Rick Sudgen, Q.C., a commercial litigator at Sugden McFee & Roos in Vancouver, is one of several senior lawyers in the province who can take pride in his name regularly appearing in the Discipline Case Digest - as counsel for lawyers in Law Society discipline proceedings.
He began this work 12 years ago when lawyers asked him to represent them, and he did so pro bono. Even today, most of his discipline cases - averaging one hearing a month, plus conduct reviews - are taken on a reduced fee or pro bono basis. "I have never turned away any lawyer because he or she is unable to pay, nor will I do so," he explains. "I do not charge my hourly rate to any lawyer, with one exception, and after that I use my discretion."
He notes that he enjoys the work, in particular the lawyers he meets. Sugden also finds the work fits well with the rest of his practice. "I prepare for a Law Society hearing in the same way as a Supreme Court trial," he notes. "The legal and people skills are no different in this area than in the rest of my practice."
He notes that the pro bono component of this work is his personal commitment to the profession, other than working on the odd CLE course. He is quick to add that, as a volunteer effort, it is not remotely close to that of the average Bencher. "I don't think the members generally understand the incredible commitment the Benchers make when they volunteer to ensure the Law Society runs smoothly," he notes. "In my view, they simply don't get the credit they deserve from the rest of us."
Mr. Sugden sees a need for more lawyers to offer their services to broaden the availability of discipline counsel. "I would encourage any lawyer of 10 years experience to get involved," he says. "I would be absolutely delighted to meet with anyone contemplating doing this work and give them the benefit of my advice." Several other lawyers also experienced in the field, such as Chris Hinkson, Q.C., Bill Smart, Q.C., David Crossin, Q.C. and Jerry Ziskrout, would likely do the same, he adds.