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Law Firm Teaches Lessons on How to Deal With Bloggers -- NOT!

You'd think that the flak that Baker & MacKenzie suffered 'round the blogosphere, following an overbearing cease-and-desist letter against Boing-Boing would have taught other law firms how to protect their clients' interests in cyberspace without making fools of themselves. But now, as Professor Bainbridge and many other bloggers report, another law firm, this time Nashville firm King and Barlow, has drawn the ire of other bloggers for threatening a libel action against blogger Kat Coble unless she removes something that offended one of the firm's clients. You can find the details of the incident at Nashville Is Talking

As for the commentary, not surprisingly, most bloggers are criticizing King and Barlow's approach. Bill Hobbs shares the stats from Technorati and Google on how much negative attention King and Barlow has attracted. And he writes here that law firms need to realize  that the "severe blowback" from heavy-handed demand letters "damage the company's reputation far worse than the blog post that offended them."

Likewise, Rob Huddelston of Voluntarily Conservative agrees that the letter was ill conceived, and he faults both the law firm and its clients. From his post:

In any case, this is a real blunder by King & Ballow. Yes, the practice of issuing demand letters as a way of getting what a client wants without having to resort to actual litigation is widely used. However, you can't treat every case the same. You need to know when something is going to be attractive to media - local, state, or (in this case) global. This goes for civil suits (as the one being threatened against Kat), criminal suits, and even juvenile cases (because the media can request access on certain hearings there, too). If this case is going to make the media take notice (taking into account that mainstream sources oftentimes are agitated to action by bloggers), then you have to be perfect in your actions.

King & Ballow were not perfect here. Not by a long shot. They ignored the relevant federal caselaw regarding libel, opinions as free speech, truth as an absolute defense, and 1st Amendment litigation in general. And surely they knew (or should have known) that Kat would take this public. Anyone familiar with Kat's writings (and you have to assume that the associate who wrote this letter at King & Ballow would be so familiar, having referred to specific posts of the blog) knows that she doesn't take crap from anyone. They should have known that she would expand this conflict, and the public relations blowback against JL Kirk and King & Ballow would be more than significant.

However, the real culprit here is JL Kirk & Associates. They should have let sleeping dogs lie....

And the incident even provoked a post from uberblogger Instapundit, who links to the cease-and-desist letter.

As for me, I agree that the firm miscalculated, big time. But I don't fault the client. It's an attorneys' job to advise clients about all of the repercussions related to cease-and-desist letters and not merely opine on whether there's a viable legal basis for the claim. Here, King and Barlow was woefully undereducated in the politics and dynamics of the blogosphere, and as a result, it couldn't advise its clients about the consequences of sending a cease-and-desist letter. The best advice comes from Francis Pileggi at Delaware Litigation: Lawyers who ignore the blogosphere do so at their peril.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 12, 2007 at 06:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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