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Responding to a Negative Review (For Attorneys in 2019)

customer rating business on smartphone

Maintaining your professional reputation and that of your law firm has always been of the utmost importance to your success. In today’s online world, both the capability to post a review and the popularity of doing so have exploded. This practice can be great for your firm so long as the reviews are positive, but what happens when you get a negative review? It is very easy for someone to write a savage, anonymous review of you or your firm, even if they were never a client nor ever had any contact with you.

The online business service Software Advice reports that nearly one-half of potential clients will use reviews in their decision to hire an attorney, and 70% will travel to an attorney who is out of the way if they have better reviews. Therefore, it is important to develop a systematic way to respond to negative reviews. While it may be easy to get caught up in the negative emotions a negative review generates, it’s beneficial to think of the review as a marketing opportunity to show potential clients that you respect your customers and truly care for the services they receive. With that said, let’s dive into some best practices for responding to a negative review.

Best Practices

Most of the best practices mentioned below revolve around staying rational throughout the process. In contrast, the ABA Journal reports a case of a lawyer who overreacted to a review. The lawyer was reprimanded for divulging confidential information and injuring the client, which is something you definitely want to avoid.

Some of the most cited ethics opinions, LACBA 525 and San Francisco Bar Opinion 2014-1, give a few helpful guidelines to follow when choosing to engage with an online review:

  1. Don’t disclose confidential information that a client hasn’t divulged.
  2. Don’t injure your former client.
  3. Keep your response restrained: It should say no more than is necessary to rebut the complaint.

Before deciding whether you should respond to a negative review and how you should go about it, it is important to first investigate the cause of it.

Start with Investigating the Cause

Start by asking these questions about the review:

  1. Who posted it?
  2. Is it legitimate?
  3. When was it posted?
  4. Where was it posted? Yelp, Avvo, Google?
  5. Can you reach out to the client personally?

Bad reviews are posted for a myriad number of reasons. A few of these include competition (marketing companies, other lawyers), wrong attorney review, fake reviews, and upset opposing parties. The list goes on. Review sites were put in place to showcase genuinely upset customers. However, the internet has presented a challenge to policing all reviews, and an attorney has to monitor these incoming reviews to get the most out of them. Once you determine the motive of the review in question, you have two options: choosing to respond to it or not responding at all.

Choosing NOT to Respond:

If the negative reviewer is your client, it may be beneficial to reach out to them personally before choosing to respond to the review. Approach your response with empathy, and make your position clear as to why you do not deserve a bad review. Use the criteria above when investigating the cause of the bad review, and determine if it’s worth reaching out to the client. In some cases, it could make the client more defensive. In most other cases, especially with a reasonable client, they may decide to take their review down if it was due to a misunderstanding.

If you choose not to engage online, another option is flagging the review. This approach is especially relevant if the review is inconsistent in its details and the reviewer is not your client. Remember, competition can be trying to pull down your ratings and reputation. Yelp and Google have options to deal with this by flagging reviews. When reporting to Google or Yelp, always be detailed in your explanation — dig into the reviewer, and see if they have done other fake reviews. While Yelp has strict guidelines for removing reviews, they have an option to place the review under ‘non-recommended reviews,’ where it won’t be indexed with the main reviews.

Choosing to Respond:

If your client did not reply to you after reaching out or flagging did not yield any results, consider responding to the review. We recommend the following steps when choosing to respond and engage with a negative review.

  1. Start with Empathy. An apology for a customer being upset at your services goes a long way. After all, they may make some valid points from their point of view, even if you do not agree with them.
  2. Restate the problem. There’s no need to go overboard, and the Board of Ethics recommends sticking to the information in the review. In short, be careful when divulging confidential information.
  3. State how you’ve rectified the situation or explain how it was a misunderstanding. Clients do not always understand the complexities of your job as a lawyer. Communicating this with empathy and keeping the response restrained cannot be stressed enough.
  4. Make yourself available before signing off. Leave your number and/or email, so that this person can get in touch with you. Even if they are a fake client, you can still invite them to call you.
  5. Proofread. Have your colleagues and outside friends read your response before you post it, as it is easy to get caught up in the moment and say things that could be expressed more clearly or tactfully.

There is no one right way to go about responding to a negative review. Hopefully, this list of tips and guidelines give you some insight on reputation management. Be sure to check out our services, and give us a call at 800-410-6398 for a consultation on your online presence.

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