Should Lawyers Respond to Negative Online Reviews: Law Firm Marketing
If you don’t think lawyer reviews matter, think again. Of consumers interviewed, 94% say that a bad review has convinced them to avoid a business. And that list of consumers includes consumers of professional services, not just consumer products. Fifty-three percent of consumers expect a business to respond to a negative review within a week. The keyword there is they expect you to respond within a week. Forty-five percent of consumers say they’re more likely to visit a business that responds to negative reviews. It’s important to understand what the consumers are looking for and that they’re likely to visit your business if you respond to those negative reviews. Lawyers can respond in almost all instances and should have a way of doing so as part of their law firm marketing strategy.
Most law firms and legal marketers want to shoot for a 5.0 star rating but five stars is not necessarily the gold standard. I’m here to tell you that it’s more credible to be between 4.5 and 4.9 than 5.0, but it’s also hard to get it. If you have a 5.0 rating, it’s hard to say to a reviewer, “4 stars would be better….” 4.5 to 4.9 feels more authentic or credible to the person reading it. More people than not rely on reviews.
Six Steps in Creating a Plan for Managing Online Reviews of Lawyers and Law Firms
There are things you need to do to have an effective online review program:
- Own your digital real estate.
- Monitor reviews.
- Know the professional rules of conduct.
- Follow a review response policy.
- Respond when appropriate.
- Ask for reviews.
Step 1: Own Your Digital Real Estate
The first thing is to own your digital real estate. There’s a lot of digital real estate out there. And when I say “own,” I’m using that in loose context, because we don’t pay for or own most of the content on places like Facebook profiles since Facebook has ultimate control of its digital platform.
Lawyers should focus on Avvo, Better Business Bureau (BBB), Facebook, Google My Business, Martindale-Hubbell and Yelp. Note, too, that these are the “listings and review sites” – they do not include ranking websites such as Best Lawyers, Chambers and Partners and Super Lawyers. To take control of digital real estate that you have not claimed for your law firm, check out the links below:
- Avvo: https://support.avvo.com/hc/en-us/articles/208463066-How-do-I-claim-my-profile-
- BBB: https://www.bbb.org/concord/for-businesses/claim-your-bbb-business-review/
- Facebook: https://www.reviewtrackers.com/blog/claim-facebook-business-page/
- Google My Business: https://support.google.com/business/answer/2911778
- Martindale-Hubbell/Lawyers.com/Nolo.com: https://www.martindale.com/marketyourfirm/profiles/
- Yelp: https://www.yelp-support.com/article/How-do-I-claim-a-business-page
Once you’ve taken control of the content on your digital listings, you should add a calendar reminder to check and update your online profiles at least twice a year, if not quarterly.
When we talk about claiming your digital real estate, it means that if there’s a profile for you or your firm, you should claim the profile even if you don’t like and/or don’t use the site for anything. For example, just because you may not use Yelp doesn’t mean that consumers don’t use it to find lawyers. They do and they will. Forget about what you do and focus on what your audience does.
Step 2: Monitor Your Reviews
If you don’t want to spend any money, just go on the review sites regularly. If you claim the profiles, you should get an email every time there is a new review submitted. However, if you want to take it to another level, if you’re with a bigger firm and you want to get serious about managing law firm and lawyer reviews, some of many resources include:
Picture this: you go to Yelp and you look up your name and you find reviews that say, “In my opinion, worst lawyer on the planet. He drained money and kept things dragging out for years. I do not recommend ever.” The next one says, “One star. Save your money and a headache of a lawyer today.” This is a real example of two one star reviews on Yelp. The lawyer never responded, never took ownership of their profile and may not even know these reviews exist. This is a real opportunity for them to stake ownership and to do so, the lawyer needs to be mindful of the rules of professional responsibility.
