In November of 2018 nearly 65% of Florida voters said yes to Amendment 4 – The voting restoration amendment. This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment went into effect on January 8, 2019 making an estimated 1.4 million people with felony convictions eligible to register to vote. After lengthy wrangling in the legislature and courts, it was determined that all fines, legal fees and restitution needed to be paid before the right to vote could be restored. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) needs our help. The Miami Trial Lawyers stand up for the right to vote. Voting is vital to our democracy. Like FRRC the Miami Trial Lawyers are committed to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions.
Social Media is everywhere. According to Statista at the end of 2017, Facebook had 2.2 billion monthly active users, Snapchat had 187 million daily active users and Instagram had over 230 million accounts. Many top celebrities had well over 100 million followers alone. An incredible 81% of people in the United States have some social medical profile.
Recent news about data theft and unauthorized access to Facebook accounts is no longer surprising although the number of accounts that have been compromised is beyond comprehension. What does all of this mean to the average litigant proceeding with a personal injury claim? A lot!
In virtually every case my office litigates, efforts are made by the defense to access, discover or utilize social media information against the Plaintiff. The things that people post (oftentimes for all to see) defy reason. People post photographs, videos and written commentary that is frequently used by the defense in lawsuits against a person bringing a claim. Our office has found postings by our clients that show them engaged in activities that are either unlawful, in poor taste or that are contrary to their testimony or doctor’s recommendations.
With communications and information being so readily shared on social media, it has become more and more acceptable as a means of communication and Courts are allowing more leeway to parties searching social media in light of its widespread use. Recent cases in Florida have held the discovery of photographs from a person’s Facebook account to be relevant and discoverable. The Courts are allowing Defendant’s access to telephone records, passwords for access to social networking accounts, screenshots of pages from postings and the list goes on.
More and more Courts are admitting the use of data from social media postings to prove allegations in criminal cases and defenses in civil cases. Digital evidence from social media may not be considered hearsay unlike other “statements”.
A well-researched article co-written by the Honorable Bronwyn Miller, a Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge, notes, “the widespread, nearly universal, use of social media platforms dictates that data mined from social media postings will be imperative to proof in a growing number of civil and criminal cases”.
The takeaway from this trend toward allowing more leeway to discovery of social media postings is to urge clients to refrain from posting comments or materials on any social media platform that could be relevant to their case. At my law firm, we not only discuss the issues relating to social media with our client at the very first meeting but gain our client’s authorization to conduct our own search of their social media accounts. We specifically advise our clients, both in-person and in writing, about the dangers of creating adverse evidence by social media involvement. We ask them to refrain from posting, unless absolutely necessary for business purposes, to avoid any use by the party against whom the claims are being made. Social media can be used as evidence against you – Be careful what you post!
The Florida Bar Journal, Vol. 92, No. 4, April 2018, A Prolific Landscape: The Admissibility of Social Media Postings.
Law360 (March 5, 2018, 3:55 PM EST) — Getting a one-star Yelp or Google review from a client can be devastating to a personal injury attorney who relies on such evaluations to drum up new cases, but having a minimal online presence out of fear of getting negative reviews is just bad business in the internet age. Here, experts share tips on how to get glowing online client reviews and how to handle the haters.
Treat Your Clients Well
While this may seem obvious, a client who does not receive good customer service from a personal injury attorney will be loath to write a favorable review, according to Los Angeles-based personal injury attorney Barry P. Goldberg.
Educating a client about how the lawsuit will play out, taking and returning client calls promptly and charging fees that are fair and reasonable are the foundation to generating positive reviews, he said.
“The client experience is as important to consumers as the end result of the case,” Goldberg said. “It does take more time and more manpower to provide the level of customer service that would provoke a favorable review and would not necessarily be necessary to simply get a great result on the case.”
But the modern consumer expects a high level of customer service in everything, not just legal services, he said.
“Lawyers are really slow to recognize consumer behavior and trends, meaning providing a level of service which would get them favorable reviews,” he said. “I ask for reviews on every case, and I start the process early. Lawyers don’t think that way. A lot of lawyers I know would prefer to simply do great legal work and not interact with the clients regularly and intimately.”
