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Top Crowns take the civil litigation route

|Written By Julius Melnitzer - Law Times

SusanChapman and Scott Hutchison, two senior and respected Crown attorneys have leftthe quasi-legendary Crown Law Office ñ Criminal (CLO) for careers with Toronto litigationboutiques. The moves come amid reports that all is not what it used to be atthe 70-lawyer contingent that has long represented the top echelons of Ontario's prosecutorialranks.

The CLO handles all appeals from prosecutions by indictment to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. It also deals with two categories of trials: justice prosecutions in which the accused has some connection with the administration of justice; and special prosecutions involving large-scale commercial crime.

Chapman, who has joined Paul Pape's office, has 14 reported cases as counsel in the Supreme Court and has appeared in the Court of Appeal more than 600 times; Hutchison is in the same league, with 23 appearances in the Supreme Court and 400 in the Court of Appeal.

"It's very difficult to find anyone with that type of litigation experience because fewer and fewer cases go to trial," says Pape, who's unconcerned at Chapman's lack of familiarity with the civil process. "Top counsel practise in various areas and move from one to the other without taking a deep breath."

For her part, Chapman admits she hasn't read the Rules of Civil Procedure, but doesn't expect problems familiarizing herself with them.

 "I want to take my career in the direction of an appellate practice, where many of the rules and procedures — especially in the Supreme Court — are similar in civil and criminal law," she told Law Times.

Chapman is a little more concerned about the business aspect of practice, noting that it wasn't a concern at the CLO.

As for joining a sole practitioner — albeit one who is at the top of his game — Chapman notes that Pape attracts a steady diet of civil appeals, a rare commodity in most law firms.

"Besides," she adds, "I wanted autonomy in my practice and didn't want to get into the corporate structure of a large firm."

The ability to control her agenda was crucial to Chapman, the single mother of a seven-year-old boy.

While Chapman barely knew Pape when he made her an offer based largely on her reputation, Hutchison has had personal and professional relationships with a number of the 11 lawyers at Stockwoods, which he recently joined. He says he's had no difficulty jumping into a varied civil and administrative law practice.

"Crowns spend a lot of time perfecting their advocacy skills, and that's the hard part," he says. "The only really challenging thing about the change has been finding out who to phone when you want to get something done, like listing a case for trial."

Hutchison also has the advantage of having 10 lawyers with ample experience around him.

"The juniors do a lot of the nitty-gritty work, and I can walk 10 feet left or right of my office and find someone who's an expert in the stuff I have to learn," he says.

As for leaving the CLO, Hutchison says he has no regrets about his years there, which he thoroughly enjoyed. But the experience changed as his seniority grew.

"The first 10 years, you're perfecting your art, you get big challenges early, and it's a very exciting and driven place," he says. "As you become senior, you get the largest, most complex cases, and you end up being more isolated from the office as a whole."

Hutchison, with two children under the age of five and one on the way, also makes no bones about the fact that money was a consideration.

"At the CLO, I was at the top of the pay scale, which was $159,000 and you could earn about another $10,000 in bonuses," he says. "Now I'm making a multiple of what I was earning previously, without a huge adjustment in the total hours I work."

Interestingly, both Pape's office and Stockwoods are known for their emphasis on the work-life balance.

As David Stockwood sees it, his firm needed a senior replacement when Nancy Spies went to the Superior Court bench. He, like Pape, was unconcerned about his new recruit's lack of civil experience.

"In my view, it's more important that Scott is a good advocate," he says. "Besides, he's also doing a fair bit of administrative disciplinary work for nurses, teachers, and engineers, and he's become very involved in Anton Pillar proceedings, which have similarities to the search warrant and wiretap process with which Scott is so familiar."

From the financial perspective, Stockwood likes the fact that Crown attorneys, unlike lawyers from large firms, "come without financial baggage" in the sense that they're not locked into a lifestyle of large earnings and overlong hours.

Both Chapman and Hutchison have nothing but kind words for the CLO and especially Ken Campbell, its current director.

"He's a great person, a great lawyer, and a great administrator, and I can't imagine a better person to lead that office," says Hutchison.

But, from all accounts, Campbell has his work cut out for him.

It's no secret that any problems the CLO is having began with recruitment difficulties in the ྖs. Articling students could work in the best criminal practice in the country but couldn't be sure of hire-backs or meaningful money for their articles. When Bay Street salaries rose exponentially at the same time, the source continues, the level of recruits dropped dramatically.

"There is neither the same quality nor the same quality control, but if anyone can turn that office around, Ken Campbell can," the source says.

Campbell categorically denies that any such problems exist.

"The Crown Law Office remains one of the greatest criminal law offices in the country," he said. "The quality of counsel is incredible and this is a great place to work. I've worked here for more than 20 years, I love to come to work every day and I know a lot of people in this office feel that way.

"Any suggestion that there are problems of quality or atmosphere are completely inaccurate."

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