How Attorneys Should Handle Online Reviews
Online reviews that are critical of a business or professional can be especially troublesome for lawyers.
It doesn’t matter whether you are practicing solo or part of a larger firm, those negative reviews can hurt you chances of bringing in new clients or keeping your current ones. There are things you can do to either remove or stifle these negative reviews.
It is common for lawyers to approach these reviews in the wrong way. Your legal intuition may be telling you the wrong move to make when it comes to handling online criticism.
We’ve put together this guide to help you understand what mistakes lawyers can make most often and how to handle certain problems.
1. The Reasons behind Poor Reviews
Your clients leave you bad reviews on the same basis that they would submit a disciplinary action against you. However, it’s far easier for them to post an online review and they likely need less provocation.
Not Enough Transparency
Many people file disciplinary actions due to ignorance on their part. They simply don’t know what is happening, and the same principle can be applied to the reason behind many negative reviews.
It can be tough for laypeople to figure out the legal process. It’s over their head, in many cases, and that can be frustrating for them to go through. They call for your help because they don’t understand the legal process and their rights in the first place. It may not matter how good of a job you are doing, if you’re client isn’t seeing instant, favourable results, then they might not be happy with you. Your client may not see all the work you are doing, so they may incorrectly think you are representing them poorly or just not doing your job. When they still get a bill, even though you aren’t being as transparent as they like, they can get very frustrated.
They may be venting that frustration by posting a negative review online.
Not Responsive Enough
Your clients may expect you to answer their calls and emails in a certain amount of time. You may have a law practice schedule that leaves you little time for things like that, but your client may not understand that. They may think you are neglecting them and might post a negative review as a result. It’s possible that you could benefit from some changes to your schedule so that you have more time to respond to clients.
If you are writing your bills in a vague way, then you may be frustrating your clients and losing their trust. Your clients may not have any way of independently verifying that you are giving them what they are putting money down for. That can be problematic if the proceedings go on for a long time or if something happens that you can’t predict. When you have very vague and minimalistic bills for your customers, they may resort to bad reviews as a way to let out their frustration. It can help to give your clients a detailed breakdown of what’s being done for them and how much you are charging them for each service.
Your clients should be given some sort of guide to the process they will be going through. They need to know what to expect and when to expect it. Make sure they understand fully, as many negative reviews will say things like,” My lawyer told me he would do this, but he really did that.” You can avoid that by taking time to explain things to your clients and ensuring that they know what’s going to happen next.
Being Too Conservative
Your clients can often benefit from you being very careful and conservative in your actions during a difficult or delicate situation. While it may be what’s best for your client, it may be not what they are hoping for.
Your client may be wanting to change certain things about their situation, but if you aren’t making that happen or if you are making concessions on some of their objectives, then that can make you look like you aren’t trying hard enough. You can also offer your clients a few different options and tell them what the risk involved would be.
2. Mistakes to Avoid when It Comes to Online Reviews
You may be doing everything possible in the best interests of the client and still you could receive negative reviews. You need to understand that there are right and wrong ways to handle those. Below are a few of the more common mistakes that lawyers end up making.
Sue the Client
When you see defamation plain and simple, then it may seem obvious that you have the right to sue the client. That may not be the best thing to do, however. There’s a case that proves this point quite well. Consider the lawyer Kyle Barella and his anti-immigrant remarks on Breitbart News Network, he received a major backlash because of his comments, and one of those people who disagreed with him went to Yelp to make their complaint heard.
Barella’s response was to sue the fellow. In this instance, he had baseless claims and he was at risk for liability. The suit didn’t even result in the review being taken down. In fact, all it did was make more people notice the negative review.
There were likely a few ways that Barella might have been able to make the review go away, and we will cover these in a moment. What he did instead was to bring a lot of negative press onto his business and himself, and he damaged his reputation. You have to be careful about even cases where defamation seems evident. You risk hurting yourself more through bad publicity than you would benefit from having the review removed.
