In today’s guest post, rainmaking coach and trainer, Jaimie Field, is teaching us how to handle negative reviews – these can and do happen, and how we deal with them can be an opportunity as well as a challenge.

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For the past few Rainmaking Recommendations, we have been discussing recommendations, reviews, and testimonials.   In one we discussed the differences between these; in the second we discussed how to get more. And, in this one, we will be discussing what to do if you receive a negative review. 

Remember, testimonials are those accolades that you request from your happy clients and post on your website.  These are the ones in which you are in control.  But reviews, on the other hand, are those that are provided by clients and usually posted on third-party review sites.  And while you hope that every review that you receive is a glowing endorsement of your legal prowess – hold onto your hat – there will be people who are not happy with the work you did.

The law is an adversarial profession – I know, not a big surprise – but there is always someone who comes out ahead of another party. And, try as hard as you may, your client may not be happy with the outcome.  In the past, they may have told a friend or two how displeased they are, but now they have a place where they can put their dissatisfaction on display – the internet.

How do you deal with bad reviews?

Stop and Breathe:

When you come across a negative review, the very first thing you should do is stop and breathe.  We all have a tendency to get hurt when someone says something bad about us, whether it is true or not.  As a result, sometimes we can react and respond without thinking.   This could be a real issue if you respond in a way that violates Professional Rules of Conduct (check your state rules).

A few years ago, an attorney responded to a negative review on the lawyer review site, AVVO by giving her side of the story.  Unfortunately, she revealed confidential information she gleaned during the representation.  She was brought up on ethics rules violations for violating Rule 1.6 (Client Confidentiality) and Rule 1.9 (Rules regarding former clients).

You are allowed to respond to negative reviews, but in the heat of the moment, you may create more problems for yourself than the review might.  Just take a deep breath before you proceed.

Think of it as a marketing opportunity

You have to think of all reviews, both good and bad as marketing opportunities. It is an opportunity to see what you do well and what you can do better.

Is the negative review true?

Most of the time, clients will complain about the fact they aren’t being responded to in a timely fashion.  In fact, the number one reason why clients fire their attorneys and choose others is lack of responsiveness.   If this negative review is true of your services, then see this as constructive criticism rather than a negative review and endeavor to eliminate this problem for your future clients.

Responding to negative reviews:

The first thing to do with any negative review is to respond privately.

Pick. Up. The. Phone!

Call your client and speak with them about the review.  In many instances, the conversation you will have (and any apologies you need to make) will rectify the situation.  In fact, if the review happens to be about the fact they wanted more communication, then thank them for their suggestion and tell them that you will be making sure that you will be more responsive to them and your other clients in the future.  By responding privately at first, then you refrain from making mountains out of molehills.

If they are mollified, ask them to please remove the review or to revise it.  Many clients will do so.

But, if the client refuses, then you can respond to their review on the third party site in an ethical manner.  You could write something like:

“We have gotten in touch with the client to discuss this issue and thanked them for bringing it to our attention.” 

By responding in this manner, you are taking the opportunity to say you’re sorry and that you have not ignored your client’s complaint.  What people want and appreciate most is authenticity and transparency.   Please resist the urge to delete or censor the person’s comment.

Also, respond in a timely manner.  Unanswered complaints are left to fester and rot, and that isn’t effective management of your reputation.

What if the review is false?

If the review is patently false, then contact the site’s management and kindlyrequest that they remove the review.  If you have proof that the review is false and can do so without violating ethics rules then include that information.  More than likely, the site will take the review down.

If for some reason, the site will not take the negative review down, then, again, write a response which explains your side without revealing client confidences or violating any other ethics rules.

In addition to responding to the negative review in an ethical fashion, this would be a great time to ask clients you know are happy with your work to post on those same sites.  Studies show that if you only have 5-star reviews, the public may not believe it.  They will think that you asked only people you know to provide great reviews and this is called “astroturfing”.   Again, people want authenticity.  A good average is 4.5 – 4.9 stars – it shows the reviews are real.  What you are trying to do in this instance is to build the positive which will negate the negative.

If you receive a bad review you have three other options:

Find a trustworthy reputation management company – what the company will do is help you, ethically, to get the negative reviews from showing up on the first page of a search.  Most people will not go past the third page, so a good reputation management company will help you create positive content which will push the review further and further down the search results. Or, you can do it yourself by providing fresh and interesting content that your ideal clients and prospects will love.

Do not engage – just ignore – there will always be internet trolls.  These are the people who take great pleasure in creating negative posts.  Many of these people are just itching for you to respond and this is where the stopping and breathing part is most important.  Is it truly worth responding?

And only as a last resort: file a defamation suit.  If this review is truly defamatory and utterly untrue, then use this option as a last resort.  Why? Because the minute you file a defamation lawsuit, it usually brings attention to the negative review and this is something you do not want.

This particular phenomenon is known as the “Streisand Effect” .  It is the experience of trying to find a way to censor a piece of content by having it removed but resulting in publicizing the content more widely.   In attempting to keep the public from seeing the review that you don’t want them to view, you are increasing their motivation to find and spread the information.

In addition, defamation suits that are filed directly against third-party sites (Google, Yelp, AVVO, etc.) become really big news because it is still a fairly new occurrence to sue these sites.  Besides, the likelihood of prevailing in suits against the sites is rare as they have “terms of service” (you know, the ones you didn’t read when you signed up in the first place) which hold them harmless for the reviews of others.

How not to receive negative reviews in the first place:

Consider the lengths that companies and firms will go to in order to remove bad publicity when what they could have done was simply make things right with the client in the first place.

When you are retained by a client, you must begin by managing their expectations.  From there, you must start asking for feedback on a regular basis.  If you can address any of their issues first, then you will not get negative reviews written about you and your law firm.

No lawyer has a perfect track record on every count and clients will largely be forgiving if you regularly provide great service and are quick to resolve problems when you don’t.  Develop a reputation as a lawyer that can be trusted and legitimate negative reviews shouldn’t be much of a threat to your business.

Build your good name both on-line and off and negative reviews will not be a problem.