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Tripadvisor for law firms – are you embracing online reviews?

tripadvisor for law firmsIt can’t have escaped your attention that specialist online legal review sites are burgeoning. “Tripadvisor for law firms” really has landed. Sites such as Rated Solicitors, founded by Midlands-based employment solicitor, Dean Morris, have led the way and more are planned.

I guess the development of these sites was inevitable in the modern world, but how do you feel about them? Most marketing savvy solicitors know that placing testimonials or reviews prominently on their website is a basic requirement. However, you vet those reviews. How do you feel about reviews which are outside of your control?

A little context.

As a solicitor, you are in the public eye. Your clients will, at the very least, discuss you and your firm with other people and recommend you or not as they see fit. The usual rules apply. If their perception of you is good, they will probably tell between five and eight others and maybe produce a referral. If they feel your service was bad, they will tell a minimum of twenty.

For the review sites, only a minority of clients will post a review. However, that review will be seen by dozens if not hundreds of people.

Where do the regulators stand?

Over the last year, there has been much coverage in the legal press about transparency. The Solicitors Regulation Authority and Legal Services Board in England and Wales and the Law Society of Scotland have committed themselves to this. Transparency with clients about the costs of services for conveyancing, wills and family law are the key areas. To say that these proposals have met with a mixed reception by the profession is an understatement.

The regulators’ proposals have opened up the debate on the online review question. How should law firms respond to the reviews they receive? Reviews containing positive comments or constructive criticism are one thing. Astute practitioners will learn from these and modify their approach to provide a better service. Negative and even “angry” reviews are quite a different matter. All the online review sites have a process you can go through to address these. Some bad reviews can be fake and others just plain inaccurate. Whatever the case, you do have the right to reply and redress.

Negative reviews.

There is another side to the issue: what should the regulators do about negative reviews? At present, they respond only to complaints received through official channels. For example, complaints about service quality are usually directed to the Legal Ombudsman. Should these complaints involve professional conduct issues, the Ombudsman refers it back to the SRA in England and Wales. So, when a service or professional conduct complaint is made on a review site, what should the regulators do? Should they monitor these sites? Should they investigate? There is no clear-cut policy for this at present.

The right approach?

Firstly, don’t bury your head in the sand. Review sites have become a feature of modern purchasing and are likely to be around for some time. Embrace them and use them to your advantage.

Secondly, don’t make fake favourable reviews for your own firm or negative ones of competitors! You can do both anonymously on some sites. Inevitably, you will be found out. This practice does go on but is not as widespread as you may think. The Competition and Markets Authority estimates that 1%-2% of reviews are fake (positive or negative).

Thirdly, deal with negative reviews the moment you receive them. If you suspect they are malicious or contrived, complain to the review site. If you suspect they are the result of a client’s frustration with your service, engage with the client and put things right.

Prevention is better than cure.

This really is the bottom line. If you receive a plethora of negative reviews, the chances of them all being fake are limited. It’s more likely a case of either poor service or poor communication. The key things you can do are:

  • Set out clear, precise details to your clients at the onset of a matter.
  • Provide likely timings for key components of the matter or transaction.
  • Give a best and worst-case scenario in terms of timings.
  • State clearly what the anticipated costs will be.
  • Provide an indication of what is likely to affect the cost estimate adversely.
  • Define your payment terms and any interim billing arrangements.
  • Manage your clients’ expectations by keeping in touch regularly throughout the course of the matter.

The last item on the list is by far the most important. Most “bad service” reviews occur because clients feel either that nothing is happening or things are happening too slowly. Alternatively, they just simply don’t know what is happening. If case timings are slipping, let your clients know before they feel obliged to find out for themselves. Silence on your part is not golden.

Finally, if you wish to go a stage further in managing expectations, consider a client portal. This is a web-based application that runs in a browser and allows limited access to your case management system. It gives you the option to present controlled matter information to selected clients in real time. Client portals are accessed by secure logon and allow you to provide as much or as little case information to your clients as you see fit.

“Tripadvisor for law firms” is here – make it work for you.

Mike O’Donnell, August 2018.

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