Step 3: Know Model Rule 1.6 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Model Rule 1.6, a rule that was adopted well before the internet, prohibits revealing confidential information acquired during the professional relationship with a client. In January 2021, ABA Formal Opinion 496 was issues noting that:
“A negative online review, alone, does not meet the requirements of permissible disclosure in self-defense under Model Rule 1.6(b)(5) and, even if it did, an online response that discloses information relating to a client’s representation or that would lead to discovery of confidential information would exceed any disclosure permitted under the Rule.”
The ABA opinion relates to its Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(a) that bars lawyers from disclosing any information about a client’s representation, regardless of the source of the information, unless the client gives informed consent to disclose the information.
Lawyers cannot respond with truthful information from any source unless the client consents to the attorney’s response.
A Legal Examiner article notes: “It essentially is a rule that draws a line and says lawyers ought not talk about client matters outside of handling those client matters unless they’ve got some good reason for doing it. … The exceptions to the rule allow attorneys to defend themselves in court and against disciplinary charges.”
I should note that self-defense has been previously used in matters where attorneys claimed that they responded as an act of self-defense. I’m guessing by now that you’re asking, “if this is the case, why would you tell us that we should still respond to negative reviews,” and I’m going to get there, but just not yet.
Step 4: Include Review Response in Your Law Firm Social Media Policy
Step four is to have a review response section in your social media policy, even for those small firms which should draft a policy for internal use. If your law firm operates in multiple locations, chances are more than one person will be assigned to respond directly to online reviews. This makes it essential to maintain a firmwide review response policy that guides your law firm on how to respond to positive and negative reviews. Your policy should cover things like:
- Who should respond
- Permissible language and tone
- Timeline for responding to reviews
- With whom reviews are shared internally
- When escalations become necessary because of a negative review
- Applicable rules of professional responsibility
Even if you only have one person who works with you, have a policy so that you use it all the time. It’s crucial to have a policy that you can fall back on at any time or, when you’re questioning whether you should or should not respond, as a policy should address who should respond.
Here’s a sample policy language.
Responding to Online Reviews
Online professional reviews in public forums such as Google Reviews, Facebook Reviews, or any other online platform are a common way for corporate and individual clients to provide feedback to others. As a firm, we monitor for online reviews of our company and its professionals. However, if you see a negative review about a member of our team or yourself, please bring it to the attention of [insert authority here]. Together, a determination will be made if the individual can/should respond. We will:
- Determine the nature of the review.
- Determine who, if anyone, should respond.
- If responding, draft a response for approval within 24 to 72 hours that has a neutral tone.
- Consider rules of professional conduct.
- Consider all states’ rules in states within which we do business.
- Do not disclose confidential information (if responding).
- If it is factually false, misleading, threatening, etc., we will request that the platform host remove the information and/or seek other legal action.
Regarding “who should respond,” it depends on the type of review. If the review is of an individual lawyer, they should take ownership of the response because the relationship is with you, the attorney and the reviewer. If it’s the law firm, then they should be designated to respond to online reviews, which depends on the type of firm.
Step 5: Respond When Appropriate
It’s almost always appropriate to respond and thank people for their positive reviews. I cannot tell you how many times I see positive reviews that have never gotten a thumbs up from the person who received them. That’s lazy. And if you haven’t responded to a review, you need to stop using the excuse that you didn’t know it was there. Look for them. If someone has given you a positive review, say “thank you.” It’s as simple as that. And negative reviews can have a response. They just must be more guarded and cannot run afoul of the ethics rules.
Sample, Ethical Responses To Negative Online Lawyer Reviews
Thomas Wilkinson Jr., member, ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism advises to use the following language: “Lawyer confidentiality obligations prevent us from correcting the factual background in this post. We are very proud of our track record of client satisfaction and favorable results.”
Put another way, you might consider saying, “Thank you for your review. We take pride in working to ensure that our clients are well represented. Since confidentiality rules prohibit us from responding further, please contact our office at XXX so we may address your concerns.”
