During my teleseminar presentation for the Clear Law Institute, I talked at some length about a situation dating back to January 2014 when a Chicago lawyer ended up agreeing to discipline over how she responded to a former client’s negative review of her on the Avvo service. You can read a bit about that story here, but the gist of the attorney’s error was disclosing too much information in response about the representation of the unhappy former client. Illinois, like Tennessee, permits attorneys to disclose information otherwise protected by RPC 1.6 or RPC 1.9 as confidential in order to defend themselves, but, in that instance the bar authorities considered the attorney to have gone too far, and the attorney ultimately agreed to a reprimand.
A story today demonstrates a different — certainly more expensive but less likely to result in discipline — route to take to deal with a negative Avvo review. The ABA Journal has a story, with links to a variety of other sources, about a Tampa attorney who believes that a negative Avvo review is not actually from a client of hers. She’s pursuing a subpoena issued to Avvo to try to determine the identity of the anonymous reviewer, apparently as part of a defamation lawsuit against the Jane Doe reviewer. The story indicates that the lawyer did also respond to the negative review on Avvo to state she didn’t think the reviewer was an actual client but someone she knew and who was making a personal attack. If the lawyer is correct, then her response on Avvo itself was a safe approach to dealing with such a review and shouldn’t involve any potential violation of RPC 1.6 as, if the reviewer is not a client, then it is not information related to representation of the client in the first place.
The lawsuit and the subpoena though raises an opportunity to remind lawyers about The Streisand Effect. The definition of which is not strictly applicable here, in citation form, my reference to it here would be a “Cf.” signal), but the end result is roughly the same. I bet significantly more people are aware of the Avvo review and its contents in light of the media coverage of the lawyer’s litigation efforts then would ever have been aware of the review if the lawyer had simply limited herself to responding on Avvo itself.