Patterico's Pontifications

4/12/2007

Pushback Against The Coming Legal Superstorm Against Bloggers

Filed under: Blogging Matters,Buffoons — Justin Levine @ 1:15 am



[posted by Justin Levine] 

I’m late to the game here, but I wanted to join the growing numbers in the blogging community who officially declare JL Kirk Associates, Alan E. Korpady and the Nashville legal firm of King & Ballow to be complete asshats. No self respecting person who supports free speech rights should ever utilize the services of these people.

In my experience, the bigger the law firm, the less likely they are to understand how blogging culture has changed the landscape. These people don’t understand that a legal threat is far more likely to damage their client’s reputation, rather than repair it.

For the record, here is a copy of the post that some asshats feel is worthy of a libel suit [originally written and posted by Kat Coble]:

JL Kirk & Associates found my husband’s resume online. They contacted him a couple of weeks ago and offered their services as an ‘Executive Placement Firm’. As I’m wont to do, I of course Googled them as much as possible and found very little in the way of solid information. So I’ve decided to write up our experiences with them for anyone else who is interested in finding out more about this particular operation.

Anyone who has been searching for a job for any length of time is well aware of the various vulnerabilities that are part of the process. There’s the self-doubt, frustration and impatience, coupled with no small amount of worry. So when a job searcher gets an email that says “maybe we can help!” the relief is almost immediate.

My husband filled out an application and questionnaire, and returned it directly to the company. He then received an appointment with a counselor the following week. During that appointment the representative of JL Kirk & Associates interviewed him just as one would for a position. The afternoon after the interview he received an email that congratulated him on making it through the first step of the process. They wanted to schedule a second interview which required my presence as a Support Person/Spouse/Significant Other. When he scheduled the interview he questioned them directly about their fees and payment arrangements. He was told that if we received approval after the second interview the money would be discussed at that time.

So today was the second interview, and we drove to Maryland Farms for our 2:00 appointment. We sat in a waiting room next to a fake fireplace and a lone man in a suit. At 2:11 a matronly woman came out and announced to the other man–in front of us–that she would not be able to meet with him because he wasn’t able to bring his Support Person. They had a lengthy conversation in front of us about this failed meeting and his disappointment. He asked to speak with her behind closed doors (as would I) and then five minutes later that conversation ended with him leaving dejectedly. She then turned to us (it is now 2:17pm) and greeted us warmly.

We were led into an office that appeared to have been the result of a decorating war between a loan officer and an eccentric grandmother. The prototypical office furniture clashed with a giant print of Raffael’s Cherubs a reproduction oriental rug and a handmade mosaic table with a tilted top. The Husband and I were seated in two chairs across from the interviewer, who sat on a sofa next to a pile of throw pillows.

Here’s where the fun starts. We heard all about how hard it is to find a job, how most jobs aren’t posted online and are only found through networking. We heard about how the really good jobs are available only to those ‘in the know’ and can only be obtained through some wizardy combining Masonic handshakes, good dentistry and whatever pixie dust this particular company stores in the backroom. This interview seemed very carefully designed to exploit every potential vulnerability that any jobseeker feels. After about 10 minutes of conversation subtly designed to push every button we may have, the interviewer handed us a booklet that was said to be a tailored write-up of my husband’s profile as a job-seeker. The interviewer left us alone in the room to digest the booklet on our own terms.

The booklet consisted of three pages of reiteration of the interview’s strong-arm tactics, followed by a regurgitation of information from my husband’s resume, all summarised with a couple of pages essentially saying “the job market is tough but we think you’re really great and so we’ll be here to help you get a job!” We skimmed the booklet and reviewed our game plan, then signaled the interviewer by opening the door.

Our game plan was to ask direct questions about the company’s operation and placement record. In short, ‘what exactly do you do and how well do you do it?’ We had test answers in mind. In short, if we ask a direct question and get a vague answer such as “every case is different so numbers are hard to apply here” that tells us a great deal about the company’s services.

Sure enough, our first question about placement rate was answered with an “every case is different, etc.” style answer. Ultimately she gave us the figure of “90 to 92% placement rate” and then proceeded to tell us a long tale about a ‘failed’ client who showed up 37 minutes late to an interview with a CEO from an out-of-state firm. We all agreed that was indeed very unprofessional of said client and what a shame and how good to not work with him. (I of course was thinking about how we were on time for that interview which she failed to start until 17 minutes after the promised appointment time.)

