International Dance DJ Turned Media and E-Commerce Partner – Tom Harding – S3E20

This week on the Legally Speaking Podcast, our host Rob Hanna is joined by Tom Harding.
Once a professional DJ performing in front of thousands of fans, he’s now a Partner at the prestigious global law firm, Osborne Clark. Not one to stray too far from his hedonistic former life, he now specialises in the fascinating and growing area of digital media and e-commerce law.

In the episode Tom talks about:

  • How he accidentally fell into his early DJ career, via an Amsterdam coffee shop
  • What it felt like to play at one of the world’s biggest festivals in front of over 100,000 fans
  • The experience of transitioning to a legal career after his fast-paced early years
  • Why he sees experience in other sectors as highly beneficial to legal practice
  • The importance of diversity & why he finds his practice area so stimulating


Robert Hanna (00:00):

Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Hanna. This week, I’m delighted to be joined by Tom Harding. Tom is a partner at Osborne Clark specialising in digital regulation e-commerce and consumer law. Tom has previous in-house experience working in the BBC’s litigation team. He was head of the television broadcasting and photographic performance limited and has sat on the DMS social media council. Before becoming a lawyer, Tom was a world-leading DJ, traveling the globe and reaching a top spot in Holland for his DJ work. So a very big welcome Tom.

Tom Harding (00:41):

What an intro. Thanks Rob.

Robert Hanna (00:44):

I know, I don’t get to say those types of introductions every day. So, we’re really, really excited to have you on the show and talk through your amazing achievements and legal experience, of course, but we do have a customary icebreaker question on the Legally Speaking Podcast. So on the scale of one to 10, 10 being very real, how real would you rate the hit series ‘Suits’ in terms of its reality?

Tom Harding (01:12):

Ah, okay, so do you know what? I’ve never actually seen suits, so I can’t give you the rating Rob I’m afraid, but lots of people do ask me, in fact, ‘is Suits, like what you do?’. And I have to say, I don’t know, because yeah, I’ve never actually watched it or maybe I’m a bit older

Robert Hanna (01:32):

And we move on. So don’t worry.

Tom Harding (01:34):

I think that’s right. Yeah.

Robert Hanna (01:37):

So let’s start at the beginning because this is going to be interesting. Tell us a bit about your family background and upbringing first.

Tom Harding (01:43):

So, family background and upbrining. So, I guess I grew up in Bristol. My dad is a financial advisor. Mom’s a speech therapist. Grew up in there, went to school in Bristol and then went up to a university up in Nottingham. Um, so that’s yeah. And then, yeah, I’ve ended up living in bath now, so I’ve ended up back where I sort of grew up, but that’s how it all started.

Robert Hanna (02:11):

And before you became a lawyer, which we’re definitely going to talk about, you work as a professional DJ for many years, talk us through it.

Tom Harding (02:20):

What was that like? It was awesome. So, yeah, so to cut a long story short, I sort of got into Djing because in sort of right place, right time, really. And it’s a long story Rob, but when I was little people used to like mix tapes but no one does anymore because no one has cassette tapes or anything like that. Long story short, a mate of mine had a mix tape in his pocket. And he was sitting in a cafe in Amsterdam and they were playing some tunes in the background. And he said, Oh, do you want to put this tape on? And it’s my mates, it’s pretty good. And they went, okay, why not? That sounds like a good idea. And did that turns out it’s proper, like right place, right time. And, um, turns out that the guys who ran the cafe were planning on putting on a club night and they said, Oh, this guy who is he? And my mate to his credit just lied through his teeth basically. And he said, Oh, let’s sit down. This is my mate, he’s really good. He’s really hot upcoming DJ, that sort of thing. And I mean, in reality, I’d only ever played at a sixth form ball when I was about 18 or something like that, but they sort of bought, bought the story and flew me over to Collins, uh, played in the club and long story short, the club got really successful. And so at the festival they ran and it’s all about, and from there. Oh, it was amazing. I used to adore it because fundamentally you got paid to, um, play records, which I just do anyway. Doesn’t mean I just, I would just love music. So you get paid to play records, um, fly around the world to some amazing places, you know, what’s not to like about that really. So yeah. I used to love it.

