Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of Decision on Facts and Determination


Jeffrey Stephen Lowe

Vancouver, BC

Called to the bar: September 13, 1983

Discipline hearing: October 23, 25 and 26, 2018

Panel: Michelle Stanford, QC (chair); Nan Bennett; Bruce LeRose, QC

Decision issued: March 19, 2019 (2019 LSBC 10)

Counsel: Alison Kirby for the Law Society; Henry Wood, QC, for Jeffrey Stephen Lowe

FACTS

While handling trust funds received from 43 immigration clients over the course of seven years, Jeffrey Stephen Lowe billed for estimated disbursements as a “pre-bill” of disbursements, and deposited these funds into his general account. If no disbursements were incurred, the client received a refund. However, Lowe routinely kept any excess funds and recorded them as “disbursement revenue.” There was no detailed accounting of the excess to the clients.

Lowe obtained retainer agreements from the majority of the 43 clients that included a flat fee for legal services, an estimate of disbursements that would be incurred and government filing fees. The clients agreed to pay an initial payment as a “1st instalment ... of your legal fees and disbursements.” Lowe prepared and delivered invoices to his clients after the client paid the first instalment but before incurring any disbursements or providing legal services. Lowe deposited the funds received from these invoices into his general account.

DETERMINATION

Lowe knew when he deposited the funds into his general account, and when he reclassified the excess disbursements as “disbursement revenue,” that the disbursements he had pre-billed to his clients had not actually been incurred. The panel concluded that, while this conduct was not knowingly dishonest, it was improper and grossly negligent, and constituted misappropriation. There was clear evidence of Lowe’s practice of handling pre-billed or pre-paid clients’ funds in a manner that disregarded the trust accounting rules and the Legal Profession Act.

The panel found that Lowe’s conduct constituted professional misconduct.

2019 LSBC 10 Decision on Facts and Determination