Worse news about Yelp.
The law firm I mentioned yesterday gave me the upshot of their lousy, involuntary experience with Yelp. After they saw a couple of bad-mouth reviews, they asked some of their clients to post their own experiences with the firm.
I was one of them. I didn’t want to do it because of how I feel about Yelp and other similar sites, but I love the firm and did not want the mindless criticism to go unanswered. A number of others, like me, gave 5-star reviews, with coherent, responsible, accurate descriptions of the firm and our experiences with it.
Yelp removed them all! They informed the firm that there were too many 5-star reviews (Yelp is the one that set up the inappropriately silly star format) and therefore they were not credible. Not credible? Because there were more of us than of the whiners? So they removed them … and left the two bad reviews! How crazy is that?
Law firms should sue Yelp. Not only does a lawyer have no recourse to a bad Yelp comment, he can’t be sure what client — if any real client — wrote that comment, and can’t really answer the comment (Yelp doesn’t seem to have any format for responses) and if he could, can’t answer fully because of … attorney-client privilege! It is a lawyer’s ethical obligation to keep confidences of his client so he can’t, for instance, say, “Gee, that comment sounds familiar, sounds like a borderline psychotic person who had no real case. I gave him the best advice I could and he stomped out and I never heard from him again. Until now. On Yelp.”
Shouldn’t it also be a client’s obligation to keep the confidences of his lawyer? Apparently not. So a client can say anything he likes about a lawyer, he can lie, he can distort, he can misunderstand, he can make things up, he can actually not even BE the lawyer’s client but just be a vicious coward.
And the lawyer, bound by his professional ethics, can’t respond.
This is more than disturbing. It’s a nasty problem Yelp has distinguishing between asserting their First Amendment rights, flinging the cloak of First Amendment rights over their anonymous, uncredited “reviewers” and allowing these reviewers to commit potential libel.
Who’s liable for the libel?
So a big big warning: do NOT use Yelp or Angie’s List or any of these sites to find a lawyer. In fact, don’t use them to find restaurants, either, unless you like to give an irrational amount of credit to the opinions of your dopey, dyspeptic neighbors.
Consumer reviews have become increasingly popular both online and off, but they may not be the reliable indicators of quality one might expect.
And don’t bother using Yelp for restaurant reviews, either. (You did know that, didn’t you?)