The Lenahan Effect Meets The Streisand Effect

From the Legal Ethics Forum:

The Lenahan Law Firm in Dallas Texas has subpoenaed Google to release the real name of an anonymous critic who posted an un complimentary online review of the firm’s services. The firm wants to sue the poster for daring to question its performance by writing,

“Bad experience with this firm. I don’t trust the fake reviews here.”

For this perceived insult, the Lenahan firm wants to punish “Ben” to the tune of $50, 000 in damages.

Ironically, the lawsuit, rather than the review, proves to my satisfaction that “Ben” has a point. He was clearly expressing his opinion: it is up to him, and only him, whether he regards the experience of working with the Lenahan firm as “bad” or not. In the complaint, the firm says that the declaration that the positive reviews are “fake” alleges dishonesty and fraud by the firm. Utter nonsense. First of all, the allegation, fair or not, is also obviously an opinion. Second, “Ben” is saying that the reviews are fake, which could mean insincere, among other interpretations. He does not attribute them to the firm. He doesn’t say where they came from. He doesn’t know. Maybe I sent them.

On the screen shot included in the complaint, it clearly says that “0 of 3” people found “Ben’s” review helpful. For that, the firm wants $50,000 in damages, since that zero potential client was driven to another firm with his lucrative business.


Over at Popehat, lawyer-blogger (and Ethics Alarms 2011 Ethics Blogger of the Year) Ken has been carrying on a vigorous battle against online censorship of free expression by threats and lawsuits. His current target is a ridiculous faux lawyer who is now threatening Ken for pointing out the error of his ways. In his commentary as well as his various emails to the individual, Ken explains with admirable precision why opinions are not actionable assertions of fact, useful passages that I would recommend to the Lenahan Law firm. The firm’s efforts to bully critics by making an example out of “Ben” also unwisely incur the “Streisand Effect,” the online phenomenon by which efforts to censor information on the web has the perverse consequence of giving it more visibility and influence.

I don’t know if there is a name for the effect—“The Lenahan Effect,” perhaps?—by which a law firm’s willingness to pursue a spurious, unnecessary and excessive lawsuit against a former client for expressing his views about the firm’s work has the perverse effect of showing the world why that client feels the way he does, but that’s what the Lenahan lawsuit against “Ben” does.

That’s only my opinion, of course.

6 thoughts on “The Lenahan Effect Meets The Streisand Effect

  1. It’s understandable that a public service firm wants to maintain a good reputation. However, the best way to do that is to DESERVE that good reputation through diligence and excellence. An astonishing number of firms (of all orders) these days prefer public relations ploys and aggressive “damage control” over worth of product. But the hard truth is that, even if your corporation is as diligent as possible, you’re not going to please every client.

    That’s particularly true for a law firm! These people invited reviews… which is only proper. That have to expect that not all will be glowing. Their reaction to this one was not only unethical, but hypocritical… and will only serve to fuel speculation that their own eithics (and, therefore, worth of service) may have deserved that bad review.

  2. As a non-lawyer, I may have been toiling under a false impression that lawyers were preselected for intelligence. It can’t be possible that a law firm, 20-plus people who studied the law for three years and practiced it another 15 or so, is dumb enough to swing at libel law and the First Amendment and miss this badly. The only alternative is that they cynically hope that the biggest company on the Internet has a legal department that doesn’t understand what a ninth-grader (at the very latest) should be able to cite Supreme Court precedent for.

  3. UGH … this is right up there with the doctors who make patients sign forms (under pain and penalty of perjury) swearing that they will not review them on on-line sites like RateMD and Vitals BEFORE they will agree to see them as patients. I would leave the office before I’d sign such a document.

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