One of the iconic lawyers of his generation, the late Joseph Flom made his name by defying convention. At a time when other large law firms eschewed hostile corporate work as ungentlemanly, Flom embraced the nascent practice in the 1960s and pushed it to the forefront.

"Joe probably single-handedly elevated unsolicited M&A work from essentially nothing to a central tool of corporate strategy for mainstream corporate America and globally," says Skadden M&A partner Peter Atkins.

Atkins recalls how, when the world of hostile dealmaking was taking shape, Flom realized the value of the 1968 Williams Act, which governs tender offers. "It was the first federal statute that legitimized takeovers," Atkins says. "He quickly grasped it as a tool with a federal halo around it for acquisitions in the face of opposition."

At the same time Flom, who died in 2011, helped transform Skadden into one of the world's most successful firms by cross-selling other practice groups to M&A clients. During the takeover boom, clients often paid Skadden a retainer to keep Flom from representing an adversary. Instead of pocketing the check and sitting on the sidelines, Flom insisted that the money be used to let lawyers from other practice groups work for that client. "He was a long-term thinker, even when the firm was very small," says Eric Friedman, Skadden's current executive partner.

Still, Flom's most-cherished innovation wasn't in the M&A world at all; it was the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, which to date has supported 677 lawyers in public interest jobs.