Suing the Site
According to the legal precedent, the online host for a review is not usually liable for the content posted by its users. When the review goes against the site’s terms of service, it’s possible that they will take it down, if you call it to their attention. You should know that in most cases legal action won’t really help the situation and it isn’t likely to be successful. In the past, review sites have held firm against legal pressure and generally resist taking down reviews when you ask them to. Those negative reviews are likely to bring a lot of traffic to their site.
Requiring Reviews to Be Taken Down
You will find that most people who post negative reviews are not likely to answer your threats in a favourable way. That’s evident from the way the case of Kyle Barella was handled, as requests to take down the review only created further backlash.
Sidestep the Issue
You might notice that many of the negative reviews for your business say some of the same things about you. It’s quite possible that you have a problem that needs to be corrected. Give real thought to what is being said and see if it holds true and if it warrants changing. If you don’t take some sort of action, you will likely continue to see the same kinds of negative reviews.
Berating the Client Publicly
No matter who is in the right, if you start attacking someone publicly, it’s not going to look very good for you. It can hurt your relationship with future clients and it is likely to just make your target angrier. At the same time, it can make more people notice the criticisms that the review offers.
Purchasing Artificial Reviews
This goes against the rules of operation for pretty much every review site, and many times it is outright illegal. You could be targeted by the Federal Trade Commission for this kind of practice, and it’s often quite obvious that you are posting fake reviews. Many reviews sites work hard to get rid of fake reviews, so yours may not last long. If your reviews sound fake, you are likely to hurt the trust of potential clients.
3. Getting Rid of the Negative Reviews
It may not always be possible to make a bad review go away. Your time may be better served trying to hide the negative review under a mountain of positive ones. However, there may be some times where it’s possible to actually get rid of negative reviews.
Reviews That Defame
When a review says something that is blatantly untrue and defamatory, then it’s possible to have that review removed. This can be a complex process, however, and it could cause you legal trouble. You’ll want to talk to someone who is an expert in defamation suits before you proceed.
Reviews That Are Off Topic
Recently, there has been an increase in what is known as activist reviews. These are reviews that are negative not because the product or service is bad but because the reviewer is protesting some action or stance the business or employer has had. You might remember the dentist Walter Palmer who hunted big game in Africa and killed a lion. When he posted pictures of his prize, his business’ Yelp page suffered from tons of negative reviews. The reviews were more about him killing the animal than any poor service he had performed.
These reviews violate Yelp’s terms of service, and lawyers have been able to successfully have similar reviews taken down for the same reasons. At the same time, any review you can show to be fake or written by your direct competition may be able to be removed as well.
4. Hiding Reviews You Can’t Remove
You may not be able to have a review erased, but you could obscure it by filling up the space with positive reviews. Your best bet for making that happen is to talk to your clients with whom you have the best relationship and asking them to write reviews on the site where the negative reviews are. There are a few ways to make this incredibly effective:
Write a Note
Find those clients who appreciate the work you have done and ask them to write a review for you. They may have never thought of doing that, but if you explain your situation and reach out to them, they may be able to help you. Be sure not to ask them to say anything positive. Don’t even provide them with a template for what to say. Simply tell them to be honest and share their opinion. Many of them are going to respond by writing positive, thoughtful reviews that can turn the situation around, and most of those reviews will be better than if you had tried to get them to say something nice about you.
Send Links to the Review Site through Email
You can give your clients an easy way to access review sites by simply emailing them a link to where you would like them to post a review. Simply add a short note asking them to write an honest review, and they will take care of the rest.
Be Smart About Where You Send Your Clients
Many times, it’s best to send reviewers to sites where you are having problems. There may be some exceptions to that. Yelp, for example, tends to hide reviews from people who have never reviewed on its site before. If your people haven’t reviewed there, you may want to find other sites where they can post reviews and help you out.
It can also help to spread out the reviews a bit. You may have lots of reviews on one or two sites but almost none on another site. If you send your reviewers to that other site, it can help boost your review profile and make a bigger impact.