Negative client reviews: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

This article contains a small amount of previously published content from LegallyBetter but updated in response to the large number of comments made following the recent launch of a new solicitor comparison website.

This launch clearly touched a nerve with lawyers. The objections raised included law firms being listed whether they liked it or not, potential client confidentiality regulatory issues (lawyers being able to respond to issues raised) and the validity of the reviews themselves (excessively negative/positive affecting the validity of the ratings).

What no one disputes is the importance of the internet and word of mouth in terms of attracting and retaining clients, not least because reviews are a great source of fresh (user generated) content to be associated with a law firm’s web presence, plus the SEO beneficial activities such as Google ‘seller rating’ achieved through verified reviews. There are many other benefits but let’s deal with the elephant in the room – negative reviews.

Law firms should have a much greater involvement with negative reviews. Consumers expect to see negative reviews. Just because lawyers can sue clients does it mean they should? Does it help their collective reputation? Probably not. Having different rules for lawyers than those that are standard (and expected) practice across other sector review sites would dilute the value of showing client reviews in the first place.

Whilst fully appreciating that lawyers deal with life’s more important moments rather than, say, a restaurant meal or night in a hotel, an apparent willingness to discredit review sites on one hand whilst using them on the other is perhaps an understandable inconsistency when faced with last week’s announcement.

It raises a number of issues of interest to lawyers, not least about the alignment of interest between the law firm, their clients and (where relevant) the review site. The law firm wants to present an unblemished client experience to potential customers and the client wants, as much as possible, a ‘warts and all’ insight into the service they can expect. The review website does not want to be sued by law firms but wants to include as much feedback as possible.

Whilst there is not (yet) a market leading solicitor comparison site, that day will inevitably come. Law firms will have to confront (or embrace) what is happening in many other consumer products and services sectors. As the legal services sector consolidates and client feedback becomes more widely utilised by the more forward thinking law firms the current antipathy towards these sites will reduce as they become more widely adopted.

The role of an independent comparison website acting on behalf of a law firm is invaluable. In short, they will get the feedback you can’t – in particular the negative issues that can affect your firm’s ability to attract and retain clients. The negative reviews might be provided anonymously to your firm but from a verified client. All feedback should be reported back to the law firm but does not have to be published - it is vital to understand that negative feedback has more value to the law firm than ‘another’ positive review. 

The SRA is currently liaising with interested comparison sites to implement a self-assessment standard to help raise the quality of information provided. Encouraging trust among lawyers that their reputations are being promoted accurately is mutually beneficial to all parties involved.

Jon Hepburn

Managing Director - Legally Better Limited

DipM MCIM, Chartered Marketer

Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing