How safe is your online profile from negative reviews?

negative reviews

You want to avoid this…

This post was originally conceived while I was answering a question from the Lawyers on G+ Community about whether or not you should upgrade to Avvo Pro from the basic Avvo account. As I began to write that post, I went back to Avvo to check my profile and the options I have as a “pro” user that other non-pro users do not have.

Turns out that a couple of days ago a “dissatisfied client” gave me a one star review. The review was vague, violated the posting guidelines on Avvo, and contained absolutely no factual basis for why the “client” was dissatisfied. I have since asked Avvo to remove the review, but have yet to receive a response. Here is what the review said:

I would not recommend using Jim Hart. He is very disorganized, which added stress to an already very painful time. I try to follow the Golden Rule, but feel it is important to let others be informed.

It’s the type of review that makes me question why I ever decided to be a lawyer in the first place. I’m trying to help people in a difficult situation, instead of appreciation, we get an anonymous comment like this.

This is what every single lawyer that is not getting on Avvo is afraid of, right?

Unfortunately, we live in a world of social media. Whether you like it or not, it’s happening. If people want to bad mouth you to their friends and family, they are going to do so. If they want to bad mouth you online, they will.

How can you avoid negative reviews online?

You have to be proactive. You must claim your Avvo profile and request positive reviews from satisfied clients so that when that one bad review comes downs the pipe, it will be overshadowed by all the good reviews you have received.

In addition, there are two other things you can do that will really help cutting down on the risk of bad reviews. The first is client selection, and the second is client service.

Client Selection

If you are choosing to work with C and D level clients, you will increase the risk that you receive bad reviews. C and D clients are typically late paying their legal bills (if they pay at all), and they place a tremendous demand on your time. They are unreasonable in their evaluation of the settlement options you provide them. They don’t listen to your advice. They are unwilling to work within the systems and policies of your firm. They don’t value your time. They don’t respect you. They expect immediate action on each and every aspect of their case, regardless of your current schedule. They believe they are entitled. They give you bad reviews online.

The biggest problem with bad clients is that there is nothing you can do, and no amount of service you provide, that will make them happy. They are typically angry and take their anger at their situation out on you. Bad clients are like a ticking time bomb – you never know when they are going to erupt, or what you are going to do that will cause an explosion.

Take on bad clients at your peril. If you get bad reviews as a result – don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Client Service

The second component to avoiding negative reviews on sites like Avvo is client service. Client service can fix a lot of shortfalls.

When a client hires my firm, we call them once a week for the first four weeks to stay in touch and make sure they understand what we are doing for them and what they are supposed to be doing for us. We answer all their questions during these calls. What we are trying to avoid is what most firms do – take the client’s money and then disappear. We don’t want that.

After that, the frequency of the calls goes down, but we continue to touch base with the client’s on a regular basis just to make sure the work we are doing for them does not get lost, or deadlines missed.

If you have an A or B type client – excellent client service will turn them into raving fans of your firm. This is what you want. If you are picking C and D level clients, excellent client service just keeps them at bay – it keeps them from writing a negative review.

But the problem with those C and D level clients is that the best client service in the world won’t save you when you make a mistake of some sort. You may promise them a call back one day, but don’t get back to them until the next day. Or perhaps it is a typo in an agreement (we can’t all be perfect, can we?). Whatever it is, that one thing may be just enough to trigger a blow-up from the client and a flurry of negativity.

What to do when the day comes that you do get a negative review?

Unfortunately, a negative review on Avvo will happen sooner or later to even the best lawyers out there. It’s inevitable. Kind of like when I worked for the Public Defender’s Office and we threw a party the first time a lawyer received a bar complaint from a client sitting in prison. Odds are that it will happen. You just have to keep yourself calm and not over-react. Also, understand that once you post a response, it cannot be changed – so think very carefully before you write (more on that in a bit).

Here’s what you need to do.

First, look to Avvo’s posting guidelines to determine whether the review has merit or whether it should be removed. These guidelines state that “accusations that are unsupported by specific facts will be removed.” This guideline applies to client reviews. If the review does not have merit, then contact Avvo to request that the review be removed. (Don’t hold your breath, however.) In the majority of cases, Avvo will not take down the review.

Second, write a thoughtful, carefully framed response. If the review does not provide any factual information about who it is from, and if it is not immediately obvious to you about who it is from (and even if it is obvious to you), don’t assume you know – and don’t reveal facts about that particular client.

Here was the response that I posted:

“I have a feeling I know who this individual is, but the review is so vague that I’m not really sure. To the person who wrote this review, I sincerely apologize that you were not 100% pleased with the service you received from my firm. If there is anything I can do to make the situation better, please let me know.”

In hindsight, I would have removed the first sentence from this response.

Even though it may make you feel better, arguing the merit of their review online is not helpful, and could land you in trouble with the bar. A simple response, such as: “We are very sorry you had a bad experience with our firm. Your case does not sound familiar, and we strive for 100% client satisfaction in every case and situation. Please contact me directly to discuss your specific concerns and so that we can do everything in our power to make this situation right.”

A sincere apology and offer to make the situation better is all you need.

People reading your profile will notice the entire package. They will see that you have peer endorsements from other lawyers. They will see that 99% of your reviews are positive. They will see that you offer a wealth of information on your website. This one bad review will fade into irrelevance.

Finally, get some additional positive reviews from satisfied clients. The most recent review will show up at the top of the reviews section, so you want to push it down. The only way to do that is through additional positive reviews.

Have you received a negative review on Avvo or somewhere else online?  Please comment below to let us know what you did about it and the result.