Peter Mullen, Force in the Legal World, Dies at 83
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Peter Mullen, one of the most respected men in the legal world, passed away at the age of 83 on Saturday in New Preston, Connecticut of a heart attack en route to the hospital. Mullen joined the New York law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in 1961 when the firm had only 10 lawyers. When Mullen stepped down as the de facto chief executive of the firm in 1994 there were more than 1,000 lawyers working there and it had become one of the world’s richest and most prominent firms.

“The white-shoe firms said that takeovers were a one-time blip,” recalled John C. Coffee Jr., a law professor at Columbia, who in the mid-1970s practiced at one of those firms, Cravath, Swaine & Moore. “They said that Skadden was riding a short-term wave, and that it would be caught in a terrible crunch when it crashed and disappeared.”


Towards the beginning of the 1990’s, the firm had acquired almost one third of the Fortune 500 list as clients, and today it remains as the world’s second largest law firm in terms of revenue and the eleventh largest firm in terms of lawyers employed. Early in the decade of the 1970’s, Mullen began holding 7.5 percent of the earnings from each partner, after taxes, to use the money to finance the firm’s growth. It was Mullen’s goal to see that the firm grew without taking on any debt.

“It was radical,” Lincoln Caplan wrote in his history of the firm, “Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire” (1993). “It 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.”

Mullen attended the Loyola School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan before attending Georgetown. After time at Columbia Law School, Mullen spent nine years at the law firm of Dewey Ballantine, only to be voted down for a partnership in the firm.

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“He was mature, confident and ambitious, and a very good corporate lawyer,” Mr. Caplan said. “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. When he went to Skadden in 1961, at the age of 32 (he turned 33 that year), he was motivated to succeed.”

Mullen was born on April 8, 1928 in Manhattan. He became a partner in the firm after his first year of employment and was named managing partner in 1967, which put him in charge of the firm’s business operations. Mullen also served on Georgetown’s board from 1982 to 1998 and served as the Chairman of the Board from 1985 to 1992. At one point during his career, Mullen also served as the Chairman of Orbis International.


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