‘I came into law by accident,’ admits Sebastian Goldsmith, general counsel (GC) of occupational health service provider Medigold Health. ‘I guess it was a second choice. I did Spanish and Portuguese at university, and I was going to work for an investment bank, as I did an internship with HSBC during my year abroad in São Paulo. The plan was to join them or another bank when I graduated. But all intakes were withdrawn, because it was August 2008,’ Goldsmith recalls.
The onset of the global financial crisis created a dilemma: ‘I sat there and thought, what am I going to do now? People always said to me, you should be a lawyer, because I have a strong sense of justice and fairness, and I liked a debate, and I’m quite verbal. So I went to BPP and did law school.’
It was towards the end of his time at BPP that Goldsmith discovered he was dyslexic. ‘I had some issues with exams and I went and saw the dean. I said to him, “I don’t understand, I prepared, I’ve never failed an exam before in my life.” He showed me my manuscripts and said, “I’ve seen this before. I think you’re dyslexic.”’
The results of an assessment proved revealing. ‘The clinical psychologist told me I was very high on the verbal scale, but I was compensating, because my physical speed and my memory are really low,’ he explains. ‘It really chimed with my experience. I sent her all my old school reports, and it was so obvious when I looked back that I had always had this issue.’
How did his diagnosis affect him? ‘It shook my confidence. I went from excelling to worrying I’d be slower than everyone else.’
Still, Goldsmith graduated in 2010 and won a training contract at Nabarro, which merged with CMS in May 2017. ‘I found a role in investment fund law, which suited the way my brain worked quite nicely, as there was not a lot of black-letter law – it was mostly negotiation, and complex but logical contract terms.’
Remembering the interview with Nabarro that landed him his training contract, Goldsmith breaks into a smile: ‘The main thing I remember talking about was the time I played cricket for Brazil. When I was in São Paulo, I was looking for somewhere to watch the cricket world cup. I got in touch with the São Paulo team and they suggested I come down and play. So I did. I had a good time, bowled a few balls for some of the players. Then they asked what I was doing next week. I told them I was working at HSBC. They said: “Oh, HSBC sponsors us, why don’t you come to the South American Cricket Championship in Lima?”’
His bosses at HSBC allowed him to go, he played with the team and had what he describes as an ‘amazing’ experience. The lesson here? Goldsmith quips: ‘Cricket opens doors!’
On a professional note, he insists that one of the most important pieces of advice he has received in his career is not to be too worried about the opinions of others.
Another early lesson was the value of having attention to detail. ‘At Nabarro, former partner Andrew Wylie taught me the importance of precision in everything that you put in writing, and to always think about what the other side might do with every single one of your words.’ An Australian colleague put it more succinctly. ‘Darren Stolzenberg had a Queenslander version: “Mate – just think!” As a dyslexic perfectionist, particularly in-house, I have to balance that against the mantra of “good enough” so that I can remain efficient. But as a legal grounding, it was invaluable.’
Goldsmith moved from Nabarro to a role as an associate at Latham & Watkins in September 2015. Then came the decision to leave private practice. ‘I was about to start a family, so I decided to move in-house at an Australian investment fund, IMF Investors,’ he explains.
Within a couple of years, though, he began to feel ‘pigeonholed’. ‘Investment fund law is very niche,’ he says. ‘The tasks you undertake, both in private practice and in-house, are very specific. It was difficult to get exposure to wider areas of law.’
Goldsmith’s father, Dr Mike Goldsmith, founded Medigold Health in 1998 and his brother Alex became its chief executive in 2014. Just as the limits of investment fund law began to chafe, Medigold reached the stage in its growth where it sought to hire a GC. ‘I was thinking about getting experience as a GC. I spoke to my brother and he said, the family business needs a lawyer, why don’t you come and work with us?’
He interviewed with chief financial officer (CFO) Eliot Caulton and got the job. He still reports to Caulton, to maintain professional distance from his chief executive brother. It is a role that has allowed Goldsmith to thrive. ‘I love being faced with five or six different areas of law every day,’ he enthuses. ‘My first week at Medigold was the week before lockdown, so I was immediately buying PPE from China. You have to become an expert, at least enough to do your job, in a lot of different areas, very quickly. You have to do very sharp deep dives into different areas of law, generate an answer for the business, and move on. I don’t think I’ve ever been so fulfilled as a lawyer,’ he says.
Goldsmith is firmly of the view that a GC should take a strategic role in the business. ‘There’s a huge debate in the in-house world about whether we need to be a strategic partner. Absolutely we do. I’m massively against legal being a blocker. We need to help the business find ways to do what it wants to do.’
