Confidentiality Still Applies When Rebutting Online Reviews

We’ve chatted before about online reputations and how to respond (if at all) to negative online reviews. Defending yourself is a natural reaction, but usually the wrong call as an Oregon lawyer recently discovered.

In a case now on appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, an Oregon lawyer was suspended for 30 days for revealing a client’s identity and the details of his criminal conviction in response to negative online reviews.

Isn’t it Self Defense?

We don’t really know.

The trial panel did not consider the “self-defense” exception to Oregon RPC 1.6, finding the lawyer did not show that the details contained in his rebuttal were “reasonably necessary” to reveal.

The bar argued the “self-defense” exception applies only to formal proceedings, such as responding to a legal malpractice claim or bar complaint.

Read the full post on NW Sidebar.

What We Do Know

  • The identity of your client is confidential.
  • Revealing details about a case can be equivalent to revealing the client’s name in a universe where people can follow the dots.
  • If you engage online, the fuel you add to the fire will likely push the negative post upward in search results.

What You Should Do

Going back to my post from 2017, here are some suggestions:

  • A reasonable and measured response is key. Blasting people who give you a negative review is not a good business model.
  • You can try contacting the review site and asking for the review’s removal if you can prove the review is false, defamatory or written by a competitor. In the case described above, the lawyer contacted Google, Yelp, and Avvo to have the negative reviews removed. All three sites refused, telling the lawyer they considered the reviews the former client’s personal opinions. In another instance, the Washington Court of Appeals refused to force disclosure of an anonymous online reviewer’s identity. See Thomson v. Jane Doe, 189 Wn. App. 45, 356 P.3d 727 (2015).
  • You can respond directly to the review on the site. Be courteous and explain that due to your duty of confidentiality, you can’t address the facts of the complaint, but that you do not believe it presents a fair and accurate portrayal of the events. Make clear that you are always available to meet with former clients and address any concerns they may have.
  • If possible, try to contact the reviewer directly and seek to ameliorate the situation or explain to them further why the representation unfolded as it did. If this is successful, don’t hesitate to ask for an updated review.
  • Try to avoid further negative reviews by soliciting client feedback directly as the representation continues and in exit interviews. Try to give your clients every opportunity to air their grievances with you and your firm directly so they don’t have the need to vent in public.
  • Lastly, the best antidote to a negative review is positive reviews. Keep your profile updated and facilitate the opportunity for your other clients to post their own satisfied reviews.

We’ve all heard the old saw, grow a tough skin. If you’re a lawyer, it better be twice as thick as everyone else’s.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

How to Work Remotely

For those of you struggling to figure out how your business can adapt to the age of COVID-19, here’s the good news: it can be done!

The keys, according to Washington Lawyer Jordan L. Couch, are:

  • Setting up a VPN & Remote Desktop
  • Grabbing What You Need from the Office
  • Taking Online Signatures
  • Using Cloud Storage
  • Scheduling Video Conferences and Investing in VoIP

Read more at the link below.

via How to Work Remotely as a Lawyer: An Innovator’s Guide to Law in the Time of Coronavirus — NWSidebar.

My two cents?

VPN and Remote Desktop

Remote access allows you to get to all your office files from home. Learn more by reading this post.

Grabbing What You Need at the Office

Plan before you go. If you have staff, ask for input then make a list. Find a cardboard box, sacks, or anything you can use to carry office supplies and the like – ideally virus-free and ready to go. If you’re not sure whether the carriers you’re using to bring stuff home are good to go, then disinfect. Be prepared to do it again or to “quarantine” carriers when you return home.

  • If you were last in the office four or more days ago – everything you bring home is virus-free. This assumes no one else has been in your space and had access to files or items in your workspace.
  • If you were in the office more recently, prepare to disinfect what you bring home or quarantine it for three days. The virus lives on plastic for three days and plastic is EVERYWHERE in our offices – keyboards, mice, phones, etc. Read more here.
  • Protect yourself. If you are in a firm, office share, rent space, or pay for custodial services, assume someone has been in your space and protect yourself according to CDC guidelines.

Digital Signatures

I first wrote about digital signatures in 2012. I’m a big fan. See the heading Digital Signing Apps in this post for recommendations.

Cloud Storage

If you already have Microsoft Office 365, use OneDrive. If you have Google Apps, use Google Drive. Mac user? Why iCloud of course. Otherwise, think about Box or Dropbox Business.

