The July issue of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin features an excellent article by Linn Davis entitled “Responding to Negative Online Reviews: Reputation Management.” If you’ve ever received a negative review, or fear that negative content is inevitable, this post is for you.
While Davis’ article focuses on ethical dos and don’ts, it also contains solid practical advice. The following excerpt describes what you cannot do, what you should not do, how to preempt negative reviews, and how to respond to a negative review. Also included are my two cents on best practice recommendations.
What You Cannot Do
- Reveal information relating to the representation of a client
- Post inaccurate content
- Allow misleading information that creates false expectations regarding fees, results, or your firm’s resources
- Use subterfuge (employees posing as satisfied clients offering glowing reviews)
- Fail to promptly update information when it changes
- Engage in real-time interactions that violate in-person solicitation rules
What You Should Not Do
- Sue the source of the negative review for defamation
- Attempt to restrict clients from posting negative reviews
- Form an unintended attorney-client relationship in an online legal forum
- Fail to screen for conflicts in an online legal forum
- Offer incentives for a positive review without considering the ethical and legal implications. See Oregon RPC 1.8(a), and 16 CFR Part 255 relating to FTC regulation of endorsements.
How to Preempt Negative Reviews
- Contribute accurate and valuable information regarding yourself and your firm
- Use disclaimers when participating in online legal forums
- Provide clients with professional and competent work product
How to Respond to a Negative Review
One possibility is to do nothing. As Davis points out, “not every opinion (on the Internet) must be contested.” If, however, you feel you must respond, Davis offers three ethically permissible approaches:
- Encourage the client to contact you to resolve the concerns expressed (this could be done online or offline)
- Post that you disagree with the client’s account but are prevented by your professional standards from responding in a public forum without the client’s consent
- Direct readers to other forums where your representation is regarded more “fully, accurately, and favorably”
Best Practices – My Two Cents
If the negative review comes from a client:
Your best tactic is to encourage the client to contact you. I suggest doing this privately and leaving the online post alone. Why? Responding to a negative review in any fashion will cause it to rank higher in search results. Remember: search engines use algorithms based on quantity and quality. The more online engagement surrounding a negative thread, the more prominent it will become.
The good news is that you can exploit the quantity/quality preference of search engines by contributing your own accurate and valuable information. In addition to Davis’ suggestions about adding basic biographical data and a description of your services, list yourself on free online legal directories, blog, update your Website, post to social media, share photos, and reshare/repost content. It will take time and effort, but your content can and will push the negative review below the first page of search results.
If the negative review comes from a non-client:
I’ve known many lawyers who received negative “reviews” from non-clients – either disgruntled opposing parties or those who are motivated to attack the lawyer because of her practice area or representation of a particular client. Examples include immigration law, debt collection, or defending a client accused of a crime. Other than overwhelming the negative review with your own positive content, there isn’t much you can do when a non-client complains. Responding will only spur on the commentor.
While it is important to monitor what people are saying about you online, try to have a thick skin. I know that negative reviews can be hurtful and maddening – especially when the source is motivated to keep attacking. However, and pardon my French, but most of us can spot a “whack job.” Therefore, if a potential client decides not to meet with you because of what he sees or reads on the Internet, it’s probably a good thing.
All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017