The work-life quiz with Roger Smith

What was your first-ever job?
Porter at the now closed Cane Hill Mental Hospital near Croydon.


Roger Smith
Title: Director
Organisation: Justice
Lives: Tufnell Park, North London
Education: University of York
Work history: 1971: Articled clerk, Allen & Overy
1973: Solicitor, Camden Community Law Centre
1975: Director, West Hampstead Law Centre
1979: Freelance advocate
1980: Solicitor, Child Poverty Action Group
1986: Director, Legal Action Group
1998: Director of legal education and training, Law Society
2001: Director, Justice

What was your first-ever job?
Porter at the now closed Cane Hill Mental Hospital near Croydon.

What was your worst experience as a trainee?
Hosting a client lunch when I knew nothing about the case or the clients.

Where’s the best place to go if you want to find out what’s really going on in the office?
My room.

What time do you usually leave the office?
Around 6pm or 7pm, but I often have lectures or receptions afterwards.

What do you do at weekends?
Grow vegetables, sail boats and live in a caravan.

What’s your favourite restaurant?
Le Café du Marché in Charterhouse Street, London.

If you weren’t a lawyer what would you have been?
A teacher. I nearly was, but I cancelled my place on a training course after spending a fortnight in a secondary school.

Who’s your hero and why?
Robin Cook. He was a politician with values and judgement.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The chance to change things.

What’s the toughest thing about your job?

What’s your biggest work/career mistake and what did you learn from it?
Working for the Law Society. I learnt to avoid organisations in terminal decline.

What car do you drive?
A Saab 900.

What book are you currently reading?
John Conrad’s Victory.

What’s on your iPod at the moment?
Modern Times by Bob Dylan and the latest album of flamenco singer Estrella Morente.

What’s your favourite children’s book?
Any of the Biggles volumes – but I’m not proud of that.

What’s the most exciting case you’ve worked on and why?
Drake v Chief Adjudication Officer ex parte (1986). We took the Department of Health and Social Security – as then was – to the European Court of Justice and won a claim for a woman who had to give up work to look after her disabled mother and didn’t see why she should not get invalid care allowance just because she was married. Married women still receive the equivalent benefit.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what two luxury items would you take?
The spade that I have on my allotment that incorporates a spring action and makes digging a delight. And a computer.

What’s the worst partner conference location you’ve attended?
Any conference held in a bland chain hotel.

What’s the longest you’ve worked without sleep?
I’ve only once worked regularly at night and that was by choice, when I was writing a book.

If a movie was being made about your life, which actor would play you and why?
Oh, if that could plausibly be Clint Eastwood. More likely it would be Albert Finney, in a role the style of Ed Masry, of Erin Brokovich fame.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?
A number of former Law Society presidents. Too many had depressingly narrow views of the profession.