Not long ago, I wrote a post entitled “Tweets of Wrath: Social Media and the Disgruntled Client.” In the event you choose not to go back and check it out (I wish you would, it’s one of my favorite stories), the basics of the post discuss the steps someone should take when responding to a disgruntled client’s social media posts.
Remembering that the key rules STILL APPLY to social media, the biggest thing you want to make sure you do is keep confidential information… well… confidential. After that, you really need to remember NOT to injure the client by what you post. In the end, it remains my position that your best bet is to ignore the post the best you can.
Well, today I saw this article, talking about an Illinois attorney who decided that she would rather respond…
- During the month of September 2012, the attorney, Betty Tsamis (“Respondent”) agreed to represent a Richard Rinehart regarding an employment dispute between Rinehart and his former employer, American Airlines. Rinehart, who had been a flight attendant, was terminated by American Airlines, reportedly due to an alleged assault by Rinehart on a coworker. Rinehart paid Respondent a retainer of $1,500.
- Between September 2012 and January 2013, Respondent met with Rinehart on at least two occasions, and reviewed Rinehart’s employment file, which she obtained from American Airlines. During January 2013, Respondent represented Rinehart in a telephone hearing with the Illinois Department of Employment Security, who denied Rinehart’s claim. Rinehart subsequently terminated Respondent.
- In early February 2013, Rinehart posted an unfavorable review of Respondent’s legal services on the review site AVVO. According to the complaint, Rinehart stated in his review: “She (Respondent) only wants your money, claims “always on your side” is a huge lie. Paid her to help me secure unemployment, she took my money knowing full well a certain law in Illinois would not let me collect unemployment. [N]ow is billing me for an additional $1500 for her time.”
- Respondent immediately contacted Rinehart, requesting that he remove the post. Rinehart refused unless Respondent returned his file along with the entirety of the $1,500 retainer. At some point between then and April 10, 2013, AVVO removed Rinehart’s post.
- On April 10, 2013, Rinehart posted another review on AVVO, stating: “I paid Ms. Tsamis $1500 to help me secure unemployment while she knew full well that a law in Illinois would prevent me from obtaining unemployment benefits.”
Following Rinehart’s April 10, 2013 post, Respondent lost her cool, and decided to post a response to his post:
“This is simply false. The person did not reveal all the facts of his situation up front in our first and second meeting. [sic] When I received his personnel file, I discussed the contents of it with him and informed him that he would likely lose unless the employer chose not to contest the unemployment (employers sometimes do is [sic]). Despite knowing that he would likely lose, he chose to go forward with a hearing to try to obtain benefits. I dislike it very much when my clients lose but I cannot invent positive facts for clients when they are not there. I feel badly for him but his own actions in beating up a female coworker are what caused the consequences he is now so upset about.”
Can you count the ethical violations in this one? It’s kind of sad to make a game out of it, but seriously, WHAT WAS THIS ATTORNEY THINKING?!? Remember, the first thing that you MUST do when you decide a response is required is you MUST make sure NOT to reveal any client confidences! Well, the attorney here first revealed that Rinehart had not provided a complete statement of his situation during their confidential attorney-client meetings. Next, she revealed that Rinehart wanted to attempt to collect benefits from his former employer despite the fact that he would likely lose. And the coup-de-grâce? Revealing that Rinehart’s case involved his beating up a female co-worker.
Even if we get past the whole “revealing of client confidences” part (or somehow argue that Rinehart had waived the confidences with his earlier posts), there’s still this pesky little issue regarding the purpose and demeanor of Respondent’s post. See, it was meant to injure Rinehart, to scare him off so that he would not continue posting! Can’t do that! You cannot post ANYTHING on social media that might cause injury to the former client OR the former client’s legal position.
Moreover, Respondent’s post actually opened her up to another ethics charge, which was included in the complaint: pursuing a frivolous action! Why on EARTH would you respond to a disgruntled client’s social media posts by admitting that you knew their claim lacked merit, but proceeded anyway!
Oh, and just in case you didn’t check out the complaint, this ENTIRE EPISODE was only one of TWO separate counts that Respondent is currently before the ethics board for. The other involves her improperly drawing money from her IOLTA account.
UPDATE: On January 15, 2014, the Illinois State Bar released the results of Ms. Tsamis’s ethics charges. Read about them here.