Attorneys and Online Reviews

/ 25.Sep, 2013

We have previously written about the many different issues faced by attorneys utilizing Social Media.  The issue is not going away.  Several recent news items point to another area of potentially complex issues involving online reviews of lawyers.  Yelp has recently sued a California law firm which allegedly posted false positive reviews of itself.  San Diego bankruptcy attorney, Julian McMillan, and his employees, allegedly authored false reviews of the law firm.  Mr. McMillan alleges the Yelp lawsuit was brought in retaliation for a lawsuit he brought against Yelp in small claims court alleging the website did not fully deliver on ads he bought from the company.   Mr. McMillan won his lawsuit and Yelp was ordered to reimburse him $2700.

Naperville, Illinois, lawyer, Paul Nordini, and his firm have filed a lawsuit against Joseph LaBarre based upon a negative review on Google +.  Mr. LaBarre was not a client of the firm, but the former spouse of the firm’s divorce client.  Mr. LaBarre’s review stated the firm was a “ethically shaky law firm” and an “exceptionally unethical law firm.”

There have also been several recent articles about how lawyers and law firms can describe their practice on LinkedIn.  A New York ethics opinion has stated law firms may not describe their services in a section of LinkedIn devoted to specialties.  The opinion stated a law firm may identify areas of law practice, the listing those areas under the heading of “specialities,” would constitute a kind of the lawyer or law firm is a specialist or specializes in a particular field law.  Similarly, there is a hot debate in the legal ethics community about whether LinkedIn endorsements violate legal ethics rules.  The argument is that under Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1 a lawyer may not make false or misleading claims about his or her services; and if a lawyer allows an endorsement they know to be untrue to remain on their LinkedIn profile, then the lawyer may run afoul of Rule 7.1.

The world of social media and its potential ramifications for attorneys is constantly evolving.  Malpractice avoidance and ethical conduct require attorneys be vigilant about changes in rules regarding social media, and be cognizant of how their conduct on the Internet may be perceived.

Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire (H.T. B.C.B.)