And even if your firm is maxing out its advertising budget on commercials and billboards, potential clients will still do due diligence and read online reviews to see how clients are treated, according to Larry Bodine, senior legal marketing strategist at LawLytics.
“The research shows that when people respond to a TV ad, they are going to go online and look for a review,” he said. “What they really want to know, more than anything, is how people are treated. Did the firm really care about them or give them the bum’s rush?”
Bodine said some firms, rather than focus on providing outstanding customer service, will place too much emphasis on publicizing their big-money verdicts and settlements.
“That doesn’t resonate with a client; that kind of information is what referring attorneys look for,” he said. “But what the client wants to know is how are they going to treat me, are they going to treat me special or am I just going to be like a file in a filing cabinet?”
Solicit Clients for Reviews
While most attorneys would like to generate reviews without any solicitation, the reality is most clients will not write an online review of their lawyers without a little prodding. This begins during client intake and continues throughout the attorney’s handling of the case, Goldberg says.
During the first interview with a client, Goldberg lays out how a successful case will unfold, discusses his contingency fees and asks the client, “Wouldn’t you agree that we would earn your review if we did all those things?”
“We start out from the beginning with the idea that we have to actually earn our reviews,” he said. “It takes commitment by lawyers, staff and reception to openly ask for reviews and not fear what the review is going to be.”
At the end of the case, Goldberg said his firm asks for a review in its closing letter and includes a URL while also sending an email with links to Google and Yelp, which he says are the top two sites for client reviews, and also provides links to Avvo and the Better Business Bureau.
Goldberg said that even after actively soliciting his clients for reviews only about 1 in 4 will actually take the time to write one, which underscores the difficulty in obtaining reviews.
“People smile, hug you, and then they go home and for whatever reason they don’t do a review,” he said. “I would be honored and happy and would face the music if everyone gave me a review; they wouldn’t all be five stars, but I’d be willing to have every single client review me.”
But without soliciting clients for reviews, one can end up with zero online presence, which is a big no-no, according to Bodine, who is also a former litigator. A friend recently asked Bodine to recommend an attorney in Iowa, and as part of his selection process he scoured various online review sites.
“I wanted reviews where people said they were treated well and that they got good personal service, and I frankly didn’t recommend any firms that had no reviews,” he said. “Would you buy a computer that had no reviews, or a car that had no reviews? You wouldn’t do that.
It illustrates how powerful these reviews are. The star rating is the number one factor that consumers use to judge a business.”
Know How to Handle a Bad Review
Lawyers are reluctant to push clients for reviews out of fear of receiving a negative review, but Goldberg said such worries are overblown.
“Lawyers in some practice areas are very hesitant to go down the road of soliciting and promoting reviews because they think it can turn ugly very fast,” he said. “My feeling is that you should be transparent and reviews matter.”
Goldberg said he has developed a protocol for dealing with the inevitable bad review, and it usually involves an apology and an invitation to have a face-to-face meeting to address any grievances the client may have.
“They never take you up on the offer but [potential clients] look at the negative reviews and want to see how the lawyer responded,” he said. “Is the lawyer a jerk? I’ve had clients come in and say, ‘I read the negative review, saw your response and thought it was very professional.’”
Bodine agreed, saying an apologetic tone is the best approach to bad reviews.
“Attorneys should adopt the approach of hotel managers; they pay really close attention to reviews and when they spot a bad one, they start out by saying I’m so sorry you’re not happy with us,” he said. “For a bad review, contrition is the go-to approach. It’s just human nature, you’re going to get bad reviews. Nobody is universally loved.”
The worst response, Bodine said, would be to attack the reviewer.
“I’ve seen attorneys do that, they will make threats and say if you don’t take the review down I’ll file a suit for libel, which is a huge mistake because it just demonstrates that you are a bully,” he said.
Goldberg said no prospective client will look to hire a lawyer who insults or attacks someone who has written a negative review.