Robert Hanna (04:12):

Right with you on that. Do you have a particular highlight from your time as a DJ?

Tom Harding (04:20):

There’s so many good memories, but the best thing I think I ever did. So that was a big festival in Holland called, Dance Valley. And again, it’s a long story, but at the time is basically like the biggest dance festival in the world. And there was a DJ called Carl Cox. He used to be really, really famous. He’s like one of my DJ heroes basically, but I got asked to headline the festival. So I got to basically say to Carl Cox who was just, absolutely God, one more for you. And then I’m on. And I got the headline at the festival and there’s a hundred thousand people in the audience. Absolutely amazing. Whenever I’m having a stressful day. I think back to that, to that moment, because it is just brilliant.

Robert Hanna (05:05):

That is fantastic. One hundred thousand people. So what was the, the song or the tune then? What was the one where they all went mental for? Or what was the one your go-to track at the time? That was, yeah, forever keeping the party going.

Tom Harding (05:19):

It’s probably relatively obscure unless you’re into hard dance because that was my bag. Unless you’re into hard dance you probably wont know it, but it’s called Nightingale by DJ Mind X, which is probably on YouTube somewhere. People won’t listen to it, but that’s my favorite sort of hard dance tune of all time. That was the last tune I played. And it was the roar of the crowd was just amazing. Absolutely amazing fond memories.

Robert Hanna (05:44):

What sort of music are you into now, have you stuck with that sort of stuff? Or what else are you into? Obviously, it’s probably not left. You’re still kind of big into your music.

Tom Harding (05:53):

Yeah, no, I am still. I still listen to all the DJ stuff now and then not as much. I havent in a little while now, but I listen to anything really. I mean, anything that is good and I mean, I’ve got three kids, I’ve got sort of three teenage daughters so a lot of sort of pop and stuff. And you sort of turned into, you end up sounding like your parents just getting all this stuff because they’d like love listening to kiss in car and the sort of thing, but yeah. And anything and everything really.

Robert Hanna (06:25):

So are you the cool dad then? Have you been the DJ for all the, the sort of kids’ birthday parties or do you outright refuse once you hit sort of Dance Valley, with a hundred thousand people you’re not prepared to go back or have you done that role?

Tom Harding (06:38):

I like to think I’m the cool dad, but I’m pretty sure that’s not true. And my daughters certainly dont think that. I’ve always flatly refused to do kid’s parties. Although I did do my eldest daughter’s primary school leaving do which was really good fun actually, is really good fun. And all the parents up on the stage dancing to Take That, which is quite good. And I think she thought I might be cool but it doesn’t really wash. I’m a bit too old now.

Robert Hanna (07:09):

Well, we loved learning about that and yeah, just fascinating. And there is a real kind of important point to the podcast today because we must then transition into your career of becoming a DJ and then moving into the law later on into your career. And I’m really making it a success of it. But let’s start at the beginning of that bit. Why did you wish to make the transition from DJing into the law.

Tom Harding (07:35):

Well, well, to be honest, i went to uni. I did industrial economics at uni, but I’d always thought actually that the law would be a good career path ultimately. And then to be honest with you, the DJing was, um, a bit of a curve ball. If you see what I mean, as in, because I just got some opportunities to go into it and I thought, do you know what, lets just go and do it becuase you’re never going to get these opportunities again. So I’d always sort of had it in the back of my mind that I never wanted to be DJing forever because it’s great fun. And it’s really interesting, but it’s tiring and you know, you spent a lot of weekends away and this sort of thing. So I always thought, well, I’ll do that while it’s fun and have some success, but I’d always sort of going back to the law. So I was always in the back of my mind. Um, so yeah, I basically quit from the DJing thing and then went back to law school when I was 30, in fact.

