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Tick Off a Customer (or Client), See It on the Nightly News

Back in the good old  PW (pre-Web) days, you could tick off a customer or curse out an opposing counsel in the privacy of your own office, without anyone ever finding out about it.  Those days are, emphatically, OVER, as the recent story of Vince Ferrari's experience in attempting to cancel AOL service bears out.  For those who don't know, anticipating difficulty in canceling his AOL service, Ferrari taped his conversation with an AOL customer service rep who gave Ferrari a hard time about cancellation.  The story since spread to the major media, including "The Today Show," which interviewed Ferrari.

Church of the Customer Blog has the details here on how Ferrari's story spread.

Ferrari posted the recording on his blog a week ago. From that, a familiar pattern emerges:

1. Bloggers spread a story that has a surprising development (i.e., a Comcast technician falls asleep on a customer's couch, or nude photos of a high school art teacher are found online)

2. The story has plenty of concrete details. Audio, video or photographic evidence are ideal.

3. A tangible form of injustice has occurred (multiple missed appointments, getting fired).

4. As the story reaches a certain threshold of recognition in the blogosphere (a top 5 search term on Technorati), the traditional media react. (Ferrari was interviewed Wednesday by Matt Lauer on The Today Show.)

5. Within a day or two, the traditional network story gets posted to YouTube, and the word of mouth goes nuclear. The non-blogging audience hears the story for the first time, and the original bloggers post updates about the involvement of traditional media.

So what does all of this have to do with lawyers?  Plenty.  Already, in the legal profession, we've seen lawyers' bad manners, like a cursing associate or an overly aggressive cease and desist letter, make Internet news.  In fact, the only reason that these stories probably didn't spread to major media is that they lack mass news appeal. Still, it's only a matter of time before a disgruntled client tapes a conversation with an attorney trying to pressure him into an unfair settlement or plea arragnement -- and that news makes it into the national headlines. Yes, as lawyers, professional ethics rules obligate us to behave in a dignified manner and to treat clients well -- but the threat of being humiliated on national TV just may pose more of an incentive to abide by these rules than even the threat of a bar grievance.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 23, 2006 at 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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