The flip side of social media: How to respond to negative online reviews

By Correy Stephenson

The Daily Record Newswire

As business and legal feedback sites like Yelp and Avvo continue to proliferate, lawyers need to monitor their online reputations and be prepared to respond to negative reviews.

"Lawyers have always been rated," noted Tanner Jones, director of marketing at Consultwebs.com, a legal web and consulting firm in Raleigh, N.C., with clients telling friends and family about their experience.

"But prior to the Internet, the lawyer wouldn't have had the opportunity to see these reviews and be able to respond."

Negative reviews are inevitable, Jones said, and lawyers should embrace them as an opportunity and be prepared with a response.

Josh King, general counsel and vice-president of business development at the legal review site Avvo, said the site receives thousands of reviews every month, which tend to run about 85 percent positive.

A negative review "can almost be a gift," King said.

"It gives lawyers a platform to showcase their responsiveness."

But take a deep breath first, he advised.

The most important thing to remember in responding to a negative review is "do not argue," King emphasized.

"Ignore that impulse to argue against the specifics of the review."

Jones said your response should be "short and concise. Don't get into a lengthy comment or response, which is going to provide more opportunities for backlash."

Take the opportunity to demonstrate professionalism and responsiveness, King said.

Write something to the effect of, "We take customer feedback very seriously, and want to make sure that your complaint is heard. Please contact us directly," and include contact information, he suggested.

"It can be incredibly powerful."

A few negative reviews can also make a lawyer seem more real, he said.

Consumers are accustomed to reading reviews on a broad variety of sites - from clothes to books to movies - and a "mix of good and bad reviews gives them more information and raises the overall credibility of the reviews," King said. "If a lawyer has 15 reviews and all of them are 100 percent glowingly positive, in the back of their minds, people will think, 'I'm not sure I buy that.'"

To counter those inevitable negative reviews, "solicit positive reviews from happy clients," Jones suggested. "Then, one negative review will be diluted among 10 to 15 positive reviews."

King noted that some states - like Florida - have ethics rules prohibiting the solicitation of reviews in online forums.

Lawyers should check the rules in their state before soliciting comments from clients, or using positive testimonials from online review sites in other formats, such as on a firm website or in advertising, he cautioned

If a review seems blatantly false - it claims the attorney, who practices bankruptcy law, messed up a divorce proceeding, for example - contact the site, King suggested. Lawyers often share the same name, and from time to time reviewers post under the wrong attorney.

Published: Mon, Sep 5, 2011

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