A major force in the legal recruiting industry is going against an upstart competitor – in court.
A. Harrison Barnes, owner and founder of such companies as BCG Attorney Search and LegalAuthority, is suing Robert E. Kinney of Kinney Recruiting in Texas for anonymously maligning Barnes and his companies online. (Full disclosure: Career Mission, which is affiliated with these sites, is the owner of JDJournal.com.)
While it is common for disgruntled ex-employees and unhappy customers to complain about companies on websites and chat boards, this is an unusual case in which an anonymous critic was learned to be the owner of a competing business.
It is also unusual that Kinney, according to the complaint, went to extraordinary lengths to prevent the aggrieved party from discovering his identity. When Barnes sought his identity from RipOff Report, Kinney even hired a high-priced law firm to prevent RipOff Report turning over his identity pursuant to a court order Barnes obtained. Kinney had registered on Ripoff Report as “Albert” and done a posting on RipOff Report under this fake name. The case is extraordinary because Barnes was able to obtain a court order for information that is normally fiercely guarded by the First Amendment. (Kinney is a former employee of BCG Attorney Search.)
Apart from Kinney, the lawsuit also targets a number of individuals, including one solo practitioner in particular. The solo practitioner in question had set up a website largely dedicated to attacking Barnes. Kinney and the other defendants are accused of using online “rip-off report” sites and anonymous personal blogs to spread incorrect information about Barnes and his companies.
According to the complaint, the defendants have “gone beyond expressing their opinions” and “mounted a vicious smear campaign against Barnes and his legal recruiting companies.”
The complaint also alleges that when Kinney was an employee of BCG Attorney Search in 2004, he devised an unethical kickback scheme, attempting to pay an associate under the table at Preston, Gates and Ellis (now K&L Gates) to hire one of his candidates. Barnes says that when he discovered this scheme, he and other BCG Attorney Search recruiters immediately fired Kinney. The complaint in the action even contains an email from Kinney where he talks about paying the bribe to an associate at Preston Gates in return for hiring a candidate.
Incredibly, Kinney decided over four years after working for Barnes and BCG Attorney Search to start maligning Barnes and his companies online. Kinney even attacks companies of Barnes that were not even in existence at the time Kinney worked for BCG Attorney Search.
Barnes says the actions of these anonymous online critics have damaged both his reputation, and that of his companies, leading to missed business opportunities, lost customers, weakened morale, and loss of employees.
The suit, filed this week with the California Superior Court, County of Los Angeles, Northeast District, seeks $10 million in damages.
The full complaint is available here (PDF file).