The transformation of Olswang from TMT boutique to global powerhouse may not be complete, but it’s well underway.
Olswang, personified by its exuberant chief executive Jonathan Goldstein, has always been about opportunism. Now global expansion is firmly on the agenda. If its ambitions to establish formal links with France, Germany and Asia represent a strategic turnaround (certainly compared with the days of its UK-only policy when rivals Bird & Bird and Taylor Wessing were beginning their march across the Continent), then in Goldstein’s words, it is an “obvious” one.
Olswang has gone from 30 to 350 lawyers in little more than a decade. Since Goldstein first became its absurdly youthful boss in 1998, Olswang’s turnover has grown from £14m to £64m. Next year it’s projecting £70m-plus.
That’s the UK end taken care of. But now, or at least since July, the UK has been effectively the minority shareholder. Olswang and Greenberg Traurig are not yet in merger talks, but this ‘strategic alliance’ could well lead to a full marriage. And even as the relationship stands, Olswang has (again in Goldstein’s words) “direct and immediate access to a 29-office, $850m [£490.6m] business”.
To take that business to the next level, Olswang and Greenberg need better European coverage and a home in the East. Currently, Olswang has offices in London, Reading and Brussels, while Greenberg has offices in Amsterdam and Zurich. Then there are strategic alliances in Rome and Milan (with Studio Santa Maria), and in Tokyo (with Hayabusa Kokusai Law Offices).
So no France, no Germany, no China. Not yet.
Goldstein claims to be “delighted” with the level of business the alliance has generated, although so far this has been almost exclusively from captive referrals. The goal for the next year is to target new business that neither firm would have won without the alliance. Geographical spread may prove crucial to that ambition.
Yet despite its emergence as an international player, Goldstein insists that, at Olswang, nothing’s changed. “We will expand in a way in which our very distinct culture of Olswang is preserved. I’m very protective of our culture. We’re not prepared to risk what we do,” he said.
It’s admirable loyalty and understandable when you consider that Olswang is still a young law firm and many of the partners who collectively built it are still there. But how long it can genuinely retain its brassy ID as it edges closer to Greenberg may prove to be Goldstein’s biggest challenge of all.