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B.C. lawyer breached practice order, collected $228,000 in legal fees

A Vancouver lawyer has been fined $10,000 after continuing to work as a sole practitioner despite legal profession regulator warnings and undertakings not to do so.
Vancouver Law courts-statueMIKE
Themis, Goddess of justice at the Vancouver courthouse.

A Vancouver lawyer ordered not to practise but who did so anyway collected $228,262 in legal fees connected to $555 million in real estate transactions in 2020, according to a decision from the regulating body.

“The respondent did not advise any of his clients that he was not entitled to practise law due to his undertaking,” the July 5 Law Society of BC decision said of Gary (Kin Ip) Lo.

As such, the hearing panel fined Lo $10,000 for professional misconduct.

“Breaching an undertaking is extremely serious conduct that has repeatedly been found to be professional misconduct,” the decision said.

A December 2020 citation said that between Feb. 10, 2020 and Nov. 2, 2020, Lo practised law as a sole practitioner, contrary to an undertaking given to the society. In a Nov. 19, 2021 letter, Lo acknowledged he breached a June 2010 undertaking not to practise as a sole practitioner and agreed that this constituted professional misconduct.

The decision said Lo was called to the bar in 1996 and that prior to 2010, was suspended from practice twice for failing to file his annual trust report. In December 2009, he became a former member for failure to pay his annual fees.

On his reinstatement in 2010, Lo gave his undertaking not to practise as a sole practitioner and not to operate or be the authorized signatory on a trust account without a second signatory who was a practising lawyer.

A society audit in 2014 raised concerns Lo may have been practicing as a sole practitioner. He applied to be relieved of the undertaking but was denied.

Instead, a practice supervisor was appointed and Lo entered into a practice supervision agreement in July 2016.

“Thereafter, (Lo) practised as a sole practitioner,” the decision said.

The supervisor approval was revoked in January 2020. A month later, the society told Lo by letter that the lawyer was no longer his practice supervisor and cautioned him that he was required to cease acting as a sole practitioner.

Lo confirmed receipt of that letter, the decision said.

“(Lo) continued to practise as a sole practitioner, contrary to his undertaking,” stated the decision.

Then, between Feb. 10, 2020 and Sept. 17, 2020, Lo opened 246 new files, mostly real estate conveyances or financings.

Lo and his assistant conducted numerous searches and filings with the Land Title Service Authority, the decision said, and conducted transactions with an aggregate value of $555 million. Lo collected $228,262.56 in legal fees between Feb. 10, 2020 and Oct. 18, 2020.

On Feb. 25, 2020, Lo advised the society he would be joining a local law firm and would cease practising as a sole practitioner.

“Over the following months, (Lo) had a variety of discussions with the law firm and signed an agreement to split fees, however, he never provided any legal services to the law firm and he did not generate any new files with them,” the decision said.

Then, despite not working for the firm, on July 17, 2020, Lo sent correspondence to the society on letterhead that included the law firm with a notation that he was a firm associate counsel.

After discussion about failure to find office space, Lo asked for approval of another practice supervisor.

In October 2020, the society once more advised Lo he appeared to have been practising as a sole practitioner since Feb. 7, 2020 and that he must comply with his undertaking.

Lo replied the same day, advising he would voluntarily cease the practice of law until his conditions were met.

“Despite his representation to the law society that he would not practise until he met his conditions, (Lo) continued to work as a sole practitioner on 13 client files after Oct. 6, 2020,” the decision said.

The society commenced an investigation and in November 2020, Lo admitted all his conduct contrary to his undertaking, the decision said.

He entered a new practice supervision agreement in March 2021 “and been compliant with his conditions since then,” the society said.