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.