Watch What You Say Online or Be Sued

A  divorce  lawyer in Florida was awarded $350,000 in punitive damages for false statements made by a former client who was unhappy with the services she received from her lawyer.

Both the client and her ex-husband  posted comments on multiple websites which read:

“This lawyer represented me in my divorce. She was combative and explosive and took my divorce to a level of anger which caused major suffering of my minor children. She insisted I was an emotionally abused wife who couldn’t make rational decisions which caused my case to drag on in the system for a year and a half so her FEES would continue to multiply!! She misrepresented her fees with regards to the contract I initially signed. The contract she submitted to the courts for her fees were 4 times her original quote and pages of the original had been exchanged to support her claims, only the signature page was the same. Shame on me that I did not have an original copy, but like an idiot . . . I trusted my lawyer. Don’t mistake sincerity for honesty because I assure you, that in this attorney’s case, they are NOT the same thing. She absolutely perpetuates the horrible image of attorneys who are only out for the money and themselves. Although I know this isn’t the case and there are some very good honest lawyers out there, Mrs. G.  is simply not one of the “good ones. Horrible horrible experience. Use anyone else, it would have to be a better result.”

“I accepted an initial VERY fair offer from my ex. Mrs. G. convinced me to “crush” him and that I could have permanent etc. Spent over a year (and 4 times her original estimate) to arrive at the same place we started at. Caused unnecessary chaos and fear with my kids, convinced me that my ex cheated (which he didn’t), that he was hiding money (which he wasn’t), and was mad at ME when I realized her fee circus had gone on long enough and finally said “stop”.  Altered her fee structures, actually replaced original documents with others to support her charges and generally gave the kind of poor service you only hear about. I’m not a disgruntled ex-wife. I’m just the foolish person who believes that a person’s word should be backed by integrity. Not even remotely true in this case. I’ve had 2 prior attorneys and never ever have I seen ego and monies be so blatantly out of control.”

Both the client and her ex-husband appealed the damage award, however, just before the appeal was to be heard the ex-husband withdrew his appeal saying that he had settled the matter with the attorney.

 

His ex-wife however, did not abandon her appeal and the appellate court remarked that even if she had, they would not have dismissed the appeal, because it raised an important issue with respect to free speech protections vis a vis reviews of professional services posted on the internet. The court said the issue merited discussion as it presented a scenario that would likely occur again.

At trial, both defendants admitted they had posted the online reviews. The evidence at trial included a written retainer agreement signed by the attorney’s client which proved that the lawyer had not charged her four times more than what was quoted in the agreement, a fact both defendants later admitted.

If a statement is true it will not be defamatory, but in this case the alleged overcharging was a falsehood. It simply wasn’t true. The appeal court rejected the defendant’s suggestion that their rights of free speech protected them from voicing their “opinion” online.

 

The court disagreed saying:

“An action for libel will lie for a ‘false and unprivileged publication by letter, or otherwise, which exposes a person to distrust, hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy or which causes such person to be avoided, or which has a tendency to injure such person in [their] office, occupation,  or business….”

 

The lesson here is to think twice before you publicly criticize a service provider, but if you feel compelled to do so, you better be sure you can prove your comments are true.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee

 

 

Mr. No-Pay: You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

DSC01152_2 (2)_2Family law lawyers now have access to information that can transform a case from an up-hill battle to a slam-dunk, and it’s all thanks to the internet.

Case in point: I have a client whose ex-husband, a venture capitalist, stopped paying his child support about one year ago. Exhibiting the patience of a saint, my client bided her time, hopeful her ex would reinstate his payments and make up the arrears. Didn’t happen.

She then contacted my office and the legal process began. Her ex was obliged to provide the usual financial documents including income tax returns and corporate financial statements. His tax returns showed nominal income and gosh, darn, he said that all of his businesses were insolvent so he hadn’t bothered to have his accountant prepare financial statements.

With a little help from the internet, we learned he was selling his home with an asking price of just over $900,000.00. After the usual land title searches, we found out he had already purchased a new home in another community. He said he was downsizing. He paid about $850,000.00 for his new home. It was a lovely estate property, larger than his last home, in a less expensive rural area.

Next stop was his Linkedin page and from there we simply googled his name and the names of his corporations. Here’s what we found.

Earlier that year, he made an offer of $25 million to purchase a golf course/housing development project that was very close to his new home and in financial trouble. Press releases abounded announcing the pending acquisition and his superior business acumen.

Several years earlier he had been a finalist for an entrepreneur of the year award. He was on the Board of his local Chamber of Commerce and associated with at least two consulting firms touting his business expertise. His allegations of insolvency were not born out. His only business debt was related to a wine store he operated. He was paying $1000.00 per month to pay down the $40,000.00 debt, $1000.00 more than he was paying for his two kids!

