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If you’re a lawyer with an online reputation issue, you should be afraid. You should resent the you-know-what out of those who are causing your problems. And if you don’t do something about it, you most certainly will be taking it in the cash. This is because damaging things online damage your real-world business. Online and offline have fused. Welcome to modern day now.

Yesterday I wrote about the ethical pitfalls of hiring scum-sucking reputation management companies to post fake good reviews for you to displace or overshadow the bad ones. It warned of the obvious, which comes down to one simple rule: Don’t lie about yourself online, don’t pose as somebody you aren’t, and don’t hire somebody else to do it for you. Ok, maybe that’s three simple rules, but understand one and you’ll get them all.

The legal marketing industry is filled with predators. For most of the legal marketing sleaze-bags that cold-called you this week, the opposite of legal ethics applies. To quote Tucker Max “Things always work out for me because I do whatever I want without worrying about the consequences.” That’s how they operate. They are not investing in building long-term businesses or reputations for themselves. They are investing in one thing, and one thing only. Getting your money. So it’s of little consequence to the average SEO scum-sucker whether they leave you a blubbering mass of bar trouble. After all, your a lawyer, and very few marketing types are going to lose sleep over aiding and abetting a lawyer in something that breaks no rules of professional conduct for the marketer, but is a deadly taboo for the lawyer.

So that leaves us lawyers with but one option. We need to step up and be the adult in the room.

So assuming that you’re not really into throwing yourself off a roof Jackass style because some SEO punk said it’s a good idea, what now? You’ve still got these pesky negative reviews and they’re still costing you business. What’s a lawyer who does not want ethical trouble to do?

Get out ahead of the issue

Start by giving really good service. Do a heck of a good job for each client. Deliver more than you promise. Communicate more than you’re expected to. Be involved. Communication alone will head off most bad reviews.

When you have a disgruntled client, right or wrong, acknowledge it and try to make it right with them before it becomes an issue of public record.

Your clients wield tremendous power over you. In a 5 minute blind fit of misguided rage they can post something that damages you for years to come. Try to avoid those 5 minute benders. The best way to do this is to be available. If a client hasn’t heard back from you regarding a perceived mistake that you’ve made, the fuse is lit and you may have precious little time to avoid a public complaint.

Most disgruntled clients just want to vent or be heard. It’s a heck of a lot easier for them to trash you on Avvo or Yelp than it is for them to file a bar complaint. And it’s a heck of a lot less intimidating for them to do it online.

Ok, so it happened. They posted it. What now?

The best trial lawyers get on their feet to object when an injustice is happening. Get out of your chair. Stick your arm out towards the judge (here the public), and object. Craft your objection logically, based on facts and reason. Never emotionally.

If the negative review is on a forum where you can directly respond, do it. But never do it angry. And make sure you don’t disclose any client confidences in the process. You can turn even the most negative review into an asset with the right response.

Caveat: Never delegate this response to a non-lawyer. Never.

The numbers game

Depending on your state, it may or may not be ethical for you to ask satisfied clients for affirmative reviews. That said, it’s obvious that the more legitimate, positive reviews you have, the better. This goes back to doing a great job for your clients.

The fact of the matter is, very few satisfied clients will take the time to visit Avvo, Yelp or Google and write a review without you asking. Any lawyer who has hundreds of positive reviews on any of these sites has most assuredly exerted influence over clients (in the form of asking) to get at least some of them. If you do this though, make sure that you aren’t setting another ethics trap for yourself.

Look like a good person

Social media, your blog and other web properties you control are your online persona. You control them, and if you come off pretentious, or mean, or uncaring, any negativity that others contribute to your aggregate online “reputation” will be more believable. Use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and your own sites and blogs to reinforce the notion that you are not only a great lawyer, but a great human being.

Be genuine

This is the most important thing. Be authentic. Be real. Be you.