Should Law Firms Really Care About Online Reviews?
BY Ryan Conley
Relative to other professionals, attorneys may pride themselves on eschewing reviews and even advertising in favor of more traditional word of mouth, referrals and repeat business. They may tell themselves that their client base is too savvy to rely on the opinions of strangers when making such an important decision.
However, it would be a mistake to discount the power of online reviews, whether positive or negative. Consumers of all stripes increasingly rely on reviews to choose products and services. Even individuals who do not actively seek out reviews may be influenced by them. Search engines often display ratings right alongside search results.
If a potential client has no prior knowledge of attorneys in search results, they are very likely to go with the better-reviewed option.
There are many sites that host law firm reviews, and keeping an eye on all of them is virtually impossible. Lawyers may think of only the big legal-specific sites like Avvo and Martindale-Hubbell. But a lot of people use Google and Yelp. To begin, attorneys should focus on Avvo, Google, and Yelp.
It may be tempting simply to do the best work one can and let one’s reputation sort itself out. This is not a sound strategy because dissatisfied customers are far more vocal than satisfied customers. Lawyers need their happy clients to sound off.
Asking clients for reviews is a tricky subject. It should be obvious that no business should offer any form of compensation in exchange for reviews, or dictate the content of reviews. However, attorneys should be aware of the varying stances that online outlets take toward solicited reviews.
Yelp, for instance, has a broad policy against businesses asking anyone for reviews. While policies against offering any kind of reward for reviews are near-universal, Yelp goes further. “Don’t ask customers, mailing list subscribers, friends, family, or anyone else to review your business,” the company says. Yelp actively targets and demotes businesses that solicit reviews, and the algorithms to detect those reviews are improving.
Avvo, on the other hand, allows attorneys to request reviews and even provides a helpful mechanism to do so. Upon signing into their Avvo account, the user may click “Request Reviews” on the dashboard, where they can enter up to 50 email addresses of clients and contacts. Attorneys should take the time to read up on review policies on popular platforms.
The best approach to soliciting a review is to ask for it directly and in person. This strategy allows for generating reviews from the most satisfied clients. Such a client will usually follow through after providing an affirmative response to a question such as, “Will you do this for me?” The attorney should then make it easy for the client to follow through by providing a link to the attorney’s preferred platform via email.
Handling bad reviews
Using the above strategies, bad reviews should be kept to a minimum. However, the occasional disgruntled client or would-be client is inevitable. Someone could feel compelled to vent over a perceived slight, like a failure to quickly return a phone call.
The options for responding to bad reviews are limited. If a review contains factually incorrect allegations, having them removed is often possible. This is best handled by a reputation management firm (see below). Only rarely will a review be so damaging and false as to be cause for a lawsuit.
In most cases, the bad review is simply an opinion and cannot be suppressed. Many platforms give a business the option to respond to bad reviews. The audience for these responses is not the complainer, but the third-party reader. A short, direct response inviting the reviewer to contact the firm and give them another chance to make things right is usually adequate.
For growing firms with a keen interest in their online reputation, purchasing a reputation management service is an option. These companies offer services including monitoring and solicitation of online reviews, surveys, social media monitoring and business listing optimization. A full-service SEO firm, which a growing law firm may already have contracted with, should offer some of these features as well, but a dedicated reputation management company will offer a more complete service.
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