Dealing with bad or unfair law firm reviews

Dealing with bad or unfair law firm reviews is part and parcel of providing the opportunity for clients to leave a review about your law firm’s level of expertise or service delivery and having an online presence (which we certainly recommend you have).

Platforms like Google My Business and social media websites provide ample scope for consumers to post their online comments for all to see, whether those comments are good, bad or indifferent.

Reviews are encouraged. For businesses, good reviews help build rapport and trust, contributing positively to their reputation and brand. For consumers, they provide a ‘heads-up’ about a product or service and for many people, reviews have become the ‘go-to’ when choosing where to eat their next meal, what shoes to buy, or who should do their conveyancing.

But what happens when you come across a review that is less than favourable, or downright scathing? And what about a review left by a person who you cannot identify, has never dealt with your firm and which is completely unreasonable?

When handling online reviews, there are some general steps you can follow. The finer details will of course depend on the circumstances – the gravity of the complaint, what led to it, and whether it is in fact a genuine bad review or an unfair or fake review.

Why do people leave bad reviews?

This may depend on the type of review that has been left which can very broadly fall into two categories – those that are genuine, and those that are fake or unfair.

The obvious reason for leaving a genuine bad review is that somebody has had a poor experience dealing with your business. Generally, people engage lawyers to navigate significant issues or transactions that impact their lives significantly. We all know that matters do not always proceed seamlessly and sometimes fail to deliver the outcome our clients expected, whether or not those expectations are objective or subjective.

A bad review can flag underlying issues or pain points in your practice, some of which can be turned around quickly to prevent further complaints and provide an opportunity to make amends with a disgruntled client. While some may stem from a minor incident or lack of communication, others may be fueled by emotion and anxiety.

Occasionally, a law firm may receive an aggressive, abusive, or completely unfounded review. The identity of a person leaving a fake or unfair review is often unknown. The person may have never even dealt with the firm or only ever made an initial enquiry. The ‘reviewer’ could have simply targeted the wrong firm, be somebody with a personal grudge, or the client of a lawyer representing the opposition. The reason for leaving the review may be highly subjective or manipulative.

Genuine bad reviews or fake or unfair reviews are both a concern for your law firm and should be dealt with promptly.

Dealing with a bad online review

Respond quickly but rationally

In most cases, the appropriate first response will be to publicly acknowledge the complaint, thank the reviewer for the feedback, and demonstrate a genuine willingness to resolve the issue.

A client with an authentic complaint deserves your attention, and the issue should be resolved. Mistakes happen and people have off days – understanding where the issues lie provides insight into fixing them, so they are not repeated.

If you suspect the review is fake, you might use a slightly different approach – let the reviewer know you are unsure of his or her identity but still willing to discuss any genuine issues they have with a view to resolving them. Remain calm and professional, despite the nature of the review.

Take the matter offline

Whether or not the complaint is genuine, you should then move the discussion offline and offer to deal with the issue further by suggesting an appropriate forum and contact to discuss the matter in confidence.

Gather the facts

While some reviews set out specific details of the issue, it is not always apparent who has left the review, and which matter or dealing it relates to. This can make it difficult to get to the bottom of the actual complaint, particularly while maintaining confidentiality. You may need to talk to your staff before addressing the matter further.

Resolve the matter

Clients who have had a poor customer experience deserve to be heard. If the review is genuine, remember that this is an opportunity to obtain valuable feedback to identify some of the issues experienced by your clients. Be professional, transparent and empathetic. Offer to fix the matter – this may be as simple as a genuine apology and conveying the steps you have taken, or will take, to make sure the problem does not happen again. If appropriate, invite the person to remove the review. Most clients or ex-clients will appreciate the attention and time taken to resolve their complaint.

If you suspect the review is fake, do not get dragged into an ugly debate no matter how antagonistic the reviewer is. Request the review to be removed and, if necessary, use formal processes.

Dealing with ‘keyboard warriors’ – removing fake reviews

Fake and misleading reviews can impact a law firm’s ratings and should be removed, however the process for doing so is not always straightforward or successful.

Reviews that violate the policies of Google My Business may be flagged as inappropriate. Prohibited and restricted content includes content that is spam or fake, off-topic, offensive, deceptive, and / or misleading. Note however, it can take a while for the review to be evaluated and Google will not remove a review simply because you consider it to be unreasonable, unfair or negative. Accordingly, you will need to provide as much evidence as possible to support the fact that the review violates Google’s policies and terms of service.

You can flag an inappropriate review by signing into your Google My Business account. Read more about flagging an inappropriate review here

Fake reviews left on Facebook and that violate community standards may be reported by logging onto your business Facebook page, right clicking the three dots on the questionable review, and choosing ‘report post’ from the menu. Again, Facebook will not remove poor ‘star rating’ reviews without content, or reviews simply because you consider they are unfair or exaggerated.

Don’t let bad reviews drag your law firm down

As harsh and devastating as it can be to receive a bad review, they are a part of business and, if handled correctly, may not be as damaging as first expected. Receiving a bad review should not put law firms off asking clients to leave online reviews – while you can disable reviews as an administrator of your own law firm’s website or Facebook page, this will also disable the good reviews.

We suggest developing systems to manage online reviews:  register with relevant review sites and understand how they work, regularly monitor sites and sign up for alerts, and share positive and negative feedback with staff. Keep inviting clients to leave reviews and make it easy for them to do so by providing a link.

Remember to:

  • publicly acknowledge all reviews – good and bad
  • deal promptly with negative reviews and take discussions off-line
  • use genuine reviews as a chance to make amends and improve your law firm
  • deal with fake reviews professionally – use formal processes to have them removed

5 reasons negative reviews may not be as ‘bad’ as they seem

  1. Too many good reviews may be perceived as unauthentic or too good to be true. Reasonable consumers do not expect to see 5-star ratings emanate from all dealings with your law firm.
  2. Most people are capable of discerning between an aggressive, abusive review from genuine reviews. The power of a scathing review loses its impact among a sea of positive ones.
  3. Responding positively to a bad review on a public forum demonstrates your firm’s willingness to address problems and resolve issues.
  4. Responding professionally and assertively to a fake review may discourage others from leaving fake reviews.
  5. Taking criticism graciously and using it as an opportunity to improve future services, shows a ‘human’ element to a profession that is often perceived as lacking in such attributes.

Good online reviews and testimonials are great for your business and a valuable asset for your law firm website, helping convert leads into clients.

Law firm marketing is all we do, providing busy lawyers with comprehensive and effective website content and communication strategies. If you want to know more about how to grow your business, please contact me.

About the author
Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood is a management and marketing consultant, he specialises in helping law firms develop their practices using business planning marketing and performance reporting techniques refined in his own successful law firm. Peter lives in Sydney with his wife and is the father of five adult children.
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