Corporate lawyers tend to be catalogued in terms of the industries they serve; rarely are they identified by the industries they create. Stephen Goodman, who died last week at the age of 77, was one of those rare lawyers. The sobriquet “visionary” is probably overused in remembrances of longstanding influential figures, but it is nearly an understatement when applied to Goodman, the unrivaled conceptual architect of Philadelphia’s startup and tech sectors.
There is an irony to the fact that the talents—his native intelligence, his unparalleled instinct to forge connections among people and ideas, his foresight, his abiding nurturer’s instinct—with which Goodman guided bold entrepreneurs as they conceived and grew groundbreaking new companies in our city, have been supplanted in the start-up world by algorithms and cold technical analysis, but there is no doubt that the essential humanity of Goodman’s conception of business and law was the critical foundation upon which that world was built.
While I never had the privilege of working directly with Goodman on legal matters, I had at least the good timing to be a young lawyer at Morgan Lewis & Bockius during the first part of his storied tenure there, and so was able to develop a close friendship with him. Whereas the stereotypical big law firm rainmaker is often a feared and fearsome creature, Goodman was the opposite. Measured, soft-spoken, even gentle in his presentation, he commanded attention with the pricelessness of his wisdom and a quiet, earnest charisma that could make all in his orbit feel like they mattered.
Long after I’d left Morgan Lewis, determined to fashion my own entrepreneurial approach to the profession, Goodman remained a reassuring presence in my career. For years following my departure, I’d periodically receive insightful and kind hand-written and electronic notes from him, congratulating me on some piece of positive news, or just letting me know he’d been thinking of me. As invariably delighted as I was to receive Goodman’s notes, what struck me most was not the fact that he’d actually taken the time and energy to write to me, but the certainty that he must also have been writing—with the same thoughtful, personal touch—to dozens, if not hundreds of others lucky enough to have crossed paths with him.
Now we have lost a visionary, a unique figure in the demimonde of Philadelphia lawyers; a rainmaker par excellence who was just as content exercising his talents as a nimble jazz pianist in a local hotel lobby; a friend to many, and an inspiration to many more. As Goodman’s fellow start-up pioneer Howard Ross once said of their shared philosophy, “We were much more than lawyers or accountants. We were advisers, consiglieres.”
Last year, Goodman attended a social function at my home. As we chatted, it was clear that he was ailing, notwithstanding his irrepressible optimism. In a moment of self-awareness on my part, it occurred to me that I might not have another good chance to let Goodman know what an impact he’d made on me, and more importantly, on our profession and on our city. So I told him essentially everything I’ve written here. We both shed a few tears and shared a warm embrace. He left us knowing that he was loved and worshipped.
Ajay Raju, chairman and CEO in Dilworth Paxson’s Philadelphia office, focuses his legal practice on structured finance and real estate capital markets transactions. He also has a reputation in a broad spectrum of other transactional areas, including mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, joint ventures, and cross-border strategic alliances. Contact him at email@example.com.