According to Google:
97% of consumers research products and services online before buying locally.
90% of customers say that buying decisions are influenced by reading online reviews.
55% of small businesses have zero reviews on the web.
The Best Lawyer
These numbers suggest that besides a website, attracting positive reviews should be a top priority for your firm. You want to be known as the best lawyer in town.
Not so easy. Lawyers in British Columbia cannot advertise as being the “best” because it is inherently unverifiable. Even if you could, prospective clients are not going to give you much credibility for such self-serving marketing bumph. Despite this explicit guidance, the legal marketing directory Best Lawyers (a peer-reviewed system) remains a common sight in the legal community. Is it enough if other lawyers confirm that you really are the best? Does this make it verifiable?
Public reviews are governed by similar standards, with the Law Society offering specific guidance on client testimonials. Testimonials must be true and verifiable. This applies to all marketing materials produced by the firm, including the website or any print materials.
I am not yet aware of any similar regulation regarding third party review websites. The reason for the regulatory vacuum is likely technical in nature — lawyers may not have editorial control of third-party websites.
Lawyers have not had much luck attracting positive online reviews. Particular challenges include:
- Confidentiality and privacy concerns;
- Computer literacy challenges;
- Requiring a user account to post a review;
- Slow social media adoption in the legal industry; and
- Weak law firm brands (there is no Red Bull of law).
Because law firms tend to attract few reviews, this is an opportunity for firms to rise quickly with only a few positive reviews. Reviews are one of the driving factors for appearing on the organic search results map when someone conducts a geographically targeted search (e.g. ” family lawyers in Vancouver”).
The Worst Lawyer
Perhaps the best motivation for becoming the “best lawyer” is not not be the”worst lawyer.” People are most motivated to write reviews when they are very happy or very mad. Reacting to a very bad review can be extremely difficult. Many law firms are surprised to find-out that they have business review listings on Yelp, Google+, and other local business directories. These services scrape information from Yellow Pages or other public directories. Once created, they are just waiting for the first irate customer to take initiative and post a defamatory critique of a lawyer. Facts be damned.
By claiming a listing and taking steps to attract positive reviews, a firm will be less susceptible to a single negative post. My next blog post will address how to deal with bad reviews.
Most clients can accept that they lost at trial and again on appeal. They can accept a typo in a licensing agreement. What they cannot accept is bad customer service. Even the most brilliant legal tactician will earn poor reviews if their levels of customer service are poor. Because former clients are reluctant to talk about legal specifics, it is the more practical customer service details that shine in a review. Be the lawyer that returns phone calls, remembers the kids’ names, and asks about about someone’s bad knee.
Because law firm reviews are so valuable for attracting clients, there will inevitably be some lawyers tempted to create fakes. The first barrier is the Law Society. Creating fake or deceptive reviews is a clear violation of the legal marketing rules. Disciplinary action could be severe if proven. The second barrier is that review websites have both automated and manual systems for identifying and removing inauthentic reviews. For example, if you create a Gmail account and then leave a Google+ review in short order, you won’t get far.
How to Encourage Reviews
The four primary channels for law firm reviews (in order of importance) are Google+, Yelp, Facebook and LinkedIn. Detailed instructions for each is beyond the scope of this blog post. The following general tactics will move your firm in the right direction.
- Claim/verify your business listing and upload the firm’s logo as well as profile images for each lawyer at the firm.
- Include a card with every settlement cheque or file closing letter requesting a review if the client had a positive experience with the firm. Leave copies in your firm’s lobby. Be sure to include detailed instructions.
- As part of the file closing process, diarize an email for 2 weeks later thanking the client for their business. In that email, include links to your preferred review websites and detailed instructions on leaving a review.
- Keep tabs on reviews of the firm. Where the client is identifiable, add them to a list of people who get an extra thanks during the holiday season.
Stay tuned for my next post on dealing with bad reviews.