My Biggest Mistake: Roger Suddards

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Roger Suddards, 62, is a consultant to Hammond Suddards, the second largest provincial firm of solicitors in the UK with annual turnover of pounds 20.5m. He is a former chairman of Bradford University, present chairman of Bradford Cable TV, which is pumping pounds 100m into the city, and a director of Yorkshire Building Society. Although retired from active practice as a day-to-day lawyer, he continues to work for the firm on projects involving town planning law, listed buildings and historic sites. He received the CBE for his role in setting up the Bradford Fire Disaster Appeal Trust.

MY BIGGEST mistake was to heed my father's career advice when I was young. I was tremendously keen on the theatre at the time, and was tied up with a little group called Shipley Young Theatre. We put on classic plays like Romeo and Juliet and A Doll's House, which we thought we were performing brilliantly (we were probably appalling).

I can still remember the scene when, at the age of 15, I told my father I wanted to make a career of the theatre.

'Ridiculous,' he said. 'You'd better go and be a solicitor.' In those days, one tended to listen to what one's father said, so that's what I decided to be.

Shortly after I qualified, I joined the Army and spent a year in charge of Army legal aid in Hong Kong. It wasn't terribly demanding, but it gave me some opportunities to do what I wanted, such as performing with the Hong Kong Stage Club.

I also did an enormous amount for Radio Hong Kong, which was just starting up and needed people badly. I had a weekly book review, a disc-jockey slot, wrote and acted in plays, and so on.

I realised I had made a mistake when I was still in my twenties. I felt it more so then than later on, when I had the chance to spread my wings and do more creative work.

For the first five years of my career back in the UK, when I was an advocate (which is a form of theatre), I used to be in one magistrates' court, more or less, from 10.30am on a Monday to 5pm on a Friday. During that time, I worked on every kind of case imaginable, until one morning when I can remember very distinctly waking up and thinking: 'I never want to go into that place again.' I loathed the atmosphere . . . the repetitive work.

I resolved that it had to stop. The first thing I did was to double my fees, which I thought would turn clients away splendidly. Of course, it didn't at all; it encouraged them. In fact, it proved very difficult to extricate myself.

Since I could not make a career of the theatre, I was determined to bring the theatre into my career. Even in a relatively staid profession such as mine, it is possible to find opportunities to be creative - clothing concepts in words as we do.

The most creative work I have have done as a solicitor is to draft complex legal documents: one set of shopping-centre agreements took three of us three years. I still draft legislation for beautiful places like St Lucia, Nevis and Mauritius.

But one of my colleagues from those early days in the Shipley Young Theatre - the late Tony Richardson - went on to have tremendous success both in the theatre and in Hollywood.

The fact that I never made a career of the theatre is my only regret and certainly my biggest mistake. I suspect my father knew that, though I don't think it really troubled him. It's not as if I have cried myself to sleep every night - I continue to have a fascinating career in law - but what I learnt from that mistake is that if you are passionate about something when you are young, there is a case for rebelling against doing what you are told.

By the time you have responsibilities, such as a wife and children, it is far more difficult to go into what is basically a maverick profession.

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