Alumni profile - Tony Goldsmith
Tony Goldsmith talks about his career, from his time as a deck officer with Ocean Fleets, leaving the sea to study Law at Queen Mary and qualifying as a solicitor, becoming a partner at the firm, to setting up Hill Dickinson's first office in Asia, and then returning to London to take over as business group leader.
What does your role as Partner and Master Mariner look like on a day-to-day basis?
As an Admiralty lawyer I was mostly dealing with crisis management when ships had incidents, such as fire, grounding, structural failures, collisions and so on. So I would help deal with that by going on site, dealing with the authorities, collecting/checking evidence, speaking with other contractual parties, such as cargo owners, the people chartering the ship, passengers, etc. An example is when a client’s vessel hit an iceberg in the South Atlantic, and we had to get the passengers back from Antarctic, it was very hands-on. Another example was when I acted for the company that was contracted to remove the wreck of the Costa Concordia.
When interviewing witnesses it helps to have a knowledge of the Law to know what to ask, and understand the legal implications from the answers given, and how this might impact on the outcome of arbitration, litigation and so on. I was also privileged to be charged with opening a new office for Hill Dickinson in Singapore, it being our first Asian office. I spent 11 years there growing a team of lawyers until we were the strongest, if not one of the strongest marine legal teams in Asia. This was both very interesting and tremendously exciting.
Moving into management, my work has become much less hands-on, my clients are now the other partners in the Marine & Trade group and because in a partnership every person has a say, leadership is by consensus, rather than dictat, which is an interesting dynamic. I anticipate my new role having more of an ambassadorial flavour, and will continue to liaise with the clients I have worked with for many years.
What made you want to become a lawyer?
I wanted to settle down and have a family and I knew that working at sea wasn’t going to be a sensible long term option for that. My father was a marine surveyor and wanted me to work with him, which never would have worked. I was on leave from the sea, went to see him give evidence as an expert in court and met his instructing solicitor who became a mentor; I owe him so much. I actually joined the firm he was in once I graduated, he left, and re-joined some years later when I was heading up the Singapore office, so we really came full circle!
I was lucky in that I had a firm idea of what I intended to do when I left the sea, and I managed to do it, and with the firm I wanted to do it with. I have been fortunate to work as part of a really strong team with top quality lawyers, far better at the law than I am, which has enabled me to play to my strengths which are understanding how ships operate, and the psyche of seafarers, and how to sort out problems. It’s important to know your weaknesses, so I know I’m not a great researcher, but when it comes to client work and managing teams, I’m stronger at that. I often tell clients that my colleague who opened the Singapore office with me, Andrew Lee, is the real brains of the outfit. I hope I can give some people a lot of hope on that front – I certainly struggled with my degree – it was a very different style of learning than I’d ever done before - I didn’t do A levels, so the nature of the studying was challenging, and the Law Society exams required a lot of learning of facts, rather than an ability to argue points of law.
Can you tell me about a key turning point in your career?
I think opening the Singapore office was pivotal to my success. It was a really exciting opportunity to do something fun, and I was able to do it with someone who I had a lot of respect for, and who I learnt a lot from.
What made you choose Queen Mary and how did your time studying support your career ambitions?
The reality is that Queen Mary was the only place to give me an opportunity, as it was their policy then to take on mature students.
I was brought up on the Isle of Wight, so I took a compass and drew a circle from there on the map, to find the closest universities, which included Queen Mary. Back then you could apply to five polytechnics and five universities, and the only one to offer me a place was Queen Mary & Westfield College, as it was then. I’ve proven that it was a good choice for them and it was very lucky for me! It had (and probably still does have) one of the best Law faculties in the country so it was a double win.
I had a great experience, having come from a class based working environment working on the ships. Also having a white middle class background on the Isle of Wight, Queen Mary was very different, which was brilliant and truly life changing. I worked hard as mature students tend to and my career since then has been very exciting. I consider I have been very lucky.
My time at Queen Mary very much supported my career – the lawyer who became my mentor said I should do a Law degree, rather than a conversion course as it would give me a better background in the law, and I really enjoyed the academics, even things I didn’t expect to.
What advice would you give a current student or recent graduate considering their career options?
Nowadays there are an awful lot of people looking for training contracts, and it’s become far tougher to secure one. So I would recommend considering various alternatives to becoming a private practice lawyer, early on. I think it’s important to work out what your motivation for becoming a lawyer is before becoming one. Lots of people go into Law to help people or to become wealthy and it can be interesting, and you can do well, but many don’t, and many become disillusioned and disheartened. So I would say to really think about what you hope to achieve - a Law degree provides a very useful qualification in itself which can be used to great effect in various walks of life.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, in or out of your field?
I was lucky enough to have really good mentors, especially early on, who I emulated in terms of how they conducted themselves. Also, when I was a warden in the halls of residence, the senior warden was something of a mentor to me too. He taught me the importance of having the right motives. He was always primarily focused on student wellbeing and having a good grip on my motives is something I’ve held onto throughout my career. I have really good memories of working as a warden, and I’ve kept in contact with several of the people I knew there.