How lawyers can make positive—and negative—online reviews work for them
With many online options readily available to consumers with legal issues, choosing an attorney can be overwhelming. The decision of who will be the best fit is often aided by the comments left by past clients detailing their experience with a law firm.
Knowing the importance of your online reviews to prospective clients, as well as how to track, manage and properly respond to your reviews is something that can be valuable to any law firm. It can be the difference between success or failure.
“Ninety-five percent of consumers said that reviews help them determine which attorney to hire,” said Brian Veeder a product manager at Martindale-Hubbell who focuses on ratings and reviews—and a former attorney. “Of that group, 83 percent said they check reviews as the first thing that they do in finding an attorney.”
It’s also important to realize how negative reviews are perceived by anyone who reads them online. Though law firms do not actively look to obtain negative reviews, research shows that potential clients are more likely to trust reviews if they see negative reviews among the mostly positive ones.
The sweet spot for review scores is typically between 4.0 and 4.7, not 4.9 and 5.0. Consumers generally don’t recognize the substantial difference between a 4.5 or a 4.6 and a 4.9. Additionally, factors like the number of reviews or recentness of reviews are regularly taken into account by potential clients.
“People want to see a mix of high and low reviews because it gives the overall display authenticity,” Veeder said. “This lets them know that the site that they’re looking at doesn’t let people hide reviews, or maybe the possibility of reviews not being real.”
Fake reviews are a problem that can lead to serious consequences. If your law office is working with a marketing or search engine optimization firm that controls your reviews and public outreach, it is your duty to manage their output and the practices they use.
“Ask questions, and make sure that you are working with ethically grounded partners when working in these areas,” said Esther Sirotnik, senior corporate counsel at Martindale-Avvo. “Unethical conduct or fake reviews can result in bar discipline, and lead to other types of penalties and actions.”
In 2013, a group of 19 companies made an agreement with the New York attorney general to cease writing fake online reviews for businesses and pay more than $350,000 in penalties.
Every firm should have a thorough vetting process for all online reviews, good or bad. This will help you to see what your staff is doing and how they can improve.
“We have a weekly management group of lawyers that run our firm. We look over every complaint, and we talk about what happened, and be sure to find out who is it about,” said Patrick Palace, owner of Palace Law Firm, a workers’ compensation and personal injury attorney, and former president of the Washington State Bar Association. “After reviewing the complaints, we look at whether it’s a system issue, or is it a personnel issue?”
Track your reviews so you can readily identify trends that highlight the positive output of your team, and correct the mishaps. There are multiple platforms that can assist your firm in tracking reviews: Yelp, Facebook, Google, and Podium—to name a few.
“Use all your feedback. Everything is gold. Everything is an opportunity to improve, don’t waste it,” Palace said.
When addressing reviews, Veeder finds it’s beneficial to use the THEM method to cover all bases and be sure that your client’s reviews are properly addressed.
● Timing: Prompt responses show that you appreciate the feedback and that you’re engaged with your customers through these online services.
● Honesty: It’s OK to admit fault where it’s appropriate.
● Empathy: Put yourself in the client’s shoes. Why were they unhappy?
● Message: Will your response make a future client more likely to contact your firm? If the answer’s no, then take a step back, rethink it and rewrite the response before it’s published. If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track.
Lastly, response confidentiality is something that should always be on the mind of a legal professional responding to a client’s review. To help clarify the confidentiality restrictions, a lawyer can turn to ABA Model Rule 1.6 (a): “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent.”
Be sure not to jeopardize the attorney-client privilege by divulging sensitive information when responding to a client’s online review.
Kelly Newcomb is the Chief Marketing Officer of Martindale-Avvo, which gives attorneys access to more than 25 million consumers monthly, through Avvo.com, Lawyers.com, Martindale.com and Nolo.com. Prior to being named CMO, Newcomb served in various capacities at Martindale for more than a decade, including seven years as director of customer experience and marketing. Her expertise in online legal marketing and how attorneys can apply it within their practices is extensive. Newcomb is a graduate of Duke University.
Properly marketing your firm will be sure to boost your clients and help your practice. Click here to access Martindale-Avvo’s full-length webinar, “The Curiously Positive Impact of Negative Reviews.”