She then gave us the very good news that they were prepared to accept us as clients. Then the fun began. We were told that Headhunters and Employment Agencies took fees only when a job had been secured for the job seeker, and they took their fees (generally 30-40%) from the hiring firm. But that means the job seeker gets a lower starting salary because all of their good money is going to the headhunter/employment agency. Thankfully, though, JL Kirk & Associates will be able to get my husband a job making a far larger starting salary. All we need to do is put $4,420 on a credit card today. Once we do that the entire weight of the firm of JL Kirk & Associates will begin the task of navigating treacherous shark-infested landmines of the job search on behalf of my husband. And just trust them, because they find jobs for 90% of the people who pay them to.

So that’s how it works. And that’s pretty much how we expected that it would work. But both the spouse and I believe that it’s irrepsonsible to not pursue any lead during this time so we thought we’d go through the process. Especially since they kept so much of it in the dark from the outset.

JUICY STUFF BEGINS HERE
But I’m very angry about it. If you’ve made it this far, I suppose maybe you could tell that I’ve been supressing most of my irritation. However, irritation makes for good blog reading, and so here it is.

I get really ticked off at people trying to use fear to motivate others. I don’t care if you are a fire-and-brimstone preacher, an insurance salesman, a used-car salesman or a cat burglar. Finding someone else’s fear and vulnerability and using that vulnerability to somehow enrich yourself is a cheap and underhanded tactic. It’s wrong and it’s cruel. And I think that’s exactly what this placement firm did to us today. There were times when I felt like I was sitting across from a spider. We were meant to feel at home enough to let down our guard so that the woman could then ply us gently with tales of terror. All of it was designed to make us hand over nearly $5,000 without question and without possibility of a refund.

The husband and I are not always idiots. We both expect to pay for services rendered from any provider. But we generally like to be treated as responsible adults. We had legitimate questions about the fee structure and we raised those at several points in the process. For them to not even discuss that fee structure until they had battered us emotionally for half an hour is what I would consider to be unethical. I’m sure there are other employment agencies and headhunters out there. We’ll continue to look for them.

In the meantime, I would discourage anyone who stumbles across this entry from even going through the JL Kirk & Associates “interview process”.

UPDATE

I should also mention that this company was formerly Bernard Haldane before it was purchased by Mr. Kirk Leipzig. One of the accusations against Bernard Haldane was that they would make an examination of the potential client’s assets and charge accordingly. I find it interesting to note just how close our “fee” was to the tax refund we recently received. Hmmm. Makes you wonder, no?

[end of post by Kat Coble]

The fight goes on against the Coming Legal Superstorm Against Bloggers.

32 Responses to “Pushback Against The Coming Legal Superstorm Against Bloggers”

  1. Wow. Yeah, this definitely requires pushback. If this little slice of opinion is actionable, then so is 75% of the freakin’ Interweb.

    Unless JL Kirk will further claim that the Cobles implicitly agreed to some sort of unspoken NDA just by showing up.

    Then again, we’ve also been told that accurately quoting someone’s stated opinion constitutes a “smear”, so this could be the first legal manifestation of that.

    Hey, this must be actionable too! OH NOES DONT SEU MEE

    PCachu (e072b7)

  2. I have published a book myself and this reeks of the tactics of vanity publishers and “agents” who take fees in advance. There are codes of conduct in these industries but first time publishers and authors are liable to the same sentiments you expressed in the original post. I actually got involved with one of these people in spite of skepticism and a long background of running a small business. It is so easy to be sweet talked but the moment of truth, as you pointed out, is the moment when money is asked for. You did well to leave and did everybody else a favor by posting the account of the experience. I’m surprised that a reputable law firm would get involved in this sort of scam.

    Mike K (86bddb)

  3. Thank you for the alert. A threat to free speech that has nothing to do with the government. Whoda thunk it?

    Count me among the pushbackers.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  4. I sent a copy of my post to the only e-mail address I could find for the law firm. It was rejected. Somehow, I don’t think they are all that enthusiastic about e-mail. Maybe if I had carved it on a stone tablet and sent it by horse-drawn cart.

    Mike K (86bddb)

  5. The Certified Letter delivered to blogg Kat Coble by the scammers’ lawyers makes interesting reading.

    Under Tennessee law, any malicious publication expressed in writing intending to injure the character or diminish the reputation of a business is libel. Moreover, even if statements are literally true, the publisher of those statements is subject to monetary damages where “the meaning reasonably conveyed by the published words is defamatory.”

    [snip]

    In addition to your liability for defamation, under Tennessee law, the defamatory statements made in your blog are, by your own admission, intended to “discourage anyone who stumbles across this entry from even going through the JL Kirk & (sic) Associates ‘interview process’.” As such, you may be subject to liability for monetary damages for tortuous interference with the business relationships of JL Kirk Associates…

    We hereby demand that you take down the blog entry regarding JL Kirk Associates together with the entire thread of comments. We further demand that you cease and desist from any fruther attempts to injure and interfere with the business of JL Kirk Associates… If you do not comply with these demands on or before April 13, 2007, JL Kirk Associates intends to sue you for damages.

