DLA Piper partner considered entering the priesthood

Tom Barnes finds himself lucky to work with "genuine, warm hearted, generous and funny people"

DLA Piper partner considered entering the priesthood

Tom Barnes might have become a priest if not for his parents laying down career options for him. A debater in school, he went for a career in law because he thought debating was what “law was all about.”

Today, Barnes is a partner at DLA Piper who is highly interested in the possibilities of legaltech, the tokenisation of assets, and the complexities of AI. In this September 2023 interview, he highlights the importance of listening more than you talk, caring less to achieve more, and why he’d lawyer for Cersei Lannister.

What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

I was considering becoming a priest; however, my parents gave me three career options: a doctor, lawyer or engineer. I chose law because I did debate at school and that's what I thought law was all about. While debating is a useful skill to have as a lawyer, a mantra that's served me well over the years is 'always listen more than you talk'.

 My favourite part of the job is the people. I'm lucky to work with genuine, warm hearted, generous, and funny people. And courageous, inspiring clients.

 What is going on at the organisation? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

 There's a lot going on in the organisation. I'm interested in harnessing legaltech to do the basics efficiently so that we can focus on the work that really need attention and have extra time in the day for whatever matters most to us outside work.

 What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?

 DLA Piper has an in-house engine for the tokenisation of assets in the form of both fungible and non-fungible tokens called TOKO. TOKO uses market-leading distributed ledger technology (aka blockchain) to enable asset owners to tokenise them and raise funds quickly and securely and businesses to track and report on the sustainability of their supply chains. I'm excited about the opportunities that TOKO has for our firm and our clients and am actively involved in implementing the solution.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

I'd say the biggest lesson I've learnt is to care less to achieve more. It doesn't mean being careless but rather caring about fewer things. By doing this you can focus on the bigger picture, prioritise goals and make progress towards them, rather than getting bogged down in details.

What should the profession focus more on?

Clients. We're a service-driven industry and clients are our top priority. It's important we understand their needs and keep up with their changing requirements. I'm fortunate to work with amazing clients and have been on the journey with many as they've gone from strength to strength. Forming genuine and long-lasting relationships with my clients really is what keeps me energised.

 What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry? 

AI is certainly a challenge of today and the future. It's reshaping industry across all sectors, enhancing customer experience and fostering huge increases in productivity. Yet, with these innovations come complex legal, ethical, and regulatory challenges that we'll need to navigate. Undoubtedly, good governance will be required to mitigate risk and ensure companies can develop and deploy AI responsibly, safely, and commercially. It will be interesting to see how this continues to play out. 

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year? 

On the work front, I'd have to say I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues around the world. I recently met with my counterparts in Sydney to discuss changes to the New Zealand financial services landscape and the implications for our clients. I'm looking forward to working with them more on various initiatives in this space.

We've had some clerks join the team bringing a fresh perspective with them. I will be mentoring the clerks, a part of my job that I find very satisfying. 

If you had to defend a fictional antagonist/villain in court, who would you pick, and why? 

Cersei Lannister, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. While she is undoubtedly evil, her worst acts were motivated by the love for her family and the desire to protect them at all costs.

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