Yelp Takes On Law Firm Over Fake Reviews
September 24, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — McMillan Law Group, a San Diego-based firm that specializes in bankruptcy, is being sued by Yelp Inc. The popular review website filed the lawsuit last month against the law firm for allegedly posting fraudulent reviews.
In its suit, Yelp claims that various reviews on McMillan’s business page were posted by employees of the company. “Some businesses try to game the system by stacking the deck in their favor with planted or fake reviews. The McMillan Law Group — run by Julian McMillan — is one such business,” the complaint alleged. “… The McMillan Law Group’s efforts to mislead customers are particularly brazen and disappointing given they have targeted some of the most vulnerable consumers of all — individuals who may be facing bankruptcy and who are looking for potential legal representation.”
Julian McMillan, consumer bankruptcy attorney and owner of the firm, denied the allegations. He claimed Yelp is only suing in retaliation for a suit he filed against the review site in a San Francisco small claims court — and won. McMillan’s suit centered on his dissatisfaction with Yelp’s advertising practices. According to McMillan, when he advertised with Yelp, the company was never able to prove his ads were actually seen. He also alleged that advertisers on Yelp were seeing higher placement in search results than non-advertisers.
And in a particularly memorable ruling, the judge reportedly described Yelp’s advertising contract as “the modern-day version of the mafia, going to stores and saying: ‘You wanna not be bothered?’” The court sided with McMillan and awarded him $2,700.
“This whole suit is in retaliation,” McMillan charged. “There are 36 million businesses on Yelp. Why do they want to sue some little bankruptcy firm in San Diego? Because I am the only one who proved their system doesn’t work.
“They could give a s--t whether or not a business posts 5,000 fake reviews of themselves: That’s what their filter is supposed to take care of,” McMillan said. “They’re concerned about a decline in ad sales, because some little punk in San Diego got a judgment saying they didn’t perform.”
Yelp did not respond to requests seeking comment.
As for the charges listed in Yelp’s new lawsuit, McMillan confirmed his firm created Yelp accounts under fake names to protect the identities of clients. They wanted to offer their reviews of the firm’s services, but McMillan said they didn’t want their names revealed to avoid embarrassment as they went through the bankruptcy process.
McMillan’s Google+ page boasts a 5-star rating, and the law firm’s Yelp page has 15 filtered reviews — most of which are 5-star ratings.
Yelp filed a similar lawsuit in June against Timothy Catron, owner of BuyYelpReview.com and AdBlaze.net.