Increasingly, consumers are exploring client reviews on sites like Avvo as part of the process of hiring a lawyer. Though it’s hardly scientific evidence, over the past few weeks alone, I’ve heard several examples of lawyers who attracted fairly decent cases as a result of their presence on Avvo or Yelp and the positive feedback they’d received. [Note: See Comments for caveat]
Even though testimonials and reviews can assist consumers in hiring a lawyer, many lawyers are reluctant to participate in review sites. A few harbor concerns about ethics restrictions, which in my view, are a red herring since grievance boards can’t infringe on clients’ First Amendment rights to comment about their lawyers. Still, most lawyers don’t use review sites because of fears that disgruntled clients or competitors will post negative reviews.
Technology innovations address some of these concerns. As I blogged at Solo Small Firm Innovation, computer scientists have developed algorithms that can ferret out fraudulent reviews. Though currently fairly accurate, as these tools gain more use, they’ll improve even more.
In addition, lawyers retain more control over the review process than they believe. Though lawyers can’t stop a clients from posting negative reviews, at a minimum, you can encourage clients to come to you first to fix the problem. Likewise, you can also proactively seek reviews from clients satisfied with your service to balance negative reviews that you might receive.
Sounds great in theory – but in practice, how can you ensure that clients come to you with complaints or take the time to fill out a review? Through your 21st Century Retainer Agreement and Law Firm Policies, of course. As part of your retainer letter (or better yet, as an appended Law Firm Policy sheet, so you don’t clutter the basic agreement), consider the following clause:
The Firm encourages clients to provide feedback on your experience with us. You can do so by contacting the Firm directly at [insert email or phone]. If you were particularly satisfied with your experience, we invite you to post a review on the Firm’s profile page on [list review sites and a direct link to the site] More importantly, if you’ve had a negative experience, the Firm urges you to contact us/Attorney by phone, email or at [direct complaint email] so that we can address the problem directly
You can play around with the language, but the general purpose of the clause is to encourage positive reviews and at the same time, discourage negative rants by providing an outlet for complaints.
This approach won’t work for truly irrational clients with a vendetta against you or all lawyers. But at a minimum, the process can flesh out those clients who may have had a negative experience but are more interested in simply fixing it or receiving a partial refund than raging against you.
At the end of the day, a retainer agreement is like any other contract: a tool for reducing risk in the face of uncertainty. Ignoring review sites or trying to shut them down isn’t particularly productive or effective. After all, there’s nothing to stop clients from visiting these sites themselves, or setting up their own site and ranting about your incompetence. Because review sites are here to stay, the far better response is to design an approach to minimize any risks that these sites may pose. A retainer agreement or law firm policy can do that.
Curious to find out what you can do with that Retainer Agreement of yours? Learn how to use it for subscription services, Groupon deals, flat fees and much, much more if you sign up for the 21st Century Retainer webinar on September 6. Details and registration here.