What you should never do is disclose information that is confidential or privileged. In other words, don’t do what one Chicago employment lawyer did by posting the following on Avvo in response to a negative review: “I dislike it very much when my clients lose, but I cannot invent positive facts for clients when they are not there. I feel badly for him, but his own actions in beating up a female co-worker are what caused the consequences he is now so upset about.” That attorney was reprimanded.
BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU REVIEWS
The only time it’s not appropriate to respond is when the review is such that it needs to immediately be reported to the entity where it posted. Examples include threatening someone’s life, threatening violence, and use of profanities. Don’t respond to those reviews. Report them immediately and the sites will likely take those down.
If you do get a negative online review, there can be recourse if it’s “demonstrable, false factual allegations.”
If the review is false, fake or malicious, you can request that it be taken down by the site owner. There are specific steps you must follow and things you must prove. As a PR agency, we’ve worked with clients where this has been done successfully, and we’ve worked with clients where it has not been done successfully. It often feels like the luck of the draw but stick with it. If you think something is malicious, or someone’s trying to bring your company down, or you have some way to prove that it is false, don’t only ask once if you get a “no.” Wait a month to request removal a second time.
Links to resources that will help you request removal of negative online reviews:
- Avvo: https://support.avvo.com/hc/en-us/articles/209975343-What-if-I-get-a-negative-review-
- BBB: https://www.bbb.org/dispute-handling-and-resolution
- Facebook: https://reputationstacker.com/how-to-get-a-fake-facebook-review-removed/
- Google My Business: https://www.reviewtrackers.com/blog/how-to-delete-google-review/
- Martindale-Hubbell/Lawyers.com/Nolo.com: https://www.martindale.com/ratings-and-reviews/attorneys/
- Yelp: https://www.yelp-support.com/article/How-do-I-report-a-review?
Step 6: Ask for Positive Reviews
It is perfectly fine to request reviews from clients proactively so that you don’t have to do it when you get a negative review. One of the things we do at Furia Rubel, that we started because Google Reviews are so important is to ask at the end of matters. In addition, when a client sends us a nice testimonial, we’ll email them with a thank you and request to post it on Google Reviews. “We really appreciate this feedback. Would you consider posting it on Google Reviews? Here’s how ….”
The more positive reviews you get proactively, the less one negative review will hurt.
Sample Request for an Online Review
<Insert small talk or personal outreach here.>
Thank you for relying on <business name>. We appreciate the trust you placed in us. I am reaching out today to ask if you would submit a star rating and review on our firm’s Google business listing.
As I’m sure you know, reviews are an important part of a business’ online reputation. Others who need the same type of counsel that you received are trying to decide whom to trust. Sharing your positive experience through a Google review could be the deciding factor in leading that client to choose <business name>.
Here is a link to our < Google My Business Page, Facebook> where you may leave a review.
Thank you again for trusting in our firm.
Don’t draft a review for them. Don’t ask for incentives if you’ve received a testimonial in the past.
To make it easier for clients to post a testimonial that you were sent previously, you might consider sending an email asking, “Since we’ve worked together in the past and you provided the following review, would you consider posting this on Google Reviews? It would really help our business and would mean a lot to me. And if not, I completely understand. Here’s what you said: [INCLUDE ORIGINAL TESTIMONIAL].
Remember, in professional services in particular, people don’t think to post a positive review, but if unhappy, they think about posting negative reviews. It’s important to ask for positive reviews whenever it’s feasible. If they say no, it’s okay. Some people don’t want to give reviews. Some people’s companies prohibit them from giving reviews. It’s fine. Don’t take it personally, just move on.
The same thing goes for Facebook. If you have a lot of business that comes in through Facebook, that’s where you want to focus your reviews. As a law firm marketing and PR agency, we focus on Google Reviews because we don’t want to ask people twice.
In addition, don’t try to get a ton of Google Reviews all at once. I have a recurring reminder on my calendar to request one Google Review and one iTunes Review for our podcast, On Record PR. While drafting this article, I noticed 14 5-Star iTunes Reviews for our podcast. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a relatively new podcast, it’s a lot more than zero. It’s all about starting somewhere.