What’s the first thing you do when seeking a new product or professional service? You Google it—either to research your options, get contact information, or to look for reviews. In fact, according to a 2016 BrightLocal survey, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. So how can lawyers actively manage and influence their online reputations?
First, when a potential client searches for your law firm online, what do they find? I tried “William Peacock lawyer” and “Law Office of William C. Peacock.” I found my website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter profile, and a few other pages you would expect. Each query returned different results, which is why it is important to try a few variants on your name and your firm’s name.
If you find that your online reputation includes unfavourable results, including negative reviews, all is not lost. You can always improve your online reputation by being proactive (setting up your own sites, controlling your directory listings, and asking for reviews), being positive (responding to criticism), and being prolific (producing positive speech about your firm).
Be proactive: Boost your online reputation by asking for reviews
When it comes to leaving feedback online, happy customers are actually more likely to leave feedback than dissatisfied ones—especially with high-cost or high-stress areas like legal services. However, it’s important to ensure that whatever feedback you receive is authentic, genuine, and organic—you cannot offer inducements (money or gifts) in exchange for positive reviews. Familiarise yourself with the Competition and Markets Authority’s guidelines for online reviews and endorsements.
Reach out to your most satisfied clients after their case has concluded with a “Thank You, oh and by the way, here is my Google review page” note—it’s shameless, but it works. While it may feel strange to ask, it’s worth making actively asking for feedback part of your client-closing procedure.
Be positive: Handling negative reviews and third-party sites
Even the best, most attentive, and empathetic lawyers sometimes receive negative reviews—the law is an uncertain business, dealing with stressful matters where success often means achieving the best possible bad outcome. And clients, being human, are sometimes saddled with unreasonable expectations. Over time, and given a sufficient volume of reviews, the overall tenor of the reviews for a practice should paint an accurate picture. But any given review may widely miss the mark. Accepting this reality is the first step in managing your online reputation.
There is no easy remedy for bad online reviews—the only cure is to respond with a kind message, and work to earn more positive reviews to outweigh the negative ones. The former goes a long way: I’ve seen many people backtrack on a negative review and up it to a more palatable rating after a business contacted them about their experience and did their best to make amends.
Ethics are also a huge consideration here. When responding to negative reviews, you cannot disclose confidential details of the case. And, even if privilege is waived, do you really want to be that lawyer who is airing a client’s dirty laundry online? Instead, respond with a message apologising for any substandard customer service and requesting that the person contact your firm to make it right—it shows the public that you care about client satisfaction.
On another ethics note: don’t put up fake reviews. For one, there are rules about false advertising. Second, review sites filter a lot of reviews, fake or real, based on whether their algorithm picks them up as spam. Likely triggers for filtering include multiple reviews from the same physical location (their servers will read the reviewer’s IP address and if multiple reviews come from the same internet connection, they’ll probably be flagged) or reviews from people who registered that same day and only reviewed a single business. If you try to fake it, they will probably catch it.
Some disgruntled clients won’t be happy with venting on Google and ActionFraud—they’ll also set up blogs and other websites to “expose” a lawyer. They may even call themselves citizen “journalists” or “watchdogs.”
Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with anyone who is this … motivated to write about you. But if you do, the cure is the same as it is for a negative review—more positive speech and, for extreme cases like this one, to hire someone who has experience with domain name disputes and cybersquatting to handle the dispute through the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Be prolific: Build positive content
There is an old advertising adage that when it comes to expensive purchases, “long copy sells.” A person who is prepared to spend serious money wants as much information as possible—such purchasers are far less likely to respond to buzzwords or taglines.
On top of this is the rapid growth of consumer reviews and increasing suspicion of products and services that have no reviews. Consider your own behaviour when researching products on Amazon, hotels on TripAdvisor, or restaurants on Yelp. What does an absence of reviews make you think? Build the online reputation of yourself and your law firm by offering plenty of information online—solicit reviews, blog posts, and articles, and complete online profiles. This gives potential clients researching your services that “long copy”—a diverse, useful wealth of information to rely upon in making their decision to retain you.
Bottom line: Control the narrative
A bad review can be countered by a positive response and a few positive reviews. A blogger’s rage-filled rants against you can be countered by others bloggers’ positive posts, and, if they cross the line into extortion, a protracted legal dispute. When it comes to good online reputation management, all but the biggest scandals can be drowned out with positive information on sites and profiles that you control. Remember those free directory listings we talked about, LinkedIn and Twitter? Each of those is likely to rank highly in search results because of their authority: They have millions of pages of content and lots of websites link to them as a source of reliable information.
Get a quality website for your practice, and link to it from all of those directory pages, and it’s likely that most of your search results will be a mixture of those less-than-positive reviews (that you’ve responded to appropriately) and the glowing ones you want people to see.
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