The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: How to Effectively Deal with Negative Reviews

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. – Aristotle

Client feedback is essential to the growth and sustainability of any business, including law firms. Today, there are more outlets than ever for clients to provide feedback about their experience with a law firm and its attorneys. Yelp, Google My Business, and Facebook are some of the most well-known platforms and are very accessible to clients to post reviews. But what happens when a client decides to share their negative experience about the firm or its lawyers on one or more of these public forums? Lawyers who find themselves in that very situation can deal with the negative review effectively by following these tips:

Know the Forum’s Guidelines for Negative Reviews

Facebook, Google My Business and Yelp have similar guidelines when it comes to negative review removal. In order for it to be taken down from the site, the post must be in direct violation of the forum’s review policy. For Google My Business, the review content policies are as follows:

  • Advertising: Reviews cannot be used for advertising, including the addition of links to pages of other websites or listing phone numbers. Reviews should be reflective of a person’s experience and should not be used to manipulate the law firm’s ratings.

  • Spam: There can be no use of spam. The inclusion of promotional or commercial content is prohibited. The same comment cannot be posted multiple times and the person cannot use multiple accounts to write reviews for the same place.

  • Phone numbers, email addresses, or URLs: In accordance with the advertising and spam guidelines, the site does not allow posting phone numbers, email addresses, or links in a review.

  • Off-topic reviews: Reviews cannot be based on another person’s experience, or are not specific to that particular business.

  • Keep it clean: The use of profane, offensive or obscene language is prohibited. Also, reviews that represent a personal attack on others will be removed.

  • Conflict of interest: Reviews should be honest and unbiased. Those who work for the business should not review the organization or its employer. A business owner cannot offer incentives, including money, services, or products, to provide reviews for the organization or to write a negative review about a competitor.

  • Illegal content: Reviews cannot include or link to unlawful content, including the links to purchase, sell or trade prescription drugs, firearms or ammunition.

  • Copyrighted content: Reviews cannot infringe upon another person’s rights, including copyright.

  • Sexually explicit material: Reviews cannot contain sexually explicit material.

  • Impersonation: Reviews cannot be posted on behalf of another person or misrepresent the individual’s identity or connection with the business.

  • Personal and confidential information: Reviews cannot contain personal and confidential information, including credit card numbers, driver’s license information, Social Security number, etc.

  • Hate Speech: Reviews cannot contain content that advocates against a group of people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, veteran status, disability or gender identity.

If the review violates one or more of the site’s content policies, it can be reported to a representative of the site who will review the post, verify or deny that the post violates the site’s policies, and, if the violation is present, take action by removing the post.

Can I Turn Off the Ability to Review My Law Firm on the Site?

The ability to disable ratings and reviews on a business page depends on what forum it is. For Facebook, law firms are able to turn the ratings and review options off by following the steps below:

  • Go to “Settings” at the top of the Facebook business page.

  • Go to the “General” tab on the left-hand side and click “Reviews.”

  • Select “Allow visitors to review this page” or “Disable Reviews.”

  • Click “Save Changes.”

It is important to note that, by disabling the ability to allow visitors to review the page, it will not show the positive or negative reviews and star rating that were there previously. If, at a later time, it is decided that the law firm wishes to turn the review setting back on, all past positive and negative reviews and star rating that were there prior to the setting changes will reappear on the Facebook page.

At this time, there is no way to turn off review capabilities on Yelp and Google My Business. Instead, follow the best practices section of the article.

Best Practices for Effectively Dealing with Negative Reviews

A bad review does not necessarily mean that the law firm itself is bad. A bad review is the result of a problem that happened between a client and the law firm. If handled effectively, not only can the law firm present itself as a professional business that is able to address the concerns of its clients (even the unhappy ones), but it can also help increase the level of client satisfaction for the individual who left the negative review.

Respond to the Review

If a post is not in violation of the site’s review content policies, it is imperative that the law firm handle the situation professionally and effectively. One of the best tactics is to respond to the review. Keep in mind that, on most of these sites, any response to the posted review is publicly shown.

It is best to post a response that is genuinely human, empathetic, apologetic and demonstrates that the law firm does want to make the upset client happy. Lawyers should request an opportunity to make things right by asking them to contact the law firm to discuss the situation further.

Note: Do not get defensive and start listing off all the reasons why the upset client is wrong. Even if the lawyer feels that he or she didn’t do whatever it was to make the client upset, the attorney can still be genuinely apologetic for how the client feels.

Encourage Positive Reviews

Sometimes, the sting of negative reviews hurts less when there are positive reviews present. Not only do positive reviews decrease the visibility of the negative review, but they may sway the interest of potential clients.

If a potential client visits a firm’s Yelp page and sees 100 positive reviews and only 10 negative reviews, they may be more inclined to think those few bad posts shouldn’t deter them from seeking the law firm’s counsel. As many as 84 percent of people say they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, according to BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey 2016.

Do Not Take Legal Action Against the Client

Law firms should not retaliate against clients who post negative reviews through legal action, unless the post is defamatory or libelous in the case of false or fake reviews.

Businesses also cannot include anti-review clauses in general contracts. Under the Consumer Review Fairness Act, businesses cannot incorporate an anti-review clause in their contracts, specifically those which are generic and standardized. These types of contracts do not offer a real opportunity to negotiate these terms. This legislation, which goes into effect on March 14, 2017, protects a consumer’s right to criticize a business and prevents the organization from retaliating against them for posting a negative review.

Navigating the complexities of handling negative online reviews can be difficult and time-consuming. Law firms and solo practitioners should consult the guidance of an experienced New York public relations and marketing firm that specializes in social media and reputation management for legal entities. At PR4Lawyers, our public relations and social media professionals work together to develop comprehensive strategies for law firms to maintain and utilize social media to achieve the goals of the law firm and reach their target clientele most effectively. For more information about our services, contact our New York social media and reputation management office by calling (631) 207-1057 or by filling out our contact form.

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