Legal marketing today is all about the Internet. And anyone who has ever used the Internet knows that it can bring out the worst in people. Any lawyer who has been practicing for a reasonable period of time has likely made some enemies, regardless of how excellent their customer service and legal skills are. Disgruntled clients, competitors, exes, your neighbor who is peeved about that tree you have hanging over their property line—any one of these people could potentially “troll” your website or “flame” your firm on Twitter. Business owners today live in constant fear that a negative online review could decimate their business, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Negative feedback should be treated as an opportunity—after all, all publicity is good publicity, right?
The first thing you should be doing is actively monitoring your online reputation. You can set up a Google Alert for your name so that if someone blogs about you, or otherwise publishes your firm’s name, you will get an alert. Google also offers a free tool called “Me On the Web” that can help you control what third-party information is posted about you or your firm.
Some firms try to prevent clients from posting negative reviews online by incorporating a provision in their retainer agreement prohibiting such conduct. Recently a law was passed making it illegal to ban honest negative reviews—so you definitely do not want to try this.
What if you get an alert that someone has posted a scathing review about you? Don’t panic. Try to take advantage of the criticism, and ask yourself—is this person right? Maybe the review exposes a flaw in your business that you otherwise might not have noticed, such as a rude paralegal or administrative assistant.
Next, you want to respond in a timely manner. Nothing looks worse than when a business takes months to respond to a negative review online. A well-crafted and swift response can often dissuade a prospective client’s fears. Providing the best customer service you can on a consistent basis should help bury any stray negative reviews with positive ones. Be sure that your response to any negative criticism is public so that everyone can see it (obviously do not divulge any confidential client information). You simply want to convey that you have heard the complaint, are sorry about it, and have asked the client to contact you to address remaining concerns.
There are many companies that provide online reputation management. Some of these companies can be helpful, particularly in cultivating a positive online presence. However, some of these companies engage in unlawful conduct, hiring third parties to post negative reviews on competitor’s websites. Make sure that any company you hire does not engage in this practice. As your agent, they could expose you to bar sanctions. If you decide to go the route of hiring a reputation management firm, do your research and make sure that you ask the right questions before signing on.