Online Client Reviews: How important are they to your practice?

The online client review

Divorce lawyers and professionals like everyone else in this digital universe we live in, are vulnerable to online client reviews – or even attacks. Indeed, one misstep with the wrong client could mean the annihilation of a 20 year career for that lawyer or professional. Today’s legal consumers have the ultimate weapon against legal services providers like attorneys. They simply post negative reviews (or attacks) on the Internet. They know that one Google search is all it takes to put someone out of business. Websites like make it very easy for disgruntled clients to air their grievances about divorce lawyers. On the flip side, of course, is that AVVO and similar sites also allow satisified clients (or friends and family) to broadcast and toot the horn of an attorney they liked.

What is so wrong with online reviews?

The first issue is, how reliable are online reviews? What importance do they have for your practice? In my view, online reviews are very important. Whether they should be or not is beside the point. Potential clients and customers Google lawyers and other professionals before they decide to hire that person. They don’t necessarily stop to analyze who might have written the review or what the motive for the review might have been. Five stars is five stars and one star, that is another issue.
I always remember the time I googled up some dentists for a problem I was experiencing and read up all the reviews about the various options. The one I choose had the highest rating there was. To make a long story short, my tooth has never been the same after the encounter with this person. Six months later and I still can’t eat on the right side of my mouth!
I think the same could be true for at least some divorce lawyers. Who is writing these reviews? Are these all happy former clients? Or friends, colleagues and family members, in at least some instances, who are trying to help the attorney boost his or her career?
On the other side, it seems that happy clients are less inclined to leave positive comments than disgruntled clients are to leave negative ones. So there is a disequilibrium in the system of evaluation.
This leads to the real problem and it is that these reviews leave an indelible stain on the attorney’s online record often dissuading potential future clients from even calling for a free phone consultation, never mind actually hiring the attorney and thus ruining an attorney’s hard won career. And sometimes the reviews are outright baseless attacks – lies and vitriol by persons who have no qualms about destroying other people’s lives and reputations without cause.

How should an attorney respond?

In these scenarios, it is important to do something or say something; but very important that whatever is done or said is done or said correctly – to avoid adding fuel to the fire or even getting in trouble with the state bar disciplinary committee.
It is difficult, though, to say what the solution is to this very complicated and sensitive situation. What should an attorney do or say?  One option is to ignore the negative press. There are people who still believe that some press is better than no press. But it is questionable how effective this approach is. Indeed given the potential damage negative reviews and attacks can have on a person’s career, I would say it is a dangerous and naive approach.
Another option is for the attorney to write his or her own measured, professional and diplomatic response on the same online site of forum refuting what the disgruntled client said and telling their side of the story. I have seen attorneys do this and I think it is very effective.  With this approach, the right tone is critical. If the attorney becomes too defensive, shrill or resorts to personal attacks on the client, he or she is likely to come off making the bad situation worse.
A third option might be to try to get the website administrator to remove the negative post. Good luck with that.

In the final analysis

There is no escaping the fact that the online review is here to stay and in some instances this serves most atorneys. It can make the phone, which otherwise would be silent, ring.
But there are concerns. The Internet is the type of beast that gives power to both angels and monsters. With very rare exceptions, an attorney has no legal control over what somone chooses to say in a review. It is not like he or she can sue a disgruntled former client for their negative “opinion.” There are obviously times when these individuals go too far and cross the line into defamation of an attorney; and in this instance, there are legal recourses the attorney can take. But for the most part, though, the attorney is better served trying to avoid, where possible, having these encounters. Good customer service practices could help to nip things in the bud before they start. Treat your clients well. Do well by them. Conduct your job with the highest honor and diplomacy.
Still, no matter what you do some clients are just trouble. Doing a better job of avoiding taking cases from potential trouble-makers in the first place, is a very important skill for the modern divorce attorney.