8/22/14

Texas Law Firm Sues Client Over Negative Online Review at Yelp.Com

 In June, a Texas law firm did what so many lawyers these days dream about: they sued the author of a negative online review for defamation. 

Gunfight: Image, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain


Austin’s Grissom and Thompson has filed a civil lawsuit against their former client, a man named Joseph Browning, over a review he published online at Yelp.com, alleging that the law firm is the victim of defamation because the online review was "blatantly false" and had no basis in fact.

You can read the Texas law firm defamation petition here.

The full text of the negative online review appears as an appendix to the pleading.

The Online Review That Fueled the Law Firm’s Defamation Lawsuit 

The negative review was published not long after Mr. Browning was sued by the law firm for not paying his legal fees. In part, Mr. Browning wrote that not only did the law firm miss deadlines, but that the lawyers had no strategy and "couldn't even get the basic facts of the case straight after burning through 20 hours of billable time." 

He concluded his Yelp review with this zinger: "They will not defend you. They will hurt you. This is their motive. That is their intent." 

Mind you, Grissom and Thompson already obtained a judgment against Joseph Browning over unpaid attorneys fees and totaling around $4000. I have not read of any malpractice case against them, and the ABA coverage reports that Mr. Browning did not mount a defense to their case for fees.

This defamation claim is not a part of a fee fight.  It is an independent lawsuit.

The lawyers, speaking through their lawyer to the ABA Journal, say they may never collect on that judgment, and they may never see any money from their defamation (libel, libel per se) claim, but they're moving forward on principle.

Will This Law Firm’s Lawsuit Encourage Other Attorneys to File Defamation Claims Over Negative Online Reviews? 

Today, so many lawyers – particularly those practicing criminal defense or family law – are faced with false or malicious negative online reviews.

 It’s offensive to the attorneys, it can be maddening.  And there's the real worry that a negative online review can hurt a law firm's business reputation.

Will attorneys follow in the steps of Grissom and Thompson and start filing lawsuits against the authors of these bad online reviews?

It's a good question.

Personally, those lawyers I know who have dealt with a negative online review have had a knee-jerk reaction of filing a lawsuit, but have ultimately decided not to do so. They've relied on their numerous positive reviews in place on the web, as well as their lawyers' personal reputations and their history of case results to balance against the negative review.

And they’ve crossed their fingers that their clients and future clients will a malcontent when they see one. It’s a sticky situation, being a lawyer and having to deal with an online review these days. It’s not like anyone monitors these reviews before they are published (Yelp argues this isn’t their job).

Maybe things are changing.

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