Phone conferencing

VOiP isn’t essential. If you use your cell phone for business, you’re already set. If you rely on an office landline, contact your provider about call forwarding. Minimally change your outgoing message so clients know you’ll be monitoring and returning calls remotely.

Video conferencing

I love Zoom for video conferencing! All my webinars are conducted through Zoom.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

COVID19 Impacts Oregon Legal Community

Author’s Note: Court, Oregon State Bar, and PLF operations have changed since this post was published.

See: Court Operations Restricted, Statewide Postponements, OSB and PLF Closures.

COVID19 and the Oregon Legal Community

In a recent NW Sidebar post, the Washington State Bar Association explores whether the legal profession is ready for a pandemic. The upshot? Take COVID19 seriously and prepare now:

  • Create a list of important emergency numbers that can be quickly accessed in printed and electronic form.
  • Establish remote access to critical client records.
  • Prioritize your firm’s functions by criticality.
  • Have a “go kit” of technology, files, and other necessities if you need to work from home.
  • Review the answers to frequently asked questions published on the Oregon State Bar website.

For a complete list of suggested steps, see the ABA booklet Surviving a Disaster and resources from the Professional Liability Fund [Select “Disaster Response and Recovery” under Practice Management > Forms.]

For COVID19 specifically:

  • Ensure the workplace is clean and hygienic with surfaces regularly wiped down with disinfectant.
  • Promote hand-washing at the office with posters and other communication. And make sure visiting clients have places wash their hands with soap and water.
  • Brief staff and clients if COVID-19 starts spreading locally.
  • Direct anyone in the office with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (99 degrees F or more) to stay home, and make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.

Law Firms Taking Action

On March 6, Reuters Legal reported that the Seattle office of K&L Gates has asked employees to work from home. Will Oregon firms follow suit, as the need arises? We should.

Status of Oregon State Bar and Professional Liability Fund Services

Meanwhile, the Oregon State Bar issued the following statement appearing on its home page:

As of March 12, Gov. Kate Brown has banned gatherings of more than 250 people within Oregon through April 8. Social distancing can reduce transmission of the virus, helping to delay and slow the spread of the COVID-19. The OSB will continue to monitor and follow recommendations from authorities and has already taken steps to reduce our own community impact. Our goal is to support and protect the well-being of our members and the public we all serve.

All live events, in-person CLEs, and in-person counseling services available through the Oregon State Bar, Professional Liability Fund, and Oregon Attorney Assistance Program are cancelled. Oregon lawyers can access practice management assistance and attorney assistance programs via phone, email, and video conferencing.

Court Operations

Check your local circuit court to learn how court operations are being affected in your area. Multnomah County Circuit Court has postponed trials, hearings, and arraignments. Check court websites frequently for further announcements. Be sure to scroll down to the heading “Latest News.” Read the guidelines issued by Chief Justice Walters here.

Workers Comp Board

All in-person hearings and mediations at all WCB locations have been cancelled. The WCB expects to resume hearings and mediations on Monday, March 30, 2020. Lawyers who have an urgent need on a particular case are directed to contact the assigned ALJ or mediator.

In addition, several health insurance companies have agreed to waive co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles for COVID-19 testing. Visit the WCB COVID-19 page to learn more about the agreement and review frequently asked insurance and financial questions.

Act Now

You’ll be glad you did.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2020

Idaho Allows Fee Disgorgement for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Quote

In a case of first impression, the Idaho Supreme Court recently held that fee disgorgement is available as a remedy against a lawyer for breach of fiduciary duty even if there are no resulting damages.

Parkinson v. Bevis, 448 P.3d 1027 (Idaho 2019), involved comparatively simple facts: A lawyer representing plaintiff Rebecca Parkinson in her divorce proceedings shared a confidential attorney-client communication with opposing counsel. In a subsequent lawsuit against the lawyer, Parkinson conceded that she was not damaged by the unauthorized disclosure—instead framing her claim as one for breach of fiduciary duty seeking fee disgorgement as a remedy. The trial court dismissed the claim, but the Idaho Supreme Court reversed.

The Idaho Supreme Court first distinguished breach of fiduciary duty from legal malpractice: “A breach of fiduciary duty claim is an equitable claim for which a defendant may have to disgorge compensation received during the time the breach occurred, even if the plaintiff cannot show actual damages.” 448 P.3d at 1033.

via Idaho Supreme Court Allows Fee Disgorgement for Breach of Fiduciary Duty — NWSidebar

A result of interest to Oregon lawyers, since a fee disgorgement claim not involving negligence is unlikely to be covered by the Professional Liability Fund.