We all know that negative online reviews can be hurtful and maddening. Last month I highlighted suggestions from the July Oregon State Bar Bulletin article by Linn Davis, with a few additions of my own. Because I know this topic strikes a nerve, I wanted to share some further advice from our friends at NW Sidebar.
A reasonable and measured response is key. Blasting people who give you a negative review is not a good business model. You can try contacting the review site and asking for the review’s removal if you can prove the review is false, defamatory or written by a competitor. This, however, may not be successful, especially if the review is anonymous. See Thomson v. Jane Doe, 189 Wn. App. 45, 356 P.3d 727 (2015) , when the court refused to force disclosure of an anonymous online reviewer’s identity.
You can respond directly to the review on the site. Be courteous and explain that due to your duty of confidentiality, you can’t address the facts of the complaint, but that you do not believe it presents a fair and accurate portrayal of the events. Make clear that you are always available to meet with former clients and address any concerns they may have.
If possible, try to contact the reviewer directly and seek to ameliorate the situation or explain to them further why the representation unfolded as it did. If this is successful, don’t hesitate to ask for an updated review.
Try to avoid further negative reviews by soliciting client feedback directly as the representation continues and in exit interviews. Try to give your clients every opportunity to air their grievances with you and your firm directly so they don’t have the need to vent in public.
Lastly, the best antidote to a negative review is positive reviews. Keep your profile updated and facilitate the opportunity for your other clients to post their own satisfied reviews.
As I’ve said before, I am not a fan of engaging with the reviewer/client online. However, the idea of soliciting client feedback during and after the course of representation is stellar. As Sandra Schilling notes, this is about giving your clients the opportunity to vent so they don’t feel the need to blast you online. I would add: it may also be preemptive. While there will always be clients who are perpetually unhappy, most people are reasonable. If you learn about a client’s dissatisfaction early, you can intervene and repair the relationship. The unappealing alternative is to allow the client’s bad feelings to fester – never a good solution.
“Soft Skills” are attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with others. They include traits like diplomacy, patience, empathy, problem solving, conflict resolution, adaptability, collaboration, and communication. Cultivating “soft skills” can improve your chances of getting a job or retaining clients:
A firm that respects client service will stay open. A firm that makes client service a priority will remain successful. How do we accomplish this? It should be innate, and yet, as mentioned, communication is still the number one complaint. Given that so many people have access to and contact with clients in a law firm on a daily basis, we must stop taking “soft skills” for granted, and start placing a higher value on teaching and attaining those skills. Marni Becker-Avin, Developing Lawyers’ “Soft Skills” – a Challenge for the New Era in Legal Services.
How Can You Cultivate Soft Skills
Soft skills can be improved through learning and by example:
Prefer books? I totally understand. A quick search on Amazon reveals many titles to choose from.
If you do better in a brick and mortar setting, look for leadership, communication, and conflict resolution classes at your local university or community college. [Don’t forget to check adult education course listings.]
Keep an eye out for pertinent continuing legal education (CLEs). The PLF has an oldie, but goodie: Building a Successful Practice through Improved Client Communication. From the landing page, select CLE > Past CLE.
Find a mentor. If you are a newer lawyer in Oregon, you are required to participate in the mentoring program as a condition of admission. However, your mandatory mentor may or may not be the best model for “soft skills.” Don’t hesitate to seek out a secondary mentor if needed. If your mentor sits in on client interviews, seek his or her feedback on your technique and style. [Be mindful of confidentiality issues and conflict screening.]