Robert Hanna (08:30):

Brilliant. And you must have had some major challenges to overcome. What would you say have been some of them in your legal career to date?

Tom Harding (08:43):

The first thing was actually trying to get training contracts and trying to get into the profession so, because I think, you know, at the time, you know, something, people like the milk grounds where you just applied, to go to different firms. And I sent out, I think 32 applications. I think it is something like that and just got flatly refused. In fact, from 30 firms, they just wrote back going no. I think they sort of look at your background, they look at your CV and just think I’m not, I’m not sure. This isn’t the sort of background that fits the mould of the people that we wanted in the professions. So that was, um, that was challenge number one really actually just getting in there because I think, you know, there’s a lot of the time there’s lots of screening of applications and, you know, have the grades and that was okay, but it didn’t sort of wash. So that was, that was certainly challenge number one. And I think the other challenge from, you know, to be blunt I suppose, is going from DJing which is a pretty sort of, well, very different profession, let’s say to the law and, you know, and sort of then sort of transitioning to that sort of mindset of going back to school and being in that sort of professional environment and you know, those sort of challenges. So it was a couple really.

Robert Hanna (09:57):

Okay. And since then you’ve made a real success of the law because you are now a partner at Osborne Clark. So tell us more about your current role as a partner and your journey to becoming a partner, because that’s truly inspiring too, to show that you can have a career change, um, at the age of say 30 and still go on to reach the pinnacle of, of partnerships. So just talk us through that.

Tom Harding (10:21):

So I’m a firm believer in career changes later on in life. The law is perfectly doable. I mean, you know, we get those candidates that sort of come and think, I always think actually if you’ve had a past career, that’s a really good thing because you just have different experiences and you have, you have a lot, yes, you may not know the law per se, but you can just bring a lot to the party in terms of dealing with people, dealing with situations and you can apply that. And I think, you know, it’s a really good thing, but at the moment, yeah. So yeah, I retrained when I was 30. And I said to now, yeah, some partner OC and I basically specialize in sort of consumer online digital regulation. And we work for lots of tech companies and that’s the thing.

Tom Harding (11:05):

I also head up our gaming practice. So we do lots of work for sort of interactive entertainment and gaming clients. Um, and it’s yeah, it’s, it’s good. I love it. Really enjoy it actually. And I think what I love about it is the fact that we are doing sorts of this interesting work for the clients, sort of doing new stuff and pushing digital boundaries and that type of thing, because for me, for me, it’s just, it’s just really, really interesting. Um, but yeah, the path up was quite hard. It was hard, actually it’s hard work. Um, but enjoyable. I say it’s enjoyable. I think if you’d like, if you sort of start and you, I think the key to it is really just finding an area of law that you really enjoy you need to really sort of your subject matter. There’s loads you can choose from. I mean, there’s absolutely a whole range of different areas of specialism, but if you find something that ignites your sort of passion, then it makes that hard journey a lot easier actually, because it’s, you know, you’re, I’m frankly just really interested in clients I’ve worked for and just generally what they do, which made them, makes doing the, you know, the legal bit, a lot easier

Robert Hanna (12:17):

I echo that and it’s, you know, it’s no surprise, perhaps a former DJ had a real passion for all things sort of media and technology. So that, that makes a lot of sense in following that, that route because you are passionate about media and technology. And as you mentioned, you do have a particular expertise in the games industry, which I’m fascinated by as you currently do lead the games and interactive entertainment practice at OC. So just to dig a bit deeper than what does that involve, um, more so on the game side, because I’m sure a lot of interested to know about that.

