When Lan Cai was unhappy with her lawyers, the 20-year-old nursing student did what many Millennials do: she took to the internet. Specifically, Cai went on Facebook and Yelp to give the law firm a negative review. The firm, the Law Offices of Tuan A. Khuu in Houston, Texas, wasn't pleased with Cai's online complaint. They sued.
They didn't win that suit. Last week, a judge in Texas tossed the firm's lawsuit and ordered them to pay $27,000 to cover Cai's attorney's fees.
Bad Review, Backfiring Lawsuit
According to Cai, lawyers with the Law Offices of Tuan A. Khuu were so eager to sign her up as a client after she had been injured by a drunk driver, that they came in to her bedroom when she was undressed and asleep. Once she'd signed on with the firm, though, that enthusiasm seemed to wane, she said. Suddenly, she couldn't get a hold of anyone at the firm.
Cai eventually got new counsel and went online to recount her experience. On the Facebook group "Vietnamese Americans in Houston," she wrote:
After 3 days, they didn't tell me anything about the doctor I needed to go to. I was in a lot of pain. Not only that, they didn't know where the hell my car was! And they came to my house and into my room to talk to me when I was sleeping in my underwear. Seriously, it's super unprofessional! ... I came in to the office to meet with my previous attorney, but he literally ran off.
When the firm became aware of Cai's posts, they demanded that they be removed. When they weren't, the firm sued for libel.
Cai's new attorney, according to the Houston Press, "immediately recognized the lawsuit against Cai as a SLAPP suit -- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation." Texas, like many states, has anti-SLAPP laws meant to protect people against lawsuits that could be used to silence legitimate criticism. Texas's anti-SLAPP statute allows for early dismissal of frivolous lawsuits and imposes mandatory fee shifting when a party wins an anti-SLAPP motion.
Responding to Negative Criticism Online
Of course, the Law Offices of Tuan A. Khuu aren't the first people to sue over a bad Yelp review. But experts typically recommend taking a more diplomatic approach.
Online reviews can actually increase the odds that an attorney is hired, according to a survey from FindLaw's Lawyer Marketing, and most legal consumers want to leave reviews, the vast majority of which are positive.
When faced with a negative review, keep in mind that your response can have as much of an impact on future clients as the review itself. FindLaw's marketing experts advise using a negative review as a chance to respond to and address a client's experience. "Responses should always be succinct, polite, and constructive," they recommend, "never defensive."