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Law Firms, This Is How You Need to Respond to Negative Reviews

responding to negative reviews

You’re the managing attorney of an established firm in your area. Your firm boasts all positive reviews, but one day you log on and see the unimaginable – a terrible, negative one-star review.

It might read something like this:

 

That’s harsh, and you’re worried the review will disrupt business. But before hitting ‘Respond’ and defending yourself with a snarky comment, consider how your response will influence dozens – maybe even hundreds – of potential clients’ opinions of your firm.

More importantly, your response needs to be ethical, at least in the eyes of the American Bar Association. Not sure what that means? You could be on the verge of breaking client confidentiality rules.

Keep reading to learn about these key points regarding reviews:

3 Reasons Why Reviews Are So Important

1. Leads

When a client has a positive experience at your firm, they’re more likely to share that experience on review apps and social media, as well as tell friends and family about the firm. Studies also show people are more likely to engage with a business that responds to reviews. That’s two simple ways reviews can help your firm gain more leads.

likely to respond to negative reviews

2. Search Engine Raking and Web Traffic

Two law firms that offer the same services are located in the same zip code. Their size is the same, their services are the same, but one has 50 reviews, and the other only has one. 

Because those 50 reviews are more likely to contain important keywords related to the firm’s services, they’ll likely rank higher than the firm with just one review.

Additionally, responsiveness, specifically within Google My Business, is considered a ranking factor by Google. This is one of many reasons why responding to reviews is also important.

3. Credibility and Trust

No one trusts perfection, but everyone trusts honesty.

Research suggests that potential clients who see one or more negative reviews of a firm are five times more likely to interact with your website. Having a perfect five-star rating may seem like a good thing, but actually perceived as too good to be true.

censored fake review

Long story short: clients want to find out why someone left a bad review because this helps them decide whether or not to use your services. 

This is basically free marketing. Someone searching for a costly service will put time into researching and finding the right lawyer.

They’ll spend more time on your site, which is where you can demonstrate that you’re trustworthy through client testimonials, awards and recognition, and well-written copy. They can be confident in their decision to hire you.

What to Do if Your Firm Receives a Scalding Review

1. Give yourself time to calm down.

lawyer relaxing

You’re probably itching to type out the perfect retort, but don’t fire from the hip.

Heat-of-the-moment responses rarely get you anywhere, and just one snarky comment could spell big trouble apropos of client confidentiality.

After all, responding with derision to an individual’s review makes it pretty obvious that they were your client – or you at least know who they are. And disclosing that information to millions of potential readers? That’s a major violation of the client-lawyer relationship.

Leave the rash responses at the door; you’re better than that.

2. Reflect on the review and consider possible ways to improve.

As you cool down from the blistering review, reflect on the plausibility of their comments. Are the reviewer’s concerns at all valid? Can you think of something you said that may have been misinterpreted by the client? Did you say something that went against your subsequent actions? Did you make promises you couldn’t keep?

It’s okay if you have no recollection of possible short-sightedness, but you should absolutely take this opportunity to improve. 

For example, if a former client leaves a review saying you were impossible to get in touch with, you may want to switch communication channels to something more reciprocal.

Check out our top three picks for lawyer-client communication:

3. Respond to the review within 48 hours.

The only thing worse than a callous response is a late one, or, even worse, no response at all. It’s entirely unprofessional to “ghost” a client and leave their comment abandoned in the ether of the internet. People will notice, just as they’ll notice a two-month delay in the initial review and your response.

Don’t give angry reviewers the opportunity to “prove themselves right” about you. After you’ve had the time to calm down and think from their perspective, you need to respond to their review within 48 hours.

businesses respond to negative reviews

Think about it – someone was so frustrated that they took the time to download an app, then draft and submit a complaint. Do you really think they’re just going to forget about it as soon as their phone says “Review submitted?” 

They won’t forget, and neither should you. Respond promptly and respectfully – more on drafting ethical responses below.

Businesses in Every Sector Make This Mistake…

That is, to take statements personally and retaliate against the person who said them. (We’re not talking about violence or calumny – solely online business reviews.)