Tom Harding (12:48):

We do a lot of work for a lot of games. Um, you know, we’ve got a pretty big practice actually in that sense. So what does it involve? It involes an all manner of things actually. And, you know, from sort of regulatory advice to corporate, to litigation, you know, the whole sort of gamut, but what it really involves actually is really, um, knowing the industry, just knowing what’s going on within the gaming sort of sector, because a lot of providing a good service to clients is knowing the sort of background in industry in the sector. So I think, well, anyone can read, you know, the consumer rights act for example, and its application of consumer, but as it is sort of the application of that to the specific, you know, nuances of the gaming industry and how the, how that would apply to, you know, a cloud streaming platform or whatever.

Tom Harding (13:34):

And it’s, um, it’s that sort of, bit of the role, which is, um, which is really, really interesting, but I, I sort of oversee the whole department and is fascinating. Becuase as you say, it’s just fast moving and it’s interesting and it, you know, if I was doing, um, I mean no disrespected to property lawyers for example, but if I was doing sort of property law, just wouldn’t particularly find it particularly interesting, you know, the fact that I canjust work in this sector, something like gaming and, you know, due to regulation that I just really enjoy anyway, just this is an absolute dream, quite frankly.

Robert Hanna (14:08):

Yeah, no I’m with you. And it would only be fair in your legal career. What’s been your greatest highlight or what do you most enjoy about the current role?

Tom Harding (14:18):

Greatest highlight would be facing, I suppose it’s your classic thing. So is, I mean, frankly, it was getting a training contract. That was, that was, you know, for me that was a real, that was a real highlight, qualifying – I was frankly, delighted. Becoming partner was a real, real highlight. But you equally realise that life sort of goes on. I always thought that when I made partner I’d think okay fine, I’ll crack open the champagne and this sort of thing, but, and don’t get me wrong it’s a massive achievement, but you just realize that life is, um, life equally sort of carries on. So I think we were having like a celebration dinner with the kids and we just sat down, boom, boom, boom, sort of toasting going, ah, well done, daddy, that’s great.

Tom Harding (15:05):

You made partner. And actually at the point where we said that’s great, my middle daughter managed to choke on a piece of pizza that she was eating and um, my wife had to get up and give her the Heimlich maneuver. And um, you just realise its all sort of relative, but you just realize that, you know, life is equally, sometimes more important than these events, but that was that. Yeah. Well, that’s what I enjoy most about it. Do you know what I genuinely love? I love the bit of law that I do, if, you know, if I wasn’t doing law, I would still be involved I think in this sort of tech media, that sort of industry as well. So I genuinely find all sorts of clients problems and issues and the business strategy. So the dealing is just really fascinating. So it’s just really enjoyable working in that space.

Robert Hanna (15:59):

What some of our listeners would be really keen to know. If you were to kind of give one piece of advice. Maybe someone is coming to the end of their sporting career. One’s a DJ or maybe done something a bit different, you know, is there any mistakes you made as part of your career change that you would say avoid or any one piece of key advice you would say, look, this is going to help you make that change.

Tom Harding (16:21):

I would say just be, I suppose, have confidence in what your previous career can offer in terms of like the skills that you can transfer into the law lets say, because I suppose when I was DJaying, I was thinking, okay, I’m not sure really what this adds, to sort of going into the legal career, but then you’ve got break it down and you think, well, hold on, what I’ve actually done is I’ve gone round and I have lots of different clients as a DJ and I meet lots of people and it’s all about sort of relationships and getting on with people. And you’re actually running a business as well. So you sort of, I think at the time, I didn’t really appreciate the value of transferring some of those skills. So I would say that, you know, and if you’re a sports person, you think, well, you know, you’re, I’m sure you’re very focused and determined and disciplined and you know, there’s always, I think something you can bring to the party in terms of like a legal career, which is really important.