    If the scammers’ proposed speech code is implemented, I think some limited forms of catblogging may continue to be permitted–provided that the traits of calicos and other favored breeds are not impugned.

    Are there smiles this morning in the editorial offices of the LA Times? I hope old media visualizes this bell tolling for them, as well.

    AMac (c822c9)

  6. I totally agree that Kirk, or at least Kirk’s lawyers, are morons — both for the complaint and the poor PR. But having read the underlying blog post I don’t understand the blogger’s original complaint.

    Is she actually complaining that she signed a contract after a hard sell and had cold feet? Imagine THAT happening in America!! Hard to believe. Or rather it’s hard to believe that anyone would be particularly interested in that whine. Don’t sign contracts under pressure, as most grownups quickly learn.

    Which makes the lawyer’s demands even weirder, since the original post wasn’t all that damning — it simply related fairly common, if off-putting, business practices. Hardly libel and apparently quite factual, except possibly for the tenuous linkage to Haldane.

    Now, the piling on in the comments might be a problem to Kirk, but they’re going after the wrong person if so. CDA utterly protects the blogger there, which the Kirk lawyers should know.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  7. Kevin Murphy,

    I’m glad to hear you’ve never been pressured or manipulated into following a course of action that could harm you more than it’s helped. I pray you never fall into the hands of those who would ravage your social innocence.

    Alan Kellogg (4ee4de)

  8. AMac,

    The page you linked to won’t load for me. Could I get a copy? Send it to: mythusmage (at) mythusmage (period) com

    Alan Kellogg (4ee4de)

  9. […] circle of online friends and readers react angrily, and post about it themselves6. One or more high readership blogs gets alerted, and writes it up, dramatically expanding awareness well beyond the original […]

    Example #6,732 of why it’s generally a bad idea to sue a blogger | seattleduck (32411a)

  10. Is she actually complaining that she signed a contract after a hard sell and had cold feet?

    No. I did not sign a contract nor did I engage their services.

    I was merely wanting to notify people in the area of my experience so they wouldn’t get their hopes up, drive to Brentwood and sit through the same emotionally-laden experience I had.

    That’s all.

    Katherine Coble (07eda4)

  11. Under Tennessee law, any malicious publication expressed in writing

    Question: Do blogs count as “publication” in Tennessee?

    And keep it up Kat. We’re pulling for you.

    Scott Jacobs (feb2f7)

  12. […] More here, along with a copy of the “offending” post. If those asshats and clownshoes think that post gave them a PR problem, we can only say this: […]

    Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler » Blog Archive » Another Idiot Law Firm Trying to Become an Internet Verb (f6e59f)

  13. Man, wotta bunch of crap. I’ll have to post this elsewhere, too. Spread the word…

    David N. Scott (71e316)

  14. The thing about “demand letters” is that they are a relatively cheap way to try and scare someone off doing something.

    Lawsuits are another matter completely when it comes to making a financial commitment.

    When the a legal claim is bogus, a “demand letter” is the usual legal practice to employ.

    I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

    Yet.

    wls (859dc4)

  15. is it true that jl kirk was previously bernard haldane?

    just a question

    anon (6f34ea)

  16. Go Kat Go!

    It wasn’t your blog post that ruined their reputation – it was their own conduct, and the RIDICULOUS post written by THEIR employee.

    If they really want to sue someone for damages, they should sue the idiot employee that responded in your commments.

    I took your orignal blog post with a grain of salt – but that moron’s response proved EVERYTHING you said, times a million. As a local Nashvillian, after reading the company’s unprofessional response, I can guarantee I’ll cost them business.

    And good luck suing me for just passing on YOUR OWN WORDS, guys. Good luck with that. I really can’t beleive they responded like that. Beyond stupid.

    PB (c65bfa)

  17. Man that’s lame. That post isn’t even really harsh, but communicates what they thought and felt. Harrassing someone over that is just dumb.

    Dwilkers (4f4ebf)

  18. any outfit that would require an upfront fee from a jobseeker is a scam.
    and kat, when they left you and your husband alone in the office, you can bet your ass your conversation was monitored.

    assistant devil's advocate (f0c06e)

  19. Extremely tacky behavior on the part of a N’ville firm. And yes, I make my way to N’ville on occasion as its the nearest big city. Now I know whom not to deal with since if they try to rip you off in this way, it stands to reason they’d try to do it in other ways.

    JL Kirk, may I recommend a humble apology for your insult to the Constitution, and to Nashville for the shame you have brought to it, and to this lady and her husband for being a pill? And perhaps a remedial course in Marketing while you’re at it? Because, I do believe this falls into what Talleyrand said “It was worse than a sin, it was a blunder.”.

