What would you do if an anonymous commenter left your firm a less-than-flattering online review? The Lenahan Law Firm, a personal injury firm near Dallas, Texas is garnering national attention for its response to this very situation.
The story, covered in Texas Lawyer and picked up by the ABA Journal, centers around a negative Google Review of the firm posted by a commenter identifying himself only as “Ben.” The review reads, “Bad experience with this firm. Don’t trust the fake reviews here.”
In response, the Lenahan Law Firm filed a defamation lawsuit against “Ben Doe” in state district court. In addition to seeking $50,000 in damages from Ben, the firm’s stated goals in filing suit are to subpoena Google to discover Ben’s identity and to secure the removal of the negative review.
Putting aside a discussion of the merits of the lawsuit itself, there are a few practical reasons why I would not advise lawyers to fight bad online reviews with litigation.
First, a lawsuit won’t make the review go away. Even if the Lenahan Law Firm succeeds in forcing Google to permanently remove “Ben’s” negative review, the act of filing suit has simply created a permanent digital and legal memorial of exactly the situation the firm wants everyone to forget.
Second, the firm may be doing more to sabotage its own reputation than Ben ever dreamed of. Consider this from the viewpoint of an internet-savvy potential client…after all, Lenahan partner Wes Black told Texas Lawyer that a driving force behind filing suit is the fact that the firm gets a majority of its business from online searches.
So, before the lawsuit, a prospective client who Googled “Lenahan Law Firm” or “Lenahan Law Firm reviews” might have read Ben’s review. If they’d seen it, they likely would have evaluated it for what it is – a vague, two-sentence review by an anonymous person…maybe it’s legitimate, or maybe this guy has a chip on his shoulder. But they would also have seen several longer, positive reviews. And they would have seen the firm’s very well designed website.
After the lawsuit, the same search brings up a number of hits highlighting the firm’s response to Ben’s review. Which leaves a prospective client to wonder: why the over-the-top reaction to a pretty run-of-the mill review? How reliable is this firm’s judgment? And if this is how they treat clients who disagree with them, how will they treat me if I hire them and there’s a legitimate problem?
So, what is a law firm to do? There’s no doubt that negative online reviews can have a huge impact on your reputation in the community, not to mention your bottom line.
There are a number of practical steps you can take – short of filing a lawsuit – to protect your online reputation and combat negative reviews and comments. In my next post, I’ll outline five of them.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555