With this information and his feeble explanations, he no longer looked as broke as he said he was. My client got her happy ending when a judge ordered Mr. No-Pay to pay up asap!

It’s not always this easy, but his “high profile” doomed any chance of a judge buying what he was selling. And don’t get me started on the gems you can find on Facebook!

You can run, but you can’t hide from the internet!

Looking for a Lawyer? Buyer Beware

_DSC4851The practice of law is both a profession and a business. Many lawyers rely on their winning track record and high ethics to gain a reputation that engenders word-of-mouth referrals.

Other attorneys buttress their status in the profession with advertising, but Yellow Page ads, popular for so many years, have gone the way of the dodo bird.

Today’s lawyers utilize television, radio, and the internet to entice potential clients. Many of these ads fall into the cruelly boring “conservative, balding, male lawyer standing in front of a bookcase” category. While others are innovative, even racy! Case in point:

An all-women law firm in Chicago created a billboard ad that read “Life’s Short. Get a Divorce.” The ad featured a photo of an attractive woman in her lingerie beside a handsome man with a tanned six-pack. The woman who posed for the ad looked like a model but she was the lead attorney at the law firm and the dude with her was her personal trainer.

She reported that the firm was inundated with phone calls. Of course, the billboard created quite a stir and consternation in the Chicago bar. It was removed seven days after it went up for an alleged by-law infringement.

In reaction to their increase in business, these lady lawyers started a website with the same name, where they sell T-shirts and mugs with the slogan emblazoned on their products. From all reports they’re selling like hotcakes!

Other forays into to the world of marketing are less provocative but no less effective. One family law firm, again an all-women firm, launched their print marketing with the headline “Ever Argue With A Woman?” I think they made their point very clear!

Of course, where television copies life, you have the billboard in New Mexico declaring “Better Call Saul”, the sleaze bag attorney from “Breaking Bad” who has been rewarded with his own spin-off show.

Other law firms have raised the hackles of their governing bodies with their ads.

In Nevada a lawyer bills himself as “The Heavy Hitter” in his rambunctious televisions spots and a Polish speaking lawyer ran an ad on a Polish-language radio station referring to himself as “The Lion of the Court”. The trouble was that he had never tried a case in court!

Looking for a lawyer? Buyer Beware!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Beware Cyberbullies- Guest Post

The internet is an incredibly powerful tool; it can open up worlds of information, connect people from across the globe, and unite users in a pool of information that have never been accessible before. However, if not used correctly, it can also be a horrendous tool for bullying. Parents must be vigilant and more careful than ever when it comes to letting their children use the internet freely. With heartbreaking stories like that of bullied teen Amanda Todd and others filling the news each day, it is more important than ever that you talk to your children about cyberbullying. There are a few ways that you can prevent your teen from becoming a cyberbully and each is easy and beneficial to both parties.

1. Listen- most parents think that talking to your child is the best way to break through when in fact, listening is far more beneficial for both. If you allow your child the opportunity to talk about what is bothering them and what is making them feel angry or as if they want to lash out, you are far less likely to have a child that does in fact carry through on those feelings. Rather than talking at your child and hoping that they hear you, taking the time to listen to what they have to say can help strengthen your bond and get them expressing.

2. Limit and Monitor Internet time- letting your children run rampant on the internet is the quickest way to create a cyberbully. Instead you should help your troubled teen find a better way to express their feelings than blogs and social media sites. You should encourage face to face interaction whenever possible.

3. Allow Your Child Some Freedom- this does not mean let them do whatever they want but more simply, allow them some say in what they do. Rather than saying go clean your room immediately or else, you could say you have an hour to clean your room. This way they can choose when to clean their room but are still bound by rules. Creating rules in your home that are not so strict is a great way to make sure that you child does not feel the need to lash out at other children or at you.

4. Show Them How It feels- if you catch your child bullying another child on the internet let them know how it feels to be bullied. Do not simply take away internet privileges, if they want to get on the internet they will find a way. You need to drive your point home and let them know that if hurts when someone calls another person names.

5. Talk to Friends- if your child continues to cyberbully another child you may need to talk to the parents of your children’s friends. Often a child does not simply pick on another without the help or encouragement of another child. If you take the time to ferret out where the abuse is coming from you may be able to help your child address why they are doing what they are and help them stop.

Cyberbullying is a very serious issue and should be treated as such. You should not take the situation lightly if your child is guilty of being a cyberbully. Taking the time to talk and listen to your child is the best way to see where the actions are coming from and to address the issue at hand.

Agnes Jimenez is a professional blogger and writer with a focus on troubled and depressed teens and how to help them. Follow her at twitter @empressofdrac or check out TheFamilyCompass.com.