Stephen M. Goodman, 77, a Philadelphia lawyer who recognized very early the importance of start-ups and became their adviser and champion as the companies gained a foothold in the region's economy, died Thursday, March 2, of complications from a brain disorder at Penn Wissahickon Hospice in Bala Cynwyd.

Stephen M. Goodman
Courtesy of Morgan Lewis
Stephen M. Goodman

"Philadelphia has lost a legend in his time," said close friend SaraKay Smullens. "He had the most amazing career and nurtured so many people, helping dreams to come true."

Mr. Goodman, who was called "Steve," began representing emerging companies in 1969 when they were little known. He launched his own firm – Goodman & Ewing – with former colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania Law School's Law Review.

In those early days, many large law firms had dismissed the start-up sector, in part because it had trouble paying its legal bills. But Mr. Goodman believed in it passionately, ultimately becoming a celebrated figure within the emerging business community.

He nurtured promising entrepreneurs throughout Philadelphia and the Mid-Atlantic region, and later in Europe, becoming a friend and counselor to those who sought his legal services. He advised clients on strategy and guided them from product development to expansion.

He made connections between potential entrepreneurs and investors, helping create Philadelphia's Angel Venture Fair, the oldest and largest gathering of angel investors and entrepreneurs in the Mid-Atlantic region, said executive director Marc Kramer. In an article last June on the Philly website, Mr. Goodman was dubbed the "fairy godfather of Philadelphia startups."

"He didn't have clients – he had friends," said Joanne Soslow, deputy chair of the corporate group at Morgan Lewis. She worked with Mr. Goodman for 25 years, both before and while he was at Morgan Lewis.

"He touched people. He was a lawyer, but really a relationship person. What he did his entire career didn't exist before he did it, and now is a business strategy for law firms."

"Whether they were entrepreneurs or people with business capital, he never said no. People loved him because he took the time to be with people."

Stephen V. Buerkle, cofounder of RealNetworks  and seven other tech start-ups, said Mr. Goodman was involved in his first attempt as an entrepreneur in the early 1980s.

"Steve's approach to legal services was unique, as was his personality. He became, to me and all with whom he worked, a friend, a sounding board, and a mentor.

"I certainly had no funds to pay an attorney, especially one with Steve's credentials. He took me on, nonetheless, making sure that not only were the legal needs met, but making himself available to me whenever I needed advice, legal or otherwise.

"Only after we achieved sufficient cash flow was our legal bill due. No other law firm would ever have structured their services in that manner. Steve understood that start-ups are difficult and founders need every bit of support they can get."

In 1983, when his area of expertise outgrew his small firm, Mr. Goodman moved to the law firm of Wolf Block. He stayed there until 1994, when he joined Morgan Lewis. His leadership in founding the firm's emerging business and technology practice helped put Morgan Lewis on the map as a provider of legal services to start-ups, said chair Jami Wintz McKeon.

"Steve was a towering figure in the Philadelphia legal and business community," McKeon said. "His reputation was fully earned by his dedicated and skilled counsel to his clients, his kindness to others and active support of both clients and younger lawyers, and his special way of fully embracing his love of the law alongside his love of life, entrepreneurs, music, and his family."

Within the firm, Mr. Goodman mentored a generation of lawyers specializing in start-up law. Many have become partners at Morgan Lewis. He retired last September.

Mr. Goodman was also a well-known jazz pianist, who despite never learning to read music played jazz clubs and other venues in the Philadelphia area for decades.

He and his combo also released successful recordings featuring music from shows including Jekyll and Hyde, Phantom of the Opera, and Chicago. He created jazz versions of that music, said his wife, Janis.

In the 1980s, he could be seen seated at the piano at Taylor's Country Store on Sansom Street or at the Tuesday night jam sessions at the 23rd Street Cafe. He  played the piano at the Rittenhouse Hotel bar on Sundays and at the Frog Commissary on Locust Street in the 1970s.

"It was important to my sense of equilibrium to also be playing," he told Philly.

Mr. Goodman saw himself as a jazz musician who practiced law rather than a lawyer who played music. He often noted the common themes in the practice of law and improvisational jazz; he compared the mission statement of a start-up venture to the melody in a jazz riff.

Born in Philadelphia to Jean and Ed Goodman, he graduated from Overbrook High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 1962. He received a degree in 1965 from Penn's Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review.

He served as a law clerk for Chief Judge David L. Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and later clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

He also served as a member of the advisory board to then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., and as an adjunct professor at the law schools of Georgetown University, Rutgers University, and Penn.

Late in his career, he taught a Penn course on the legal aspects of entrepreneurship with Morgan Lewis partner Steve Jannetta.

Mr. Goodman's skill in helping transform young companies into profitable enterprises earned him widespread recognition, including the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Legal Intelligencer.

In May 2011, he received the Legend Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies. He also was honored by the Philadelphia Bar Association and the Greater Philadelphia Venture Group.

Mr. Goodman and his wife spent time each year in Paris. He loved dogs, and was rarely without the company of his teacup Maltese, Snippet.

In addition to his wife of 38 years, Mr. Goodman is survived by children Rachel and Carl, two grandchildren, and a sister. A brother died earlier.

A celebration of life will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 8, in the ballroom at the Union League of Philadelphia, 140 S. Broad St. Burial is private.

Memorial donations may be made to the Goodman Bronchiectasis Fund at Penn Medicine.