It's not good practice for an attorney to bring a defamation lawsuit against a client, but in some cases it may be warranted.
The reality today is that consumers have many very public outlets to express their opinions about an attorney's work. And unfortunately, these outlets rarely check the veracity of comments made.
As a result, many attorneys can get harmed by misstatements and outright lies on sites like Yelp, message boards, and discussion groups.
But while an attorney likely can't sue for every negative comment, you may be wondering just when an attorney should bring a defamation lawsuit.
Generally, you should try to work out the problem prior to threatening a lawsuit. You can contact the unhappy client and get their rationale for posting the negative review or comment. If it is something that can still be resolved, you may be able to work out your differences. On the other hand, if it is just petty hate, you may be able to effectively respond short of filing a defamation lawsuit.
Oftentimes, a business will go on the reviewing site and post a rebuttal or explanation. If you write the rebuttal elegantly enough, you can make your case and actually enhance your reputation. You should not engage in an online tit-for-tat with the former client.
If you can't get the client to remove the offending language, you can consider bringing a defamation lawsuit if the review/comment posted was:
- Untrue. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation. So if the client had a valid, truthful reason to post the comment, you won't be able to sue for defamation.
- Maliciously or negligently made. A lot of states require that the person who published the defamatory statement made the statement with some negligent intent. This can include a knowing intent to hurt your business.
- Harmful to business. You can't win a defamation lawsuit if you can't show that you were harmed by the statement. This can be tricky in an attorney's case as you'll have to show that clients actually passed on you due to the review or comment.
An attorney bringing a defamation lawsuit against a client is a big decision. Even if you win your lawsuit, you could end up the loser with the negative publicity surrounding the suit.
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