    Not only is your behavior wrong, but its stupid to boot.

    Tennwriter

    Tennwriter (ef009a)

  20. Katherine–

    Thank you for clearing that up, as it wasn’t clear (to me) from your post whether or not you had gone through with it. Which affected my conclusions…

    Kevin Murphy (805c5b)

  21. Somebody call the LOSER POLICE on JL Kirk and Associates!

    The Liberal Avenger (b8c7e2)

  22. Is a New War Starting?…

    I may be wearing the foil hat a bit too tight right about now, but earlier today, I just had this eerie feeling that a war over the right to free speech was about to erupt. First we have The Enlightened and Exalted Eminent Emancipator and Supreme Benev…

    Radioactive Liberty (20b016)

  23. Kevin says: “Is she actually complaining that she signed a contract after a hard sell and had cold feet? Imagine THAT happening in America!! Hard to believe. Or rather it’s hard to believe that anyone would be particularly interested in that whine. Don’t sign contracts under pressure, as most grownups quickly learn.”

    I didn’t read it that way at all. I have posted some warnings to potential customers of the publishing scam I encountered and was threatened by this woman. I have the resources not to be intimidated and I had warned everyone at risk at the moment so it went away. This lady did the same. The law firm has succeeded in making this a far bigger story and hat may help them understand that the world has changed.

    The old story was; God created all men but Samuel Colt made them equal. Now the internet has made them really equal.

    Mike K (86bddb)

  24. AT the end they make the classic libel claim. It meets all the standards of libel and they will have their day in court.

    Look, you can’t make claims that someone did something unethical or illegal without proof, and thats what she did.

    Regardless of whether we think this firm is horrible or tacky or predatory etc.

    If the claim is false, (which unlinked claims tend to be) then……

    Remember this is the classic one side presented case.

    EricPWJohnson (92aae0)

  25. I’ve looked, I’m not seeing any convictions against BHA. But, also JL Kirk buying the firm cannot reasonably be associated for actions that happened before they had ownership and control

    EricPWJohnson (92aae0)

  26. All of us better wake up to the fact that the Imus firing is a major victory for all who want to check free speech in every media. The Democrats want to pass a “Fairness Doctrine,” whose only purpose is to shut down Limbaugh, Hannity, and others on the Right. Bloggers are the second most important target, or more precisely the Bloggers who annoy people are the second most important target, which means all of us. Wake up, everyone.Brownshirts in Blackface

    Howard Veit (4ba8d4)

  27. EricPWJohnson:

    Um, what?

    The letter from the lawyer to Ms. Coble is fairly striking in its lack of substantial factual assertions; except for the Haldane becoming JL Kirk issue, the complaints are really about opinions.

    (And it appears that JL Kirk bought the Haldane assets, which seems like buying the company to me.)

    Coble’s writing looks to me to be very measured. I’m certain that I’m *far* more sympathetic to libel claims generally than Mr. Levine, but this looks like a non-starter to me.

    It does amuse me to see that the effect of the letter was to zoom JL Kirk’s name around the blogosphere. Heh.

    –JRM

    JRM (355c21)

  28. A winning case for JL Kirk, huh? I seriously doubt that. Really, it’s just a way to hurt her financially. They probably have deep pockets and will have the attorneys drag out the case until she’s broke. It is unlikely “JL” wants it to go to trial quickly.

    BTW EricPW, I saw where one of the people at the firm is named Eric. A coincidence or not?

    Hard Right (ee66c9)

  29. JL Kirk Lesson Learned: Don’t Hold Private Discussions?…

    An interesting thought from, Ripples, observed & created by David St. Lawrence…

    JL Kirk has still not gotten the message. Instead of actually addressing the issues raised by Katherine Coble, they are now shifting to the time-honored tactic of “di…

    tdaxp (2c0352)

  30. Avoid this company like the plague. I spent over $4,000 with them. They helped me put together a nice resume, prepped me with a few mock interviews, and told me how to make cold calls and unsolicited visits to companies. This would have been a good service for maybe $400, but not $4,000plus. Why did I pay for this service? Simple they told me that they would provide contacts and get me in front of decision makers. Once they had my money, they acted as if they had never claimed this. You be the judge, Do you think I or anyone else would have agreed to spend $4k for only the service provided? I know what I was told and this seems to be the status quo with this firm. They use very unethical tactics and flat out lie about the service they will provide to deceive the down and out. They do this in the name of Christianity. They say they are members of Cornerstone Community Church in Nashville. I am a Christian and this experience has made me sick. I am still out of work and struggling to make contacts. I have to pray daily for the strength to forgive. I also pray that others will not be hurt by this business. Beware, read the fine print. Don’t trust what they say.

    turbidium (fb57e7)


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