While the concept of online client reviews strikes fear into the hearts of many business owners, lawyers are especially apprehensive. That’s because attorneys are prohibited from disclosing client information, except in very limited circumstances. So a client may complain about the result of a trial and blame the attorney for the outcome, but the lawyer, in defense, cannot explain that the client perjured himself or withheld information from his lawyer that came out at trial. One party in a divorce action might blame his lawyer in a Web review for not receiving custody of his children, but the lawyer cannot defend online by saying that the client was an admitted drug abuser or was abusive to the children. So lawyers and other professional service providers with client confidentiality concerns might fear a negative review on the Web for very good reasons.
What can a lawyer do if a negative Web review surfaces? There are some things you can do to respond to a negative review, and here’s a list in no particular order:
- Post a response to apologize for the client’s dissatisfaction and offer to meet the client at no charge to discuss the situation. Showing concern for the client’s opinion and making an effort to respond will blunt the effects of a negative review. This is the best thing to do if you have a prayer of changing an unhappy client to a satisfied client.
- Post a response explaining that you are unable to offer a defense because of your obligation to maintain client confidentiality. Most people are not aware of a lawyer’s obligation to protect client information, and they will respect a lawyer who refuses to respond in-kind to statements made in anger.
- Contact the client and ask him or her to withdraw the review. Most review websites allow someone posting a review to delete it at a later time, and even more websites allow a reviewer to modify a review. If you talk to the client and ask him or her to delete or modify the review, it can be the first step in repairing the situation. Perhaps the client will respond to your efforts to repair your relationship and he or she will become your loyal supporter.
- Ignore the review. This is not the thing to do. The review will not go away and people reading the review will assume that you’ve not responded because the review is true.
Before responding to any review, you may want to call the ethics hotline for your state bar association to discuss your options. Keep in mind though that the best way to defend against a bad review is to have lots of positive ones from satisfied clients already on the Web. If you want to start collecting client reviews, or you need help monitoring your Web reputation, or you want some assistance in responding to a bad online review, call me at 979-531-8300 or use the contact form to send me an email.