“I DO NOT recommended this lawyer to anyone. They will suck you dry!!! They were completely unprofessional and I am not happy with the quality of service I received. My bill was much higher than the price I was told I would pay and my case took months longer to resolve than I was told it would. Find someone else to represent you. Do NOT waste your time like I did.”
You read this review about your legal services—and your jaw drops. It’s anonymous and scathing.
And your mind starts racing: Was this really left by your client? How did a client this angry not come to you with a problem, so it could be resolved? Or, was it that disgruntled associate or law clerk you let go a few months back?
Or, is this fake review an attempt to discredit you and your practice by a jealous competitor?
You email the website or forum that it was posted on, to see if they would take it down. They refuse.
You’re in a state of angry disbelief. There’s no way you want this slander online, available for everyone to see! You wonder if this nasty review could actually harm your business.
The next battleground for Search Engine Results Page (SERP) rankings could very well be reviews of your firm left on Google+ as well as a number of lawyer rating sites which are now popping up like mushrooms.
Bad and fake reviews—and more specifically, scathing phony reviews that are out to damage your reputation—are becoming a problem for business-to-consumer (B2C) law firms. These negative reviews are left by disgruntled clients, disgruntled former employees or jealous competitors.
Phony reviews are annoying and can damage your business. But sometimes not as much as you think.
Research has shown that 88% of consumers have been influenced by an online customer service review when making a buying decision. This means that potential clients are likely Googling the names of specific lawyers as well as the law firm itself to see what pops up. Unfortunately, any negative reviews about you – even if they are phony– may deter clients. Michael Luca, a professor at the Harvard Business School, suggests that in some cases one negative review can lead to a 13% drop in sales.
One of the more problematic lawyer review websites is LawyerRatingz.com which operates principally in the US, but also has spill-over into Canada. They basically hide under the First Amendment (freedom of speech).
In their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on their website, LawyerRatingz.com admits that they do not verify the reviewers and advise readers to “always take the ratings with a grain of salt.”
Moreover, LawyerRatingz.com freely admits that they have no way of verifying reviewers or checking authenticity of reviews, and that in fact, “dogs and cats” could be filling them out.
Clearly, lack of rigor in fact-checking and anonymity are a problem when it comes to fake reviews. The only good news here is that fake reviews often have a similar feeling and tone of being generally unreasonable and broadly scathing, so it is easy to spot them. But some people believe everything they read.
In terms of Google+ Reviews, anyone with a Gmail account (which is easily created) can post them. In their Help Section, Google has a number of “Content Policies” including one forbidding impersonation. However, Google has no way of enforcing these policies – even when they’ve been broken.
Up in Canada, Steve Kelly, owner of 40-year Kelowna, British Columbia-based Securco Services, had to take his problem to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) “Go Public” segment. It was not until the CBC’s investigative journalists on June 3, 2015, brought to light that the Google+ Reviews left by a disgruntled client, whose account had been remitted to a collection agency, was Google persuaded to take down the offensive reviews. How offensive? The disgruntled client called Securco’s employees “racist” and “autistic.”
Google is notorious for not taking negative reviews down off the web, whether they are fake or true. And good luck trying to find anyone at Google to speak to. The only silver lining even with a bad review is that, according to Google, if someone took the time and trouble to write it, a negative review is better than no review at all. Odd and true.
LawyerRatingz.com directly addresses phony reviews on their “For Attorneys” page: “We do not accept demand letters because it is not our role to determine whether a review is true or false. You might dispute the truth of a review, but your disputing it does not make it false. Why should we believe you over the reviewer?”
LawyerRatingz.com also warns against suing the website for libel. In fact, they seem to invite a legal challenge that they know will be huge waste of time, money and energy. They cite a number of American laws and rulings as proof that a lawsuit against them won’t go anywhere.
Wired Magazine wrote about Florida lawyer Adrian Phillip Thomas who threatened to sue LawyerRatingz.com unless all reviews of his practice were removed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) promptly threatened counter-action and filed a suit to block Thomas’ threats. Eventually, the EFF dismissed its suit upon receiving a signed agreement from Thomas to drop his legal threats and potential claims. No ratings were removed from the website as part of the agreement.
There have been a few cases of lawyers suing the actual Google+ review writer, but with little success. A California lawyer was able to successfully sue a 20-year-old British man for libel damages and costs after he posted a phony review.
Futurist Michael Rogers predicts that eventually in order to post reviews online, individuals will be required to have a ‘social identity’ that works similarly to a drivers license or passport in terms of verification of person.
But in the meantime how can business-to-consumer (B2C) law firms protect themselves against phony reviews? Here are some tips:
- Have good communication with your clients; document files fully.
- Implement a client satisfaction survey after the matter is concluded. Did the client think you did a good job?
- Ask your good clients to complete real reviews, not fake ones. Over-glowing reviews can make you see too good to be true. Don’t ask for a positive review, ask for their honest assessment.
- In Google+ Reviews, you have 1 opportunity for rebuttal. If you believe you are responding to a fake review, make sure your rebuttal will hold up today, next month and next year. A calm, measured, factual rebuttal will serve you better. Blowing off steam in a rebuttal is not a good idea.