Online Reviews for Lawyers: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
This article has been reposted with permission from Meranda M. Vieyra of Denver Legal Marketing LLC. The article was originally published in the National Law Review on September 16, 2019.
As long as attorneys have been advocating for clients, word-of-mouth has been the best way to build a strong returning clientele. Great attorneys who treat their people well have always gathered a positive “buzz” which boosts business.
Today, word-of-mouth is still key for generating business, but the mouth is billions of voices strong and the word is “reviews.”
The evidence for the importance of positive online reviews is an avalanche of statistics. On the Small Business Radio Show, Jeremy Lessaris said that “a one-star drop at a plastic surgery office can cost the company millions of dollars.” A study from Speigel Research Center shows that higher-priced goods and services (like attorney’s fees) rely even more heavily on reviews: the better and more reviews, the higher the conversion rate (up to 380% higher than those businesses without reviews).
Having even a few five-star reviews puts you on a track to have more business and stronger clients in the digital word-of-mouth culture. There are also a number of review-curating sites dedicated to the legal profession that can boost your firm’s online profile for free.
Google Business Pages. This is one of the easiest ways for potential clients to find you. As long as you have claimed your listing, your clients can share their experiences with you instantly. And, with Google’s massive search engine behind them, great reviews translate to new leads effortlessly.
LinkedIn. One of the more underutilized review-gathering tools, this is another free and ubiquitous tool to get great feedback on your firm’s business. The added benefit here is that you personally can get reviews from friends, family, colleagues, and clients, with every positive interaction given equal weight.
Facebook Business Pages. Sixty-eight percent of Americans use Facebook daily, the highest-traffic social media outlet second only to YouTube. This makes the reviews on a Facebook Business Page the most likely place for people to find reviews about you.
Avvo. If you are a licensed attorney, it is 97% likely that you have a free listing on the attorney-only review site, Avvo. In addition, their profile listings are searchable by Google and Bing, so they are often one of the first search results that a potential client will find when they search your firm’s name.
Martindale-Hubbell. This is another attorney-specific review site that utilizes Google’s vast search algorithm to bring results to the top of the page. Having great reviews here (especially from colleagues and former clients) can be an excellent source of new business.
Unfortunately, like in any game of “telephone,” not every piece of information shared online is correct or even kind. Bad reviews can be devastating to the online reputation of even the best law firm. Unfortunately, potential clients who have never met you do not have anything else to go on except these online reviews.
In addition, potential clients actually seek out negative reviews in an attempt to decide what the “worst-case scenario” is in working with your firm. That means that it is vital to police your online brand and be proactive about keeping it spotless.
So, how do you deal with bad reviews? Here are three things that will almost always work to keep you looking your best online.
- Keep your brand consistent and positive. Make sure that your brand comes across loud and clear across all social channels, including branded headers, standard language, and images and posts that fit with your professional image.
- Encourage people who leave glowing reviews. When you chime in with a quick “thank you,” or “I am glad you had a great experience,” it sets a tone for your business that you are gracious and willing to take time to engage with your audience.
Deal with negative reviews quickly and impassively. If you are regularly monitoring your reviews, you will know when someone has had a bad experience. The faster you deal with it, the better. It is also important to respond without being defensive.
Although online reviews are important, there are some things you should never do in order to improve your online branding. A recent case in Pittsburgh highlighted one of these—buying or soliciting positive reviews in exchange for goods or financial rewards.
The case was brought by a former client of a Pittsburgh employment law firm who the plaintiff said defrauded her by soliciting positive reviews from non-legal clients and friends of employees in exchange for paid time off. The case was settled out of court, with the law firm promising never to pay for reviews again, but the trust with the community will be difficult to repair.
Another thing that will absolutely ruin your online reputation is responding to negative reviews with malice or denigration. This can be especially tempting when the person leaving the review is someone who has a personal grudge—I know of a few instances where disgruntled former clients or colleagues will send messages to review outlets like Super Lawyers as a means to lower the attorney's review ranking on the site.
Instead of trying to buy or argue your way out of a bad review, always take the high road. Do a little online research on the person writing the review and imagine that your potential client audience or referral sources are looking at how you respond. If word-of-mouth is the key, you want to make sure that what people hear about you is that you are classy and graceful under negative pressure.
Conclusion - The Best
The great thing about online reviews is that you have the power to present your law firm and yourself with dignity and class, regardless of how good or bad your online reviews are. With the right kind of proactive brand management and a positive, responsive, and flexible attitude towards what others say about you, you can rise above the worst and reflect the glowing praises of the best.