Business Law: William Flynn

By Irwin Speizer

Carolina Power & Light had avoided major acquisitions until it decided in 1999 to merge with St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Florida Progress. It was a complex, $5.3 billion deal. CP&L needed a sharp lawyer to get due diligence done right — and quickly — so it turned to William Flynn.

A lawyer with Hunton & Williams in Raleigh, Flynn helped ensure that CP&L didn’t get any unpleasant surprises. What is now Progress Energy remains a major Raleigh fixture. He is proud of the work he and his team did but is quick to point out that his role was simply to backstop the deal makers. Others say his work is the oil that makes deals run smoothly. “If you want to make sure you have done something absolutely right, he would be your first choice to review it,” says William Patterson, managing partner at Hunton & Williams’ Raleigh office.

Flynn also advises companies on venture capital and other financing and on outsourcing contracts. And he has talents outside the courthouse or law library. “He is neat to have representing you, but he is also neat to just go have a beer with,” says longtime client Fenton Hord, president of Stock Building Supply in Raleigh. “You can talk sports to history to government.”

Flynn’s broad interests are not surprising, given his background. Born in St. Louis, he grew up in Oklahoma City, where his father worked in advertising and marketing for an oil company. At a carnival, Flynn won the soundtrack to the Elvis Presley movie King Creole, which he still has. A sister played guitar, and he learned, too. As he was finishing high school, Flynn wanted to go East. The foreign-service program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., seemed interesting, so he applied and was accepted. “I don’t think I analyzed it too much.”

He arrived in 1967. A year later, Washington erupted in riots after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Flynn recalls climbing onto the roof of his dorm and looking out over a city in flames. He took a journalism course in 1971 and, assigned to cover an anti-war demonstration, landed in the middle of a melee that resulted in mass arrests.

By the time he graduated with a bachelor’s in foreign service, he was a long-haired, folk-singing free spirit. He spent the next three years living in Northern Virginia, performing in coffee shops and supporting himself with odd jobs. When he decided to move on, he settled on law school because he had enjoyed an undergraduate constitutional-law class. He promptly found his calling. “I loved the fact that law is a product of society. It is influenced by history. It just really resonated.”

After graduation, he joined a firm in Pittsburgh, where he had clerked, thinking he might become a labor lawyer. He started as an assistant to the firm’s litigators but got some business-law assignments. Gradually, he made the field his specialty. He met his wife, Samantha, a lawyer at the firm, and they married in 1977. They decided to move and started looking in Vir-ginia and North Carolina. He landed a job with the Raleigh firm of Joyner & Howison, which by the time he arrived in February 1980 had merged into Hunton & Williams.

He has become an increasingly important adviser to business clients. “If you do a good job, clients will want you to be more than a technician in the law. I think what I hope to find looking back on my career is that I not only made a living but helped others make a living.”