expansion (more cautious rivals take note).