Tom Harding (17:21):

And we, you know, we get people that have second career changes and they typically do really well. Actually they do really well because it’s a, it’s an experience, you know, it may be in a completely different field, but it’s, you’re just bringing experience, you know, bringing experiences to your client relationships and the way you go about things. So don’t think that your previous career, if you were, wouldn’t add and be actually really attractive to an employer, because I think it’s really important. And the more people you get from diverse backgrounds and different career paths is, is really important, but actually it’s the profession as a whole.

Robert Hanna (17:57):

Yeah. Right. With you. And thanks so much for sharing that. Um, we must march on, um, because another thing that I’m passionate about as well as yes, London, you know, it’s, the city of London is great, but there are so many other great cities in the UK and beyond doing so much amazing work. So for you, how do you find working in Bristol to compare your experiences working in places like London?

Tom Harding (18:22):

I love it. Um, so, so yeah, so we’ve got offices and I under up in Bristil. So I live in bath. So I sort of tend to split my time between Roswell, when we weren’t going to the office. Um, uh, split my time between sort of Bristol and London and personally I’d, I mean, there shouldn’t be much of a difference. So I mean, I, what I think is brilliant actually, and especially with more remote working and in the particularly troubling times, you know, people can just work from home and do, people are more flexible as to where they can work from, but for me, it’s great because I can, you know, I can sit in Bath, um, and, but equally to work for the super super top international clients do you know what I mean, and location of offices is pretty agnostic really. Um, so I think, you know, and that’s, that’s changed quite a lot, actually.

Tom Harding (19:14):

I think, um, you know, when I sort of started getting the train , um, as well that, uh, up in London and the start of 2006 and then, I think, you know, it was more that really London was the place to be in terms of, you know, servicing the client. But as time has gone on a lot easier for people to be in complete different locations and you just get a bit more location agnostic about it, which is great. So, I mean, for me personally is it’s really the best of both worlds because I, you know, I live in sort of a place in nice surroundings, which I really like, but can still continue to do this sort of, really sort of high-end work for some that I really enjoy. Yeah.

Robert Hanna (19:56):

Particularly in the current climate, people think I’ve got to get into London or I’ve got to do London or whatever, and that’s not necessarily the case. Of course, London is fantastic. Um, but I do encourage people to, to think outside the box or, you know, if they do live, you know, in a, in a reasonably big city, whether it’s access to lots of good law firms or even sort of local firms do consider them. And I guess that nicely leads us onto another topic that you’re very passionate about, which is social mobility. Um, and I know that’s something you’re actively involved with OC, but, but what does this mean to you?

Tom Harding (20:26):

I would say to me, it’s two things for me. I mean, you know, don’t get me wrong. I went to a private school and I had a relatively privileged sort of upbringing, but I was well aware that, you know, you applied to 32 law firms and you got turned down by 30 and that’s fundamentally because of your background. So I’m not saying I don’t, you know, it didn’t have a, you know, a very sort of privileged start, but I’m aware of the sorts of barriers to, um, equal for more socially diverse backgrounds, frankly, getting into the law. And I, you know, I think the law has not been particularly great in the past at encouraging people from more diverse backgrounds to enter the profession. You know, typically people sort of recruit from the Russell group universities and it’s quite a sort of stays past. So it’s two things really, actually one is really expand the pool that you go out to, to try and get people in the profession.

Tom Harding (21:24):

And that can be unique and going to recruit at a variety of different universities, we’ve got an apprentice scheme, you know, and just really sort of widening the net of people that you encourage actually to come and try and get into the profession, because it’s just super important because you know, what I don’t really want is a profession that is dominated by people from Russell group or, you know, Oxford. And if you get quite a sort of, um, well, you don’t get really a diversity of views and really what we really want is diversity. So it’s sort of two bits. It really is. One is expanding the pool of people allow them getting profession, but then actually the other bit is helping people, um, come up and sort of progress once their in to the legal profession. Cause that can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.

