Responding to Negative Online Reviews: Ethical Trap for Lawyers?
A recent Law Blog post at the Wall Street Journal stated that one strategy attorneys are using to defend themselves against negative reviews on the popular review site Yelp is litigation. In Georgia last year, an appeals court upheld a $405,000 verdict against a former client of a divorce attorney who had called the attorney a crook on Yelp.
However, there are more instances of attorneys being reprimanded for inappropriate responses to negative reviews than there are victories for the disparaged in a court of law. Most of the reprimands are for revealing confidential client information in responses to bad reviews.
Two California bar associations - L.A. and San Francisco - have tackled the ethics of refuting online reviews, finding that responding to a review from a client whose matter has concluded is not barred, but that the response should be "proportionate and restrained" and not disclose any confidential client information.
A good recommendation is to follow the advice of my friend Josh King, general counsel at Avvo.com, who has counseled that attorneys can turn a negative review into a positive marketing opportunity this way:
"By posting a professional, meaningful response to negative commentary, an attorney sends a powerful message to any readers of that review. Done correctly, such a message communicates responsiveness, attention to feedback, and strength of character. The trick is to not act defensive, petty, or feel the need to directly refute what you perceive is wrong with the review."7 Effective Ways to Respond to a Negative Online Review
The way to successfully handle a negative review is first, to have as many positive reviews as possible. Innately we all know that no matter what product or service is sold, there will always be someone who is not happy. So as long as we see more positive reviews than negative ones, we usually still invest in the product or service.
What matters is how you address problems by being transparent, genuinely concerned and responding positively. Here are seven effective ways to address a negative online review:1. Contact the review site.
If the review is flagrantly false, defamatory, or you can prove a disgruntled former employee or competitor submitted it, you can contact the review site and ask for its removal. Just be sure you can prove what you say. In my experience, it's unlikely they will edit or remove the offending review, but it still doesn't hurt to ask them to in a professional manner. 2. Address it quickly, professionally and positively.
Respond directly to the review on the site and let the reviewer know that although you have worked with hundreds of clients who are happy with your services, to hear that there is even just one who is unhappy upsets and concerns you. Encourage them to contact you directly to try and resolve the issue. Thank them for bringing this to your attention and mention any specific actions you are taking to address their issue or to keep it from happening again.
Note: Yelp uses an algorithm to determine the "legitimacy" of reviews and often hides reviews in the "filtered" reviews section at the bottom of each page. If that's the case on your page, draw attention to these reviews in your commentary. Many people don't know where to find the hidden reviews. This is another reason why I don't recommend asking people to review you on Yelp. Avvo is a much, much better platform for attorney reviews. LinkedIn is a great place if you are a B2B attorney.3. Resolve the problem.
If you can find an email address for the reviewer, email them directly. If not, respond in the comment thread and ask them to send you their email address or phone number privately so you can personally address their issue. Then ask what you can do to resolve the problem and work with them to find a solution. Even if the issue seems unreasonable to you, making them a satisfied client will pay off for you down the road, especially if they update their review.4. Request an updated review.
Once the problem has been resolved to the reviewer's satisfaction, ask them if they would consider deleting their original post or updating it to reflect that the issue has been resolved. If they prefer not to, then provide a comment on the site that you were happy to resolve the problem to the reviewer's satisfaction. This will demonstrate to other readers that you have acted to address and resolve issues proactively.5. Set up a business page on multiple review sites.
There are over 100 different review sites. You should set up and maintain listings on all the major ones. Here are just a few: Google (very important), Avvo, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Merchant Circle, Yelp, Bing, City Search, Hotfrog, Superpages, Kudzu, Trip Advisor, Yellowbook, Dex Knows, Yellow Bot, Local, Best of the Web, Nolo, and Four Square. 6. Set alerts.
Once you set up business pages, many of these sites allow you to set up an alert so the site will notify you whenever a new review is posted. Set an alert for the name of your firm and for each attorney on Google Alerts (https://www.google.com/alerts
) as well.7. Proactively encourage client feedback.
Prevention is always cheaper than treatment! Be proactive in seeking out client feedback as you work the case, and conduct an "exit interview" following the conclusion of every clients' legal matter to ensure they have been satisfied with your services. Giving your client a direct voice in expressing any dissatisfaction may prevent them from taking it out on you online.The Power of the Positive Review
We have a client - a family law practice - that currently gets 80-90% of its leads from the Internet. The majority of those leads come from review sites like Yelp, Google and Avvo and even some from YellowPages.com and less travelled review sites.
And these leads are above average. The firm is very good about a quick response to an email or phone call, following up to book an appointment the next day and calling to make sure the prospect shows. They have a very low no-show rate in their main office - these people come ready to engage and, usually, hire the firm for their family law problem.
They have done a great job of leveraging happy client experiences into positive online reviews. They even post links on the home page of their website with a large banner that touts what their clients are saying about them. Yes, there are a couple of negative reviews in their pile of client ratings online, but those few serve to legitimize the entire process for them. People find balanced reviews more believable; all positive ratings are usually suspicious.
If you are not harnessing the power of the online review like my family law client, then you are missing a golden opportunity to increase your Internet-based leads. If you let the good work you have done for years speak for you, it will do more for you in bringing you prospects who will already have a propensity to buy from you.
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