A Word of Caution Ethical Considerations When Responding to Online Client Criticisms, 0421 RIBJ, RIBJ, 69 RI Bar J., No. 5, Pg. 21

PositionVol. 69 5 Pg. 21

A Word of Caution: Ethical Considerations When Responding to Online Client Criticisms

No. Vol. 69 No. 5 Pg. 21

Rhode Island Bar Journal

April, 2021

March, 2021

John L. Calcagni III, Esq.

Law Office of John L. Calcagni III Providence

A. Introduction

This article is designed to convey a word of caution to my fellow members of the bar, and specifically, those attorneys who are in private practice. After nearly 18 years as a licensed practitioner, I received my first formal disciplinary complaint earlier this year. The basis of the complaint, raised by disciplinary counsel, stemmed from an online posting that I authored and published in response to an online criticism I received from the disgruntled parent of a former client. Fortunately for me, the Screening Panel of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Disciplinary Board summarily dismissed. However, I would be remiss if I did not share this experience and lessons learned with other practitioners to both caution and educate them of important ethical considerations when responding to online client criticisms.

B. Online Forum for Lawyer and Clients

The Internet has become a pervasive dimension of modern society. It offers new and ever-evolving methods for communication, personal and professional business, shopping, entertainment, and more. As such, it is not surprising the internet is also where many attorneys advertise their services, credentials, and accomplishments, and where many clients go to find legal counsel. Google is the predominant internet search engine. It offers lawyers and firms a venue for advertising and promotion. It also allows clients a forum to post reviews regarding their experiences with lawyers. The number of positive reviews received is considered by Google when determining a business’s Google rating (rated from 1 to 5 stars). Reviews and ratings are also relied upon by prospective clients when selecting a lawyer.

Google offers businesses the opportunity to reply to individual online reviews. Replying to online reviews is important to any marketing campaign and overall good customer service. Reviews and responses are posted online for the world to see, to include former, current, and future prospective clients. The content of replies, however, is where attorneys must exercise caution, particularly if replying to a negative review containing client criticism. Lawyers are often the subject of criticism...

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