In a sad tale out of Minnesota, the story of one family law attorney who let his ego get the best of him should serve as a cautionary tale for others about the importance of selecting an attorney you can trust. The incident involved a man, Thomas P. Lowe, who has since been barred from practicing law for the next 15 months. What got him in trouble? Having sex with a client and then billing her for the “privilege”.
Lowe evidently knew the woman for several decades, only as social acquaintances, until 2011 when she approached him to act as her divorce attorney. The married Lowe agreed and soon thereafter began an affair with the woman. This decision alone was reason to lose his license, as sexual contact with a client amounts to a major violation (in most cases) of Minnesota’s Rules of Professional Conduct (same thing here in South Carolina).
The affair was bad enough, but the icing on the cake was how Lowe then decided to bill the poor woman for his time and attention. After each rendezvous the woman would receive a bill for his time, with the encounters coyly referred to as “meetings with client” or “drafting memos”.
The affair went on for another few months until Lowe’s wife found out. Lowe broke off the relationship and withdrew as the woman’s attorney, but not before dishing out one final indignity. Lowe mailed the woman a last bill for the remainder of the services he rendered. The debacle was too much for the woman who then attempted suicide. While recovering in the hospital, she told the staff her story which eventually led to charges being filed against Lowe.
The Minnesota Supreme Court recently decided to revoke Lowe’s legal license on the grounds that his behavior amounted to gross professional misconduct. The sexual relationship by itself was cause for the suspension, but the additional step of billing the client for meetings in which sexual relations took place shocked the panel that heard his case.
While the process of finding a divorce attorney can be difficult, most people should have vastly better luck than the unfortunate woman in this case. Given how important an attorney can be to your life, it’s critical that you pick one you can trust. To fully rely on their advice you have to believe that they genuinely have your best interest at heart.
Make sure when you set out to hire an attorney that you spend some serious effort on the search. Rather than simply flipping through the phonebook, set up meetings with lawyers you’ve researched. Make sure that you ask questions and pay attention to their answers. You both need to be on the same page and have an open line of communication. After all, a divorce attorney isn’t just there to review paperwork. You’ll be sharing intimate details about your personal life, marriage and money. Choosing someone you’re comfortable with is critical.