“But if the guy responds promptly, acknowledges shortfalls, explains, reasons, apologizes, offers to make it good — that goes a long way,” he said. “Our temptation is to lash out, because [bad reviews] do affect us. You have to take a deep breath and be the counselor we all wanted to be in law school; you have to be even-handed.”
Bodine said the blow of a negative review can be softened by the presence of a large number of positive reviews.
“If there are nine positive reviews and one snarky review, customers are sophisticated enough to know the bad review is an outlier,” he said.
Miami-based personal injury attorney Jeffrey R. Davis said a disgruntled former client recently gave him a bad review on several different sites. He decided not to respond after receiving advice from the Florida Bar’s ethics hotline, and said he is taking a glass-half-full attitude to the bad review.
“Having something negative gives my reviews some degree of credibility. You can’t please everyone all the time, and I was bound to have somebody unhappy,” he said. “That maybe adds some genuineness to my reviews, as having only perfect reviews might seem unrealistic.”
Bridge of Spies is a lawyer’s movie. James B. Donovan*, played by Tom Hanks, is seemingly plucked by chance to represent a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel in Brooklyn, New York at the height of extreme patriotism in the late 1950s. The film, which is directed by Steven Spielberg, seems to focus on the valve of negotiation over brinkmanship.
In an early scene, Donovan (Hanks) a defense lawyer, is discussing an insurance claim with Plaintiff’s counsel. The issue is an accident case with 5 victims and one accident. The victim’s lawyer is trying to convince Donovan the $100,000 insurance policy should be paid to each of the 5 victims since each was affected by the insured car colliding with their motorcycles individually. With a simple analogy, Donovan explains that a bowling ball hitting 10 pins for a strike is not ten separate occurrences but just one event (meaning, he only has to pay $100,000 total).
This folksy approach gives Donovan a unique ability to diffuse international brinkmanship between the United States, the USSR and East Germany. As a lawyer, Donovan brings the concept of American fairness and the rule of law both to his defense of an accused criminal spy and in choreographing a two for one prisoner exchange. The role of the lawyer as a common sense and honorable figure able to resolve a complex situation triumphs in Bridge of Spies.
*(James B. Donovan was not quite the simple neighborhood lawyer he was portrayed as in the movie. He attended Harvard Law School, was general counsel at the office of Strategic Services during World War II and then served as assistant to Justice Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials. He later served as the President of the New York Board of Education, was a published author, ran for the United States Senate and was a recipient of the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.)
Great new for all Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, etc.) – Florida Court protects posts ruling them irrelevant. Throughout the past few years, Courts throughout the United States have ruled that social media posts are fair game and “discoverable” during litigation. On February 5, 2014 the 2nd DCA held in Root v. Balfour Beatty Construction, LLC that although social media posts are discoverable, the party requesting the information still has to prove that the information requested is relevant and not just simply a “fishing expedition.”
Now, it is clear that the Court is stating that a party that is requesting these Social posts has to prove that the information that they are requesting needs to be relevant to the case. Do not mistake this ruling for any blanket protection of social media posts if you are a party in a lawsuit. In personal injury cases, arguing that social media posts are relevant and reasonably calculated to lead the discovery of admissible evidence can be rather easy with good lawyering.
All Social Media users should always beware ( yes we know you have heard this warning before)… be careful what you post. It may pop up later. Although, many people know that it may hurt your prospects of getting a job or getting into the right college, if you are involved in a lawsuit, it can damage your case … A picture is worth a thousand words.
Personal Injury lawsuits frequently have discovery requests for Social Media posts from Facebook and Instagram. The attorneys at Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A., a Miami Personal Injury law firm, specialize in personal injury cases. We pride ourselves in communicating with our clients and putting our clients first. Jeffrey R. Davis has been practicing personal injury law for over 25 years. Olga Porven, a former insurance defense attorney, has the insight into what the insurance companies strategies are in defending personal injury cases, including seeking Social mediation information.
If you or a loved on have been injured as a result of the negligence of another, contact us for a free consultation or call us at 305-577-3777.
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