My Weekend: Julian Heathcote Hobbins

Times Online, May 11, 2007

A few weeks back the editor of this section called to say that he was thinking of a metamorphosis of my weekly column. “How about writing about lawyers who’ve got interests – passions, even – beyond the law?” he asked, before adding, somewhat ominously, “after all, you can’t be the only one, can you?” I said that no, I surely wasn't, and agreed to cast my net far and wide in search of lawyers with lives.

That, as they say, was then. I’ve been deluged with candidates for “My Weekend”, and albeit, if I’m honest, that I belong much more in the writer’s than lawyer’s camp these days, I’ve been amazed at just what a diverse, curious and downright interesting bunch of people there are plying their trade in the law. My apologies to those I’ve yet to get back to - I shall be in touch before long.

Meanwhile, coming soon we have a wine taster, a circus aficionado and a caricaturist, not to mention a heli-skier, a drummer in a Cornish rock band and a French horn player. There is even a lawyer from Las Vegas whose former life involved a bit of glamour modelling, though she is wondering whether she ought to go public.

Today, though, we have a man from one of my old firms. Step forward Julian Heathcote Hobbins, formerly of Theodore (now Addleshaw) Goddard and currently senior legal counsel at the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST). (Lest readers fear that I am favouring old colleagues, fear not: Robbins and I were not at Theodore Goddard at the same time.) As FAST’s principal lawyer, Hobbins is as assiduous as any. He is also a talented musician, and it is this, rather than his legal abilities, that took my eye – not least because his musical development is so recent.

“I guess it was a kind of mid-life crisis,” Hobbins, 33, said. “My great-grandfather was a Mancunian jazz drummer and I suddenly conceived the notion of doing what he used to do. So on Boxing Day in 2005 I went on to eBay and bought myself a drum kit. I bought a book on the rudiments of playing and had some lessons, played at a fundraising event and one thing led to another.”

Since then things have moved quickly, with Hobbins now playing regularly in Tractor, an Indie-rock band. “I just knock out a beat,” he said of his role in the band, that can be found gigging at various spots in Hampshire. Hobbins confesses that Tractor has already acted to safeguard its intellectual property – “as a lawyer, you just can’t help yourself, it’s a natural inclination to protect a brand” – but he isn’t expecting huge changes to his life as a consequence of carrying on his great-grandfather’s legacy.

On the work front, Hobbins became a lawyer for FAST almost by accident after interviewing for a post as an “internet investigator”. “I thought ‘that sounds interesting, let’s have a look,’” he recalls. “Before I knew it I’d be appointed legal counsel.”

Reflecting on his day job, Hobbins said: “We’re 23 years young – the world’s first anti-piracy organisation – and we act to protect the intellectual property of software publishers.”

“We lobbied successfully to ensure that computer programmes are subject to the laws of copyright and act swiftly to uphold the IP rights of Federation members.”

Hobbins is clearly passionate about his work and his hobby and sees the two as intertwined. “I think people need to get out and do things in life, they should do their best to satisfy creative urges if they’ve got them,” he said.

“People in England have a great talent for creativity – we write music, we create software – but we’re not so good at exploiting the fruits of those creative processes. I help to promote the legal use of creative works through FAST, and if I can enjoy myself through my music, too, so much the better.”

And, chuckling, Hobbins recalls the words of a property lawyer in his early days as a trainee: “I was told: ‘By the end of this seat, you will be a property lawyer.’ I thought at the time: ‘er, no I won’t be.