Tom Harding (22:15):

I think there’s some stats in The Lawyer actually a little while ago about, I think it’s magic circle firms, actually not, I’m trying to be rude about the magic circle firms, but about how, you know, progression of people from more socially diverse backgrounds drops off. So, you know, you may have X percent who sort of are NQS and starting, but actually that percentage just goes down and down as more people progress. So there’s two bits really that im keen to support, you know, widen the funnel of people coming in to profession and then also support people as they’re trying to go up. Um, and I think we’re getting better at it. And the profession is getting better at it, but there is still more to do I think.

Robert Hanna (22:56):

Yeah. And is there anything about the work at OC that you’ve done or anything within this area you would like to say that’s worked really, really well or that you’re working on or planning?

Tom Harding (23:07):

Yes. So, um, we are, we’re doing lots actually. I mean, I would say that, um, we are, so you certainly have started to widen the net of people we get into the firm. We have an apprentice scheme running, um, which is, uh, basically takes people from, you know, slightly different backgrounds and, but allows them to progress up through the firm and get through to NQS. Um, we’ve started really just working on sort of internal initiatives, uh, in terms of helping people progress. We’ve got sort of outreach to different types of schools to try and get people in, um, things like social mobility partnership. We’re very, um, plugged into there’s a lot on actually, which is good, cause I’m just, I’m just passionate about it. Just, you know, I just don’t and I think the profession and any firm would just benefit, frankly, from having a more diverse talent pool. Um, you just get that difference of opinions of views of doing things. I mean, you know, if everyone did, did everything the same and that’s a pretty boring place, really, so yeah, that’s, that’s the plan

Robert Hanna (24:09):

Long may that continue. And as we look to, to sort of wrap up Tom, you know, what advice would you give to lawyers wanting to work within the field of ditched regulation or, you know, particularly because I’m sure it’s going to have sparked a lot of people’s interest and they may think, well, isn’t it just too competitive to get into that space. So what advice would you give to those?

Tom Harding (24:29):

Yeah, I mean, it is competitive, but actually that sort of area and that scope of work is only ever going to get bigger because that, you know, there’s this realization and it’s all tech media, digital is there’s an industry in a sector let’s say, is going to grow and grow. Um, but as a result, there’s a lot, there’s a lot more legal work, so that’s, it’s a good place to be going in, but I would say the best advice I could give was try and sort of know your industry and knowing what’s going on. So when we, you know, we sort of, in few people, I’m talking about, you know, you’re looking at candidates things it’s all about. I don’t expect you to know the law particularly, you know, for starting because Mandy, why would you, but you know, if you have an industry and understanding of what’s going on, you know, what company X will company-wise up to, or if you can demonstrate that interest in the passion sort of in the sector, then that is really is the best starting point that you can possibly have actually. Um, and that, you know, that sort of people think great, okay. You know, you, you, you, we want, we are happy for you to come and work for us.

Robert Hanna (25:36):

Yeah. And I think that I would have embraced that under it’s a horribly overused term, but commercial awareness. And I think a lot of people running a lot of, you know, on Instagram, LinkedIn, all these social media is people are running some fantastic platforms, providing all of that, um, advice. People can just go and soak it up and use that to their advantage. Um, it’s, it’s been a real pleasure chatting to you, and I’m sure lots of people are going to be inspired and, um, maybe even wish to sort of want to try and reach out to you. So if people want to follow or get in touch about anything we’ve discussed today, what’s the best way for them to do that and feel free to shout out any web links or relevant social medias. Um, and we’ll also share that with this episode.

Tom Harding (26:16):

Just ping me an email, quite frankly. Uh, so that’s fine. You know, all the details are up on the OC website. So just find me. I’m on LinkedIn. So find me on either and, um, yeah reach out. Always, always more than happy to have a chat. And, um, yeah, thanks so much.

Robert Hanna (26:34):

Once again, it’s been a real pleasure having you on wishing you lots of continued success with your legal career now on the show over and out.

Tom Harding (26:43):

Perfect. Thank you very much. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Robert Hanna (26:46):

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