Lawyer-alum profile: Richard Sugarman (Political Science ‘92, GW Law ‘00)

Richard A. Sugarman
Assistant General Counsel
Boston Medical Center

What’s your current position and primary practice field(s)?
I am currently an Assistant General Counsel at Boston Medical Center (“BMC”).  BMC is a large full-service hospital in Boston’s South End and affiliated with Boston University School of Medicine.  We are the largest provider of trauma and emergency services in New England, as well as the largest safety-net hospital in New England. 

The lawyers in my office are not broken up into practice areas and we each handle nearly all areas of the law.  I advise on quite a bit of health law issues, but I also draft contracts and hospital policies, advise hospital personnel on regulatory issues, and work on litigated business matters.  The contracts I advise on concern everything from IT services to personal service agreements for physicians.  The only issues we do not tend to handle are related to medical malpractice claims, which are sent to insurance defense attorneys.

How did you get here – what led you to this field and practice setting?
For the vast majority of my practice since law school, I worked in law firms where I practiced mostly commercial litigation, as well as employment law and environmental law.  However, I also am an Army Reserve Judge Advocate Officer.  In that capacity, I spent most of 2011 in Iraq as the senior lawyer for the Army’s Medical Task Force.  During that time, I found that I very much enjoyed working within a health care system.  I knew that when I was released from active duty I wanted to pursue a position within a hospital environment. 

Describe a typical day/week – what are the kinds of tasks you engage in on a regular basis?
There is no typical work day for me.  I typically come to work each day planning to accomplish a few tasks, such as drafting some contracts or revising a policy.  But, those often get delayed because other things end up happening.  In a large hospital like this, there are typically issues that arise throughout the day and we get calls from business people needing assistance, as well as doctors, nurses, practice managers, and social workers that need advice or some kind of document drafted or reviewed in short order. 

How many hours/week do you work? How’s that work/life balance thing working out for you?
I typically get in to the office around 8:00 in the morning and leave around 6:30 at night.  They are long days, but they go by quickly. 

The work/life balance is difficult to achieve in almost every legal position.  However, I find that in my current position, since billable hours are no longer an issue and instead my responsibility is to ensure that the corporation and its related entities have good sound, timely legal advice, I have more flexibility to ensure that I make it to my kids’ school events and even get home in time for bed time stories.

What do you like most about what you do?
I love the variety of what I do as well as being part of a large organization that is dedicated to helping people.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would very much like to be a General Counsel at this hospital or another large academic medical center.

Where did you go to law school? What’s your favorite memory from law school?
I went to the George Washington University Law School.  I have many different great memories from law school.  I met my wife there and we started dating at the end of our first semester.  So, that is obviously a great memory.  But, I also really enjoyed going to school in Washington, DC and have many great memories of that city. 

What did you major in at UMass?  How has it been helpful to you your law career?
I majored in Political Science and minored in Psychology.  That background helped me in the sense that it helped me to write well, which is a very important skill for an attorney.  But, I truly think that any undergraduate educational background can be helpful.  An undergraduate should not limit himself or herself to certain classes.  They should take whatever interests them.  They will be happier and more well rounded.  Law schools do not really focus on your major when selecting applicants.

Did you take time before, during or after college?  If so, what did you do?
I did Air Force ROTC while at UMass.  After college, I spent four and a half years on active duty.  I was stationed in California and then Wyoming as a missile launch officer. 

Any choices along your career path that you particularly regret or are especially grateful for? 
I do not have any real regrets.  It is important to keep in mind that bad experiences as a young lawyer can prove helpful later on.  Spending time in a large law firm may not always be fun, but the learning experience is phenomenal and helps in other settings.

How do you respond when someone asks your advice about whether to go to law school?
I ask them why they want to go.  Making a lot of money is not a good reason.  The economy has really beaten up on large law firms where newly minted lawyers used to make a lot of money right out of law school.  But, there are really lots of other reasons to go to law school. As goofy as it sounds to say, as lawyers, we play a vital role in society.  We are the ones who clients turn to when they need help and advice.  We help our clients interpret laws and we advocate for change when appropriate.  At any major time in modern history (and even before) there were and are lawyers present to guide decision makers at all levels of society from small businesses to the President of the United States.  Whenever I sit in a meeting, it shocks me still when people stop to listen to what I have to say as a lawyer.  I can think of no other profession that plays that type of role in so many situations.