That attitude has allowed him to implement a few improvements to the legal function. ‘I’ve now got a paralegal, which is brilliant. I’ve implemented a contract life-cycle management system. I’ve hired a compliance director, as well as a full-time data protection officer.’
He also notes the growing importance of ESG as a key issue facing Medigold, citing an increasing role for the GC as ‘ethical voice’ of the business. ‘A couple of years ago, we decided that we wanted to revamp our CSR strategy and aim towards B Corp as a framework for our ESG endeavours. We hired an excellent part-time head who reports to me, so I have visibility over our ESG strategy.’
The business has also grown on Goldsmith’s watch. ‘In March, we acquired a business that was the size of our business, so we’ve doubled in size. We’re working out how to implement ESG. A lot of that is data and fact-finding. We’re working out our scope one and two emissions, and scope three is next. That requires buy-in across all stakeholders, and our investors have bought in. It’s slow going, but going well.’
Looking forward, Goldsmith sees his role as ‘continuing to build out the function’.
‘In a time of a lot of growth, and with a national shortage of clinicians, we have to be smart about where we spend our money. We have to maximise the efficiency of the legal function of the business. We’re implementing legal tech to support me and the commercial teams on that. We’re focusing on tech generally, to assist us in growing through the next phase.
‘We need to make sure we have robust governance, and that it’s demonstrable. We’re centralising a lot of functions to make sure things aren’t siloed,’ Goldsmith says. ‘A lot of my work is not so much on the black-letter legal side, but on governance and strategy more broadly. We’re looking at where our growth is going to be. I’m involved in all those conversations, and that’s quite satisfying.’
Amid all this change, though, Goldsmith takes care to make time for a life outside the business. ‘Nick Benson at Latham taught me it’s possible to be a family man and an excellent lawyer,’ he says. Goldsmith lives in Northamptonshire with his wife and two young children, and relishes the work-life balance that flexible working makes possible.
For his part, Goldsmith lacks the time for the creative writing and blogging that he enjoyed when he was younger (‘much younger’, he jokes), but he notes: ‘I still have plans to potentially write something – God knows what!’
He still finds time for video games, albeit less so now he has a family. ‘It’s a good way to wind down,’ he says. ‘It’s kind of looked down upon, but I don’t see why. You’re exercising your motor skills, imagination, and hippocampus – and it’s an escape.’
In addition to his love of Arsenal, for which he holds season tickets, Goldsmith also enjoys food and drink. ‘It’s a bit annoying,’ he laughs. ‘I’ve grown this beard, and at the same time I’ve ended up into coffee and barbecuing. I used to feel out of place in East London, but now I’ve become kind of a clichéd hipster.’
Aside from his habitual self-deprecation, perhaps what shines through the most about Goldsmith is his passion for inclusivity.
‘When I was first diagnosed with dyslexia, I did get some comments, from old-school types. They’d say things like, “well you’re not going to get 50% extra time with clients, so how are you going to manage?”
‘I can understand it from a law firm’s point of view, to a degree. You’re seen as a tool that needs to be utilised. But I don’t find the billable hour an amazing predictor of value. Both as a client now and when I used to be on the other side,’ he argues.
‘The thing is, if you bring your whole self to work, that benefits everyone. Disability is probably the characteristic that gets focused on the least. It’s so often the tiniest footnote on the end of a talk about diversity. Dyslexia, compared to some of the more profound disabilities, is probably on the minor end.
‘But I do think that the more different brain types and the more different perspectives you can get in an organisation, the more effective you can be. I like the #DyslexicThinking movement by Richard Branson, and Made By Dyslexia on LinkedIn.’
Goldsmith concludes bullishly on the topic: ‘And it’s not just about getting people in. It’s about active inclusion as well. People often use the analogy that, being invited is diversity, and being asked to dance is inclusion. I do agree with that. There’s no point getting people with different viewpoints into your organisation if you don’t take steps to include them.’
At a glance – Sebastian Goldsmith
2013-15 Associate, Nabarro
2015-18 Associate, Latham & Watkins
2018-20 Commercial associate, IFM Investors
2020-present General counsel, Medigold Health
Medigold Health – key facts
Size of team One
External legal spend £120,000 (not including M&A, compliance, tech)
Preferred advisers Howes Percival (Matthew Thompson), HCR (David Browne), Birketts (Amanda Timcke), Kennedys (George Chaisty), DAC Beachcroft (Darryn Hale), CMS (Sarah Hanson), Ashurst (Tim Gummer)