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Should Lawyers Post Video Testimonials From Clients?

by Carolyn Elefant on June 23, 2010 · 9 comments

in Ratings/Testimonials, Video

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Don’t get me wrong — I’m an unabashed fan of video for lawyers.  As I’ve said many times, most recently in this presentation, video satisfies Internet users’ craving for intimacy, as well prospective clients’ natural curiosity to get a peek at the lawyer behind the online presence.  Likewise, I’m also believer in the persuasive power of the client testimonial, since a client’s first-hand endorsement can humanize and add dimension to otherwise static web profiles or ad.

Given these preferences,  you’d expect me to favor video-taped client testimonials.  But I don’t.   For me, videotaped client interviews cross an unwritten boundary from educational to exploitative, even where clients knowingly, willingly and enthusiastically give their consent. Granted, in an open society like ours, it’s hard to argue that video testimonials encroach on clients’ privacy.  After all, lawsuits themselves are public matters, as our Constitution intended.  With courts going online and trials widely televised, the general public has unprecedented access to all of the minutia of a lawsuit, from pleadings to depositions and the trial proceedings themselves.   For a variety of reasons — due process, judicial accountability and education –  increased public access to our court system is a good thing.

Still, what the public doesn’t have a right to see is the emotional toll that criminal charges or a civil lawsuit have on a client’s life.  Yet video-taped testimonials splay these emotions across the Internet, sapping clients of their last vestiges of privacy and dignity.  And while client testimonials have been used on television commercials for some time, there’s something about those testimonials on the Internet – where they’re available for instant replay – that magnifies the intrusiveness.  Moreover, because video shows a client’s face and mannerisms and emotions, it’s simply more invasive than a written testimonial (with which I have no problem).

True, attorneys don’t force clients to offer video-testimonials.  But should a lawyer even ask to begin with?  After a successful lawsuit, clients — particularly those who were represented on a contingency basis and at no cost to them — are so incredibly grateful that many would be willing to dress up in a chicken-suit and parade up and down Main Street with a sandwich board proclaiming “Joe Smith — Best Lawyer Ever!” So when a lawyer asks clients to provide a video-testimonial, clients may feel compelled to oblige even though it’s not necessarily in their best interest.  How voluntary is that?

The other aspect of video-taped testimonials that disturbs me is that they reveal details (albeit non-privileged ones) about the attorney-client relationship which to me, are better left unspoken.  To me, the attorney-client relationship is sacred, and in many ways, more intimate (in a non-sexual way, obviously) than marriage.  We see clients at their most vulnerable, harbor secrets that they’d never reveal to close family or friends.  How we lawyers represent our clients in court is a public matter for all to see, but the way in which we explain a case to clients, interact with them and comfort them ought to remain between us.

For my regular readers, I realize that my views may seem unexpectedly conventional for someone who prides herself as a 21st Century lawyer.  Sorry to disappoint.  Perhaps, in a decade or two, as conventions of privacy change (and indeed they will), so too will my visceral reaction to TMI.   Until then, I’d like to preserve whatever toehold of dignity of my clients can carve out in a world that’s becoming increasingly transparent.

  • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

    I've found the very idea of asking clients for testimonials, whether video or otherwise, both unseemly and, well, coercive. From my niche, why would any client want the worst experience in his life smeared on the internet for my pecuniary interest? But you've explained it beautifully, better than I have, and once again have shown that there are ethical and propriety limits to what lawyers should do in the name of getting business. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  • http://legalresearchandwritingpro.com/ Lisa Solomon

    Your view makes sense for some types of law (e.g., bankruptcy, family law, criminal law, even PI), but I'm not sure how on target it is for other types of law. Commercial litigation? Hey, it's only business. Estate planning? A person doesn't have to be in crisis to do estate planning (and, in fact, T&E lawyers prefer if you come to them before a crisis occurs). FERC representation? Nothing personal or intimate about that . . . .

  • Carolyn Elefant

    Scott,

    Thanks for your comments. Scott, I know that I've seen dozens of TV commercials with client testimonials, but recently I came across some on the Internet and as I replayed them over and over, it just felt so wrong.

    Lisa, yes, my reaction is definitely practice-area dependent. If the client is essentially a lawyer – as in your line of work – or an in-house counsel for a corporate client, video testimonials are certainly very different. At the same time, in these types of cases, I think that a well written testimonial from a sophisticated client can be just as persuasive as video.
    Your site has some audio testimonials from your attorney clients (questionoflaw.net) – and for the category of “lawyers as clients” or more corporate types of cases, perhaps an audio testimonial is a reasonable substitute.

  • Ben Glass

    Carolyn: here's a great client testimonial done by a really entrepreneurial attorney friend of mine in Ottawa.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwHdDyA0gWw

    of course, I am in favor of using them and believe they can be very powerful (yes, even for the client.)

    Ben Glass

  • http://www.personalinjurymatters.com NC_Injury

    I just registered as a subscriber to your site. I have read through a few posts and this one is a topic that is very relevant to me. My personal injury practice is growing, and I was considering posting some client video testimonials on my new site. If done tastefully, I think the video is a good resource. They say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This has been true in my PI litigation, so I figure a well-done web video would help make a connection with potential clients. I don't think I would ask a client to do a video testimonial. Like you stated, clients tend to be giddy and excited immediately after getting good results. Most would be willing to share their thoughts, but I wouldn't want them to do something that they may later regret. I think the first step I will take is to produce my own video – simply featuring me. I'll have to consult with my marketing folks (more like person).

  • http://twitter.com/carolynelefant carolynelefant

    Ben,

    Even though I am still not comfortable with client videos, I have to admit that the video that you linked to in your comment is really attractive.

    NC Injury – Thank you so much for subscribing to the site. It wasn't necessary to do so before posting a comment, but I'm glad you did!

    As I said, I love to see lawyers in videos – gives a great sense of their personality, so I hope that you will move forward on that front.

  • http://thehappylifetips.blogspot.com The Happy Life Tips

    i believe that testimonial video is not a subject to be uploaded on the internet. well, it will be okay if it is uploaded in the educational website, but they should give a limitation to the number or use a role play, so there are no clients involved and exploited.

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