We get it. A negative review can feel like a personal attack on the business you’ve worked so hard to build. But responding to a negative review with a spiteful comment will make you seem contemptible. Nobody wants to work with a contemptuous business – that would make for a miserable partnership.

…But Only Law Firms Make These

Lawyers deserve respect. Not only do they face the same urge for retribution as other business owners do, but they’re under some tight constraints for responding to client reviews. 

One of those constraints is Rule 1.6 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules for Professional Conduct, which states:

“A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”

Let’s break that down.

“Reasonable Efforts”

A “reasonable effort” to prevent disclosing the fact that you represented a certain client is fairly simple. Thank them for their review. Then, explain that because confidentiality rules prevent you from responding further, they can call your office, and give them the number in the response.

“Information Relating to the Representation of a Client”

One of the most important pieces of information is that this specific person was, in fact, a client of yours. To protect their info, you need to refrain from acknowledging that they were your client. 

Avoid saying things like, “In our last meeting…” or, “You didn’t seem like you wanted to take that route.” It’s best to keep online responses broad, but warm. 

Again, ask the reviewer to contact your office directly, where you can confirm that you represented them and work to resolve their concern.

Responding to Reviews in an Ethical (and Helpful) Manner

Step 1: Prepare

lawyer responding to review

First of all, know the rules – the American Bar Association’s Model Rules, and Rule 1.6 to be exact. Click here to purchase your print copy, and here to download the Rulebook™ iOS app (Ready Reference Apps, LLC) for easy access on your Apple device.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the Magna Carta of barrister conduct, it’s time to create a review response policy that will be recognized and followed by everyone in your firm.

The policy should outline:

  • Who should respond to reviews (be consistent)
  • Permissible language and tone
  • Timeline for responding (remember, within 48 hours is advised)
  • With whom reviews may be shared internally
  • Steps to take if escalation is necessary (more on this below).

Step 2: Execute

So, you have a plan. You’ve designated an official “review responder” and you know the timeline to respond. The first step in writing the actual response is to determine the nature of the review. 

Does the reviewer seem to have a valid complaint that they’d like your help to resolve? Or does it seem like they’re just complaining to complain? Worse, is the message factually untrue?

If it’s the first scenario, you can begin by thanking them for their review, explaining that your firm takes great pride in working to ensure clients are well represented, and inviting them to contact your firm directly.

If it’s the second scenario, simply thank them for their review and explain that your firm takes client satisfaction seriously. You may invite them to contact your firm directly.

If it’s the last scenario, you could write a message like this one, provided by Thomas Wilkinson Jr. of the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism: “Attorney confidentiality obligations prevent us from correcting the factual background of this post. We take great pride in our track record of client satisfaction and favorable results.”

ethical response bad review

A perfectly-executed example of an attorney review. Credit: Association of Legal Administrators.

What to Do if a Review is Misleading or Threatening

There’s actually a fourth scenario that we hope none of our readers ever experience. Some attorneys receive factually incorrect, misleading, or even threatening reviews by disgruntled clients or people operating some kind of retaliatory spam.

If this happens to you, you may request that the platform host remove the review. If the review is particularly egregious or if the perpetrator has been found to leave lots of falsified reviews, the platform host may remove them indefinitely.

Here are some important links to help report threatening reviews:

  • Click here to request the removal of a review from your Google My Business profile.
  • Click here to report a review on Yelp.
  • Click here to request a review be put through the dispute process on Avvo.

Ethical Reviews Are Just One Part of a Solid Legal SEO Strategy

By now, you should feel confident responding to even the most spiteful of reviews. Remember, your response to negativity shapes the way clients perceive you and your firm. It’s important to show potential clients that you’re reasonable, understanding, and can keep a cool head.

But reviews are just a piece of an effective law firm SEO plan. When you’re ready to execute an advanced digital marketing strategy that’s trusted by dozens of lawyers across the country, give EverSpark a call. We’ve partnered with law firms since 2008, and we can help you achieve your goals for growth.