Skadden. The name, terse and uncompromising, symbolizes the most rarefied levels of corporate law, where clients throw platoons of attorneys at a problem and barely blink at the resulting $50,000-an-hour bills.
With 1,700 attorneys and $2.2 billion in fees last year, New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is the biggest U.S. law firm by revenue and the third biggest worldwide. The partnership’s $693 million profit in 2007 exceeded the net income of much larger companies, including Yahoo!Southwest Airlines and Avon Products.
By revenues, Skadden ranks No. 213 on our list of the Largest Private Companies in America.
All that money flows from a simple business model: Skadden specializes in advising companies when they are merging, being taken apart or face a mortal threat from regulators, competitors or other lawyers.
Having grown to the size where it’s involved in practically every big transaction on Wall Street, Skadden has become a brand name–and a security blanket for nervous executives. “When something doesn’t go right, the general counsel can say to the CEO, ‘I had Skadden on it,’ ” says Eric Friedman, 44, who is slated to succeed Robert Sheehan, 61, this spring as executive partner in charge of the firm.
This isn’t law firm puffery. In the 1950s, Skadden practically invented one of the most lucrative branches of corporate law, the art of mounting and defending against hostile takeovers. Inside its headquarters near Times Square are several floors of conference rooms where executives and lawyers huddle day and night, negotiating multibillion-dollar transactions or plotting strategy on how to keep raiders at bay.