Goldsmith, the younger brother of former Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith, says he and joint founding partner Chris Williams were junior partners at a traditional firm of solicitors in Liverpool that was not really going anywhere. Being “impetuous and youthful”, he decided to give it a go when Williams suggested they start their own firm. Goldsmith Williams was set up in July 1984 and was initially run as a general practice.
“It was a traditional practice dealing with everything – matrimonial, crime, conveyancing, anything that walked through the door.”
The change into a business specialising in conveyancing came about when they were approached by two former Royal Life salespeople running a Liverpool-based firm called Homebuyers Advice Centre. “They came to us and said: Do you want to do some work with us? That is the way it started.”
By setting up a network of franchisees who used advertising in local newspapers, Homebuyers Advice Centre was generating 70 or 80 cases a week, passing much of the legal work on to Goldsmith Williams.
“We cut our teeth on that and that is where we created this niche of taking on work from mortgage intermediaries and that is where we have been ever since.”
The Goldsmith Williams business now covers three main areas – conveyancing, remortgaging and road traffic/personal injuries. It also offers will writing, probate services and home information packs.
Like many people in the mortgage industry, Goldsmith says brokers are looking to diversify away from traditional transaction-based business. “There is a lot more interest in ancillary, non-core services from intermediaries than ever before because obviously they are feeling the pinch.”
Goldsmith says the business has changed a lot during the years it has been involved in the mortgage market. “Our competition when we started was local high-street practitioners but the competition is now with the panel managers.”
Goldsmith Williams now employs 270 people in its Liverpool office but Goldsmith says location is becoming less important for this type of business. “We were in the vanguard of what I call direct conveyancers. Direct conveyancers are conveyancing operations that deal remotely with the public, so it is non-face to face, it is non-traditional.”
He says the public and mortgage brokers are wary of using traditional firms for services such as conveyancing and remortgaging because of the impression that the “meter is always running”.
Goldsmith says: “The public are still very anxious and nervy about talking to lawyers because they are worried about how much money we charge.” He says the firm came up with the concept of direct conveyancing as a way to counteract this impression. “We developed, in partnership with some others, this concept of direct conveyancing. It is fixed fee, it is transparent, it is a resourced operation and a specialist.”
He says high-street conveyancers will always exist, as they offer the personal service some people are looking for, but direct conveyancing offers a more compelling option for people who are pushed for time and used to buying services online.
As a response to growing demand for online services, Goldsmith Williams has developed GWLive, an online case management and tracking system which allows brokers to see what stage applications are at.
Goldsmith says this system took a great deal of time and money to develop but he seems very pleased with the results. He says the system is not a simple casetracking system. As well as giving brokers real-time updates on the progress of any case, they can see the documents.
He says the system has effectively turned Goldsmith Williams into an online firm, with up to 80 per cent of its business coming through this channel. It has also increased efficiency. “We used to complete a standard case in 10 working days and now we guarantee it in seven.”
The firm is in the process of adding a buy-to-let module to GWLive. Despite moving into the Hip market, Goldsmith says the introduction of Hips is a classic case of politicians meddling where it was not needed. “An awful lot of trees have been cut down to produce the energy-efficient certificates.”
However, Hips have provided brokers with an opportunity to broaden their service to clients and Goldsmith says the firm is seeing a steady stream of business from some of the more entrepreneurial brokers.
“This may be a result of brokers now looking to diversify because of the financial pressures from reduced proc fees and so on.”
As brokers start to move away from relying on mortgage transactions and reposition themselves as financial advisers for their clients, Goldsmith Williams hopes to be in a position to work in partnership with them.
“We have noticed a change in the last six months in the business we are getting through. It is no longer sub-prime. It is near or prime and we are getting much more interest in our ancillary products.”
He says brokers may start to help clients with wills, equity release, overseas purchases and even lasting powers of attorney in an effort to broaden their sources of income.
Whatever the market wants, Goldsmith Williams has proved itself adaptable to accommodate the demands.
Born: Liverpool, 1952
Education: Liverpool Institute and Leicester University
Drives: Jaguar XKR
Likes: Mortgage industry
Favourite book: The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart
Favourite film: Sliding Doors
Favourite album: The White Album by The Beatles
Career ambition: Exactly what I am doing
Life ambition: To retire but to keep working
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Busking around Tuscany looking like a member of ZZ Top