Speaking of Reviews

Posted on January 08, 2018 in Uncategorized

Were we? Maybe not, but at any rate, the proliferation of reviewing websites are something that have been on my mind for a while. It all started when Jill and I had to buy a new dishwasher. The old one was a Kitchen Aid, which worked quite fine . . . until it didn't. I immediately told our appliance guy that it only seemed reasonable that the new one should be a Kitchen Aid as well. He agreed, texted me a couple model numbers and Jill being Jill, immediately began checking them out on her IPad. At Amazon she found the model and the price was in line with what our guy was charging installed. I said "do it", but she said "let's check the reviews". We did, and almost all were good, but there was one that troubled me. Whether you know it or not, the big feature with dishwashers these days is quiet. That being said, there was one review that, in sum and substance, said the machine was horribly noisy and the writer had to have it removed. Since this was the only review of its kind, we ignored it, but I have to tell you, when I ran the first load of dishes, I held my breath, albeit without cause. No worries, it was so quiet, you had to look twice to see if it was even running.

Well all of this started me thinking. How did that review get there? Clearly it was untrue. My best guess was that it was placed by a competitor to cause potential buyers to pause before clicking the "buy now" button. Low and behold, a week later my suspicions were largely confirmed. It seems that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has begun suing off shore companies that will publish false reviews for a buck a piece.

So what does all of this have to do with DUI? Plenty. Only a legal practitioner who still uses an IBM typewriter (remember those?) would be unaware that the internet is chock full of services reviewing everything from, as Angie's list puts it, doctors, dentists, plumbers, and contractors.

Angie's list does not rate lawyers, but AVVO does. AVVO is a really slick legal website that frankly contains numerous positive features. Even so, the essential feature of this and other similar websites is that writers can post anonymous reviews regarding their experience with a lawyer. And therein lies the rub. Anonymous. While AVVO is to be highly commended for the manner in which they confirm the authorship of the various reviews that are submitted, many lesser sites do not. Even so, mere verification of authorship is no assurance that the review is true. Human beings are human beings. We are all, to one extent or another, flawed. Our motivations are not always pure. A simple fact is that no lawyer wins all of his or her cases. This fact raises the possibility that, despite our herculean efforts, they will be convicted of something and accordingly will not be pleased. When coupled with the reality that our services are generally secured with the specie of the realm, you have the recipe for disaster. Hell hath no fury like a disgruntled client. Forget about all the hours you put into that matter, you lost. In the mind of some clients, that's not why you were paid.

So what do they do? I don't have to tell you, we've all been there. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the number professional grievances haven't fallen as the internet has replaced such committees as the ultimate place to vent.

So what do we do? Well, it would be nice to say that Congress should pass a law banning anonymous reviews, but seeing that they can't even keep the government running, I guess the chances of that happening are slim. Short of such legislation here's another proposal. Again I turn to AVVO. Once your profile has been claimed, AVVO permits you to respond. This is a feature that, quite frankly, should be made a legal requirement for all websites that choose to solicit reviews.

But can you respond? What about the Attorney Client Privilege? Think for a moment. In virtually all jurisdictions, the Attorney Client Privilege is deemed waived in the event that the attorney is sued or grieved. Further, a client is always free to waive the privilege through his or her voluntary disclosure. In like fashion, the client is free to contractually waive the privilege provided the decision to do so lies solely with the client. To safely respond, therefore, your retainer agreement should contain a clause that clearly and firmly advises the client that they should take every precaution to avoid waiving the Attorney Client Privilege. Nevertheless, they should additionally be advised that if they choose to waive the privilege by voluntarily publishing the particulars of their matter in any medium available to the public at large, including procedural elements involving the details of the relationship, that such disclosure constitutes a waiver of the privilege to the extent that you are permitted to respond to any allegations which may reasonably be deemed false or defamatory.

Of course an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure. The easiest way to avoid a bad review is to follow a few simple rules. First and foremost, never overestimate your skills. One of the worst things to hear a client say is "he promised me this and instead I got that." Secondly, don't leave them in the dark. Uncertainty breeds contempt. Promptly return all of your phone calls. Talk to grievance authorities and they will tell you again and again that the origin of most complaints is unreturned phone calls. In the same vein, keep them advised in writing. This serves two purposes. Initially, it serves the laudable purpose of keeping the client informed. Likewise, it gives you a decent measure of protection if and when things fall apart. Thirdly, be careful of who you represent. Look, I know it's hard to resist a client with money begging for your service, but when you sense something is wrong, very wrong, you're probably right. Lastly, spend time with your clients. Make sure to allow enough time after each and every court appearance to fully explain what just happened and to respond to all of their concerns. In the same vein, if a client calls and wishes to meet with you, make yourself available. There's nothing like a little face time to avoid, in the words of Justice Clarence Thomas, "a high tech lynching".

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