The start of the new year was particularly busy for Richard A.
Sugarman, a commercial litigation lawyer and a longtime volunteer
for the Massachusetts Bar Association's Dial-A-Lawyer and Veterans
Sugarman, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a major in the U.S. Army
Reserves' Judge Advocate General's Corps, deployed late last month
for a year in Iraq, where he is assigned to the 804th Medical
Brigade. To prepare, he spent a week training with other JAG
officers at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., to learn what to
expect, and what will be expected of them.
Then he trained for a week in Texas on the legal healthcare issues
he'll be dealing with as the U.S. military winds down its presence
in Iraq. As the senior legal advisor to the brigade commander for
all military medical units in Iraq, he'll be handling an array of
legal issues, including: courts martial, implementation of
government contracts, ethics issues, senior leader misconduct,
detainee medical treatment and military health care issues such as
the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or
"It certainly is daunting. You can't be an expert in everything,
but every lawyer has to know how to find out where the answer is
and who to speak with when an issue comes up in an area in which
that lawyer has little prior experience," he said of the
responsibilities he'll share with one or two other JAGs and a
couple of paralegals.
"It's quite a broad area of topics that we'll be working on. It's
very similar to being an in-house counsel. Any day can bring any
type of legal issue. We may deal a little bit with Iraqis; we'll
deal a little bit with contractors. Part of my job would be to
interpret contracts and whether they're being properly
The deployment is Sugarman's first overseas. The position was one
that he applied for, but he didn't learn he'd be spending a year in
Iraq until he showed up for his first weekend drill. In addition to
the legal and military responsibilities he'll face in the next
year, he's also preparing for the emotional strain of being away
from his wife and two sons, ages 5 and 2.
"I didn't know the unit was going to be deployed when I applied
for it," he said. "(My wife) was very surprised and not very happy
She's had some experience caring for the boys when he's been away
for one or two weeks at a time, but the duration of this trip -
he's due back in late 2011 - presents a different kind of
challenge. His mother lives nearby, and they have friends who are
happy to help out while he's gone.
"It's going to be very hard. I don't want to be away from my
family," he said, but technology makes serving overseas easier than
veterans had it in previous wars and conflicts. "We're fortunate
now that we have Skype," he said, noting that he's hoping he'll be
able to video-call his family every day.
Sugarman, who said he enjoyed his time as a space and missile
operations officer in the Air Force, wanted to continue his service
but didn't want to re-enlist. He decided to become a reservist, but
the Air Force's JAG training program would have required attending
school in Alabama, and he'd already joined a firm in Washington,
D.C. So, he signed up for the Army Reserves, which allowed him to
complete his military law training via correspondence.
And, during his year in Iraq, he'll be undergoing intensive
on-the-job training, which he expects could position him well for
when he returns.
Sugarman practices commercial litigation, primarily, but also has
experience in employment law, energy law and estate planning. The
crash course he'll be getting in health law during his deployment
could position him well for a transition when he returns in early
"That's one area I've found interesting, and may explore once I've
returned," he said.
His reserve status has already been beneficial to his career. He
switched law firms in late 2007, but soon after, the new firm
dissolved. His practice group joined a new law firm, but the
business deal underlying that move resulted in layoffs. The Army
offered to put him on active duty right away, providing reliable
employment. He's anticipating a better job environment in early
"I think the economy is going to be a lot better than it is now,"
he said. "I'm also able to practice law for a client I love, at a
time of great historical significance in a challenging environment.
There are so many other lawyers in transition now that don't have
that kind of opportunity. I'm very fortunate."