By Y. Peter Kang
Law360 (March 5, 2018, 3:55 PM EST) -- Getting a one-star Yelp or Google review from a client can be devastating to a personal injury attorney who relies on such evaluations to drum up new cases, but having a minimal online presence out of fear of getting negative reviews is just bad business in the internet age. Here, experts share tips on how to get glowing online client reviews and how to handle the haters.
Treat Your Clients Well
While this may seem obvious, a client who does not receive good customer service from a personal injury attorney will be loath to write a favorable review, according to Los Angeles-based personal injury attorney Barry P. Goldberg.
Educating a client about how the lawsuit will play out, taking and returning client calls promptly and charging fees that are fair and reasonable are the foundation for generating positive reviews, he said.
“The client experience is as important to consumers as the end result of the case,” Goldberg said. “It does take more time and more manpower to provide the level of customer service that would provoke a favorable review and would not necessarily be necessary to simply get a great result on the case.”
But the modern consumer expects a high level of customer service in everything, not just legal services, he said.
“Lawyers are really slow to recognize consumer behavior and trends, meaning providing a level of service which would get them favorable reviews,” he said. “I ask for reviews on every case, and I start the process early. Lawyers don't think that way. A lot of lawyers I know would prefer to simply do great legal work and not interact with the clients regularly and intimately.”
And even if your firm is maxing out its advertising budget on commercials and billboards, potential clients will still do due diligence and read online reviews to see how clients are treated, according to Larry Bodine, the senior legal marketing strategist at LawLytics.
“The research shows that when people respond to a TV ad, they are going to go online and look for a review,” he said. “What they really want to know, more than anything, is how people are treated. Did the firm really care about them or give them the bum's rush?”
Bodine said some firms, rather than focus on providing outstanding customer service, will place too much emphasis on publicizing their big-money verdicts and settlements.
“That doesn't resonate with a client; that kind of information is what referring attorneys look for,” he said. “But what the client wants to know is how are they going to treat me, are they going to treat me special or am I just going to be like a file in a filing cabinet?”
Solicit Clients for Reviews
While most attorneys would like to generate reviews without any solicitation, the reality is most clients will not write an online review of their lawyers without a little prodding. This begins during client intake and continues throughout the attorney's handling of the case, Goldberg says.
During the first interview with a client, Goldberg lays out how a successful case will unfold, discusses his contingency fees and asks the client, “Wouldn't you agree that we would earn your review if we did all those things?”
“We start out from the beginning with the idea that we have to actually earn our reviews,” he said. “It takes commitment by lawyers, staff and reception to openly ask for reviews and not fear what the review is going to be.”
At the end of the case, Goldberg said his firm asks for a review in its closing letter and includes a URL while also sending an email with links to Google and Yelp, which he says are the top two sites for client reviews, and also provides links to Avvo and the Better Business Bureau.
Goldberg said that even after actively soliciting his clients for reviews only about 1 in 4 will actually take the time to write one, which underscores the difficulty in obtaining reviews.
“People smile, hug you, and then they go home and for whatever reason, they don't do a review,” he said. “I would be honored and happy and would face the music if everyone gave me a review; they wouldn't all be five stars, but I'd be willing to have every single client review me.”
But without soliciting clients for reviews, one can end up with zero online presence, which is a big no-no, according to Bodine, who is also a former litigator. A friend recently asked Bodine to recommend an attorney in Iowa, and as part of his selection process, he scoured various online review sites.
“I wanted reviews where people said they were treated well and that they got good personal service, and I frankly didn't recommend any firms that had no reviews,” he said. “Would you buy a computer that had no reviews, or a car that had no reviews? You wouldn't do that. It illustrates how powerful these reviews are. The star rating is the number one factor that consumers use to judge a business.”
Know How to Handle a Bad Review
Lawyers are reluctant to push clients for reviews out of fear of receiving a negative review, but Goldberg said such worries are overblown.
“Lawyers in some practice areas are very hesitant to go down the road of soliciting and promoting reviews because they think it can turn ugly very fast,” he said. “My feeling is that you should be transparent and reviews matter.”
Goldberg said he has developed a protocol for dealing with the inevitable bad review, and it usually involves an apology and an invitation to have a face-to-face meeting to address any grievances the client may have.
“They never take you up on the offer but [potential clients] look at the negative reviews and want to see how the lawyer responded,” he said. “Is the lawyer a jerk? I've had clients come in and say, ‘I read the negative review, saw your response and thought it was very professional.'”
Bodine agreed, saying an apologetic tone is the best approach to bad reviews. “Attorneys should adopt the approach of hotel managers; they pay really close attention to reviews and when they spot a bad one, they start out by saying I'm so sorry you're not happy with us,” he said. “For a bad review, contrition is the go-to approach. It's just human nature, you're going to get bad reviews. Nobody is universally loved.”
The worst response, Bodine said, would be to attack the reviewer. “I've seen attorneys do that, they will make threats and say if you don't take the review down I'll file a suit for libel, which is a huge mistake because it just demonstrates that you are a bully,” he said.
Goldberg said no prospective client will look to hire a lawyer who insults or attacks someone who has written a negative review. “But if the guy responds promptly, acknowledges shortfalls, explains, reasons, apologizes, offers to make it good — that goes a long way,” he said. “Our temptation is to lash out, because [bad reviews] do affect us. You have to take a deep breath and be the counselor we all wanted to be in law school; you have to be even-handed.”
Bodine said the blow of a negative review can be softened by the presence of a large number of positive reviews.
“If there are nine positive reviews and one snarky review, customers are sophisticated enough to know the bad review is an outlier,” he said.
Miami-based personal injury attorney Jeffrey R. Davis said a disgruntled former client recently gave him a bad review on several different sites. He decided not to respond after receiving advice from the Florida Bar's ethics hotline and said he is taking a glass-half-full attitude to the bad review.
“Having something negative gives my reviews some degree of credibility. You can't please everyone all the time, and I was bound to have somebody unhappy,” he said. “That maybe adds some genuineness to my reviews, as having only perfect reviews might seem unrealistic.”