10 July 2000
Jonathan Goldstein, chief executive of Olswang, is suffering from a surfeit of journalists and it is making him a little cranky.
Following the launch of LongAcre, Olswang's new corporate finance house joint venture with JP Morgan, which will cater for high-tech companies, Goldstein has talked to most of the broadsheets about the new enterprise with mixed success.
He seems most peeved about one paper implying that he indulges in a certain beverage. Pointing to two cans of energy drink Red Bull on top of his filing cabinet he tells me that they were given to him by a partner who thought he was looking tired and that he has never drunk it in his life. But a recent article took their presence to mean that the Olswang wunderkind was running on empty.
He is also not happy that the slant of this piece will be personal rather than about Olswang and for the first time intones the mantra that will be repeated umpteen times during the interview: "It's not about me, I have 45 great partners..."
All of which is true of course, but he sounds like a politician who starts each answer with "Under the last government..." while carefully sidestepping the question asked. When accused of giving politician-style responses, he looks momentarily abashed and then eases up slightly.
But Goldstein will continue to attract the attention of the press whether he likes it or not, probably because when Olswang was founded in 1981, Goldstein had yet to take his O levels. Aged just 34, Goldstein is one of the youngest lawyers in the City to hold such a senior position, and it has brought him a lot of attention.
He says: "I have a fantastic management team, a great CEO and a great business development manager. But I have become a bit of a PR focal point from the firm's perspective."
In the prickly first half hour of the interview, Goldstein is particularly sensitive about the issue of conflict regarding LongAcre that has been raised by detractors.
"Where will conflict arise?" he demands. "Conflict will only arise if we [lawyers] believe that LongAcre is not giving good advice to its clients. It would be up to our lawyers to point out that the advice was not right.
"We set up LongAcre because we believed the advice our clients were getting was not appropriate. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating in a very real way - our reputation is at stake."
Goldstein also points out that the corporate finance house, despite its link with JP Morgan, will not be investing money for the time being, although he does not rule out the idea for the future.
He also insists that if the investment bank was not involved then no one would have been interested in Olswang setting up such a venture - which is surely false modesty.
As for future ventures, he is holding his cards close to his chest. Yes, other schemes are on the drawing board, but no, he does not want to tell the press about them just yet.
While denying that LongAcre is a potential area for conflicts, Goldstein is very sceptical about the fashion for taking equity stakes in lieu of fees. Although some in the market say that Olswang has taken stakes in the past, Goldstein insists it is not the firm's policy to do so.
He says: "That is a classic area where [conflict] can occur. We also don't find that there is a great demand for it in the marketplace. But every firm has to make its own decision based upon its own situation."
When it comes to making decisions that are right for the firm, Goldstein would like Olswang to emulate Slaughter and May (which lawyer wouldn't?).
But not just because of the fantastic client base and profitability that the grandfather of City firms has built up, but because the firm has stuck unwaveringly to a course that it believes is right. "It has a fantastic brand name and position, while providing a quality service," he says.
Although Olswang's Brussels office has been open for around a year, Goldstein also believes that Slaughter and May has the right attitude to international work.
However, Goldstein says that the firm is always looking for opportunities to link up with a law firm in Silicon Valley. "That doesn't mean that next week we are going to merge with one, but there are no hard and fast rules," he adds.
There are also no hard and fast rules at Olswang when it comes to the amount of chargeable hours that the lawyers are expected to rack up. Goldstein says that the hours are not looked at on an individual basis and that the firm has always recognised that people have a life outside the office. But when asked average chargeable hours, he claims that he does not know.
During the interview he takes a call from his tennis partner, arranging a game for 9pm and apologising for not being able to find one for earlier, so at least it seems that Goldstein leaves the office at a reasonable hour.
But while he is in the office, Goldstein says that he finds it hard to prioritise his many functions.
However, one issue he is not going to spend any time on is listening to the firm's detractors. "My responsibilities are to my firm, my partners and my family. [Olswang] has been up there and taken the attention. If people want to have a pop at Olswang then I'm not going to spend any time worrying about that."