Protecting lawyers’ reputation

Protecting lawyers’ reputation

Minnesota family lawyer suspended for having an affair with a client and billing her for it

Earlier this month, the Minnesota Supreme Court revoked family lawyer Thomas Lowe’s license to practice for 15 months. He admitted to having an affair with his client days after taking her case on, and ended it after his wife found out. Upon examination, it was discovered that he billed her client for the time he spent while being “romantic” with her.

On top of that, Mr. Lowe was put on probation in 1997 for using and buying cocaine from a client.

Protecting the reputation of lawyers

Based on these facts, we all know that he is one bad apple from among a whole lot of good family lawyers and lawyers for that matter.

Years ago when I was involved in developing products and services to protect consumers against identity fraud, I attended a session on mortgage fraud given by the police at an industry conference on ID theft prevention in Ontario. During that session, the police said crooked lawyers are sometimes involved to facilitate these fraudulent transactions, but they only got a suspension and then they would be back in business. Sometimes, they might only be suspended from practicing real estate law which meant they could continue to practice other kinds of law during that particular suspension. The police at the conference said it was near impossible for a lawyer to be disbarred. They were so frustrated that showed a URL that listed all these crooked lawyers and crooked realtors and asked us to be aware of whom to use.

It’s not news to most of us that lawyers as a whole do not have a good reputation. Those good lawyers should be protecting the reputation of lawyers by demanding something other than a suspension. And, in particular, what should be done with repeat offenders.

Do we blame the attorney or the client when they have sex with each other?

Obviously the client entered into this relationship with Mr. Lowe knowing he was her divorce attorney and that he would be cheating on his wife. That client is not to be excused. It does take two to tango, but speaking professionally, because it takes two to tango, nothing would have happened if Mr. Lowe did not say yes, never mind initiated the affair.

I am in the marketing and advertising industry. We have our share of bad reputation. There is not a shortage of ads that over promises and professionals in my industry that have shown indiscretions. (Have you seen the TV series Mad Man? Do you think what they do only happens on TV?)

My opinion is if professionals do not uphold high standards for ourselves and our colleagues, we can hardly complain about the bad reputation we have. It is up to us and our associations to protect our individual and collective industry reputation by confronting individuals and issues. I don’t want to operate at the level of the law because that minimum requirement is not up to my standard. To have integrity and excel, we need to be operating at a much higher level than the rules, regulations and the law. By the way, the law says we cannot kill (without paying for it). Don’t you think we can do much better than that? Or do we need a law that says we should respect and love one another?

Martha Chan