On May 10, 2012, the Robert G. McGrath Inns Of Court had another fun meeting at the Lafayette Park Hotel. This was the last meeting of the year and Judge Rebecca Hardie’s pupilage group (consisting of Jon Eldredge, David Marchiano, Dana Santos, Scott Isherwood, John Hourihan, Patricia Kelly, Lorraine Walsh, and Tom Nagle) provided a great presentation on Yelp and the legal profession. If you do not know what Yelp is, it is a popular website where customers can provide reviews of businesses. In theory, it is supposed to democratize the review business, taking the power away from the East Coast Ivy League elites that normally parade around as high-falutin’ “critics.” The sad reality is that when medium-falutin’ critics get involved, the reviews tend to be less than helpful.
The average Yelp review might do its absolute best to completely and totally miss the point of a review in the first place. It’ll say something like “I went to this Italian restaurant with my girlfriend. She dumped me there, so I’m going to give the restaurant 0 out of 5 stars!” Or “I tried to go to this store to buy things, but I got in a car accident on the way. THIS STORE IS TERRIBLE!” Yelp is a mirror to society, proving that we are nothing more than a vain, self-absorbed culture more interested in the disasters of our own lives than a genuinely critical look at the arts, restaurants, and other businesses that comprise society.
Judge Hardie’s group took that situation and said “Are any lawyers getting insulted here?” So, they analyzed 5 Yelp reviews (some fake, some real) about legal services and the people who really hated receiving them. The first review included a lot of personal and insulting comments regarding a female attorney. The Inns discussed whether the attorney could bring a defamation action against the reviewer for the comments about her personal life. Here, the potentially defaming comments were opinions and not facts, so a defamation action might not lie.
The second review was similar to the first in that it included insults regarding the attorney’s skill. Here, the potentially defaming comments included more purported facts than opinion. The purported facts included such things as the amount of times the attorney had been sued by his clients and that the attorney committed fraud against the reviewer. As they included facts, the Inns concluded that this review would be more likely to be the basis for a defamation claim.
Apparently, this was a real review and the attorney did bring an action against the reviewer. The reviewer brought an anti-SLAPP motion, designed to dismiss cases where the intent is to silence a person’s free speech rights. However, the court in this instance did not grant the anti-SLAPP motion. The Inns group had a lively discussion about this unique, modern, and interesting case.
The next review was not against an attorney, but instead a judge. Why can you even review judges on Yelp? Judges do not need your business and you generally don’t get to judge-shop the same way you can buy clothing, electronics, or food. But hey, if you ever want to disqualify a judge, scour his or her Yelp page first!
Here, the review claimed that the judge was biased and uninterested in providing real justice. The Inns discussed whether a judge could respond to a review like this. The general consensus was that they could. However, the Yelp’d judge has to do it in a professional and cautious manner. I, for one, can’t think of a situation where any possible definition of “professional” or “cautious” includes “replying on the Yelp site itself.”
After discussing two more reviews, the Inns discussed what can be done, besides legal action, to resolve these situations. You cannot sue the ISP for 3rd party content, generally, but you can try to contact Yelp to get the review removed. They’ll probably require you to sign up for their Yelp Premium service, which has been very controversial. Another way to avoid bad reviews on Yelp is to be a good attorney. Funny how that works out that way sometimes. Return phone calls. Avoid “trouble” clients. Don’t be addicted to drugs and then embezzle the client’s retainer. Especially that last one, try to avoid that last one.
The next meeting is in September at the Lafayette Park Hotel, but there is a Summer Mixer in late July. To learn more about the Inns Of Court and get involved, contact President Scott Reep at (707) 784-0900 or Scott@Solanolawgroup.com
Filed Under: News & Updates