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For many attorneys, one of the worst feelings in the world is seeing a bad review, whether it’s that first bad review, or the third or tenth. It can make you feel as though you immediately want to defend yourself. Frequently, negative reviews for attorneys don’t tell the whole story, they’re unjustified, or in some cases, they can even be fake reviews.

Here’s what you need to know about how to handle a bad review for your law firm. 

How do I mitigate a bad online review about my law firm?

So, you’ve received a bad review.

The best thing you can do as a lawyer is counsel yourself to take some deep breaths. When it comes to handling a bad law firm review, never respond when you’re feeling agitated or frustrated.

What if you know who left the review? If the person who left the review was your former client, call as soon as possible after you discover the review and talk to them. (However, wait until you’ve calmed down to do it.)

You can approach it by saying something like: 

“I saw your review, and it concerned me because I want to be sure I’m doing an excellent job for all of my clients. Do you have a couple of minutes to talk about your review, and what went wrong?”

Many times, having that conversation will result in the client either amending the review or removing it altogether. A lot of times, clients complain — whether it’s to the bar or an online review site — because they felt like there was a lack of communication. You can solve a lot of those complaints instantaneously by picking up the phone. 

Attorneys should generally try this method before they respond online or take any other type of action.

How do I deal with a bad law firm review from someone I don’t recognize?

Sometimes, we see negative law firm reviews, the contents of which don’t add up legally or procedurally. These reviews describe things that never could have happened in a case. These reviews lack credibility with any attorney who reads such a review and understands that practice area. However, the review doesn’t necessarily lack credibility in the eyes of an average potential client.

It’s important to take these reviews seriously. 

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a personal injury attorney. You received a call a few months ago from someone who wanted you to take their case. You did a review of the facts and damages over the phone. You concluded that either there wasn’t a case because there wasn’t any fault/there weren’t any damages/the statute of limitations had run out, and so on. You politely tell them you’re sorry, but you can’t take the case.

It’s not uncommon for potential clients in a situation like this to feel as if the rejection were personal. In some cases, these potential clients will lash out.

If you know that this situation could potentially happen, what’s the best way to get in front of it?

When this situation arises, it’s important to spend extra time to explain to a potential client why you can’t take their case. Explain why your hands are tied, and why you’d love to help (but cannot).

It makes sense for the attorney who decided to turn the case down to call the person and talk to them. (This may not make sense if you run a high-volume practice). But that extra few minutes of explanation can save you a lot of reputation management mitigation later on.

What if it’s impossible to reach out to the negative reviewer by phone? 

If this is a situation in which you believe the reviewer is likely someone who talked with you, you can take the same approach in formulating the response. 

Let’s continue on with the personal injury example from above.

You may want to say something like, “Unfortunately, we can’t accept all cases because not all cases are those we can collect on. Ultimately, we don’t want to waste your time, and we have an obligation not to waste the court’s time by taking cases that aren’t going to be productive. While we care about everybody, we have to take a look at the case, and here are the factors that we examine…” 

You can use this online response as an opportunity to not only help the person who wrote the review feel less frustrated but also head off other negative reviews at the same time. 

Let’s say this person reviewed you and rated your firm one out of five stars. 

This is an opportunity. 

Let’s say it’s a one-star review amongst many four- and five-star reviews. To the casual observer, all of those good reviews will likely blend. It’s going to be the bad reviews, the one and two-star reviews, that people are going to read more. If you know you’ll have a captive audience on those lower star reviews, take that as an opportunity to show how much you care; show that these decisions are never easy if you’re turning down cases.

You want to think that through with every type of response.

 Let’s say you’re a criminal defense attorney. Let’s say you get a review that looks like the following:

“Thanks for nothing. I paid thousands of dollars, and I still had to go to jail.”

Responding online can be fairly easy if you know who left you the review. (Take this approach only after you’ve exhausted responding to this person offline.) 

Without revealing specifics, you can note that, under the facts of the case, here’s what a normal charge involves in terms of mandatory minimum jail time; that it’s unrealistic to think that if you’re facing three years in jail, you’ll end up with no jail time when the facts are against you. However, through diligent representation, investigation, and hard work, we were able to try to get the best possible outcome.

Sometimes, the best possible outcome for someone facing a year in jail is ten days in jail. While that’s not pleasant, that’s a win. That person keeps their job and they don’t have to spend all that time in jail. You can explain the process and lengths you go through to make sure your clients get the best possible result.

Most potential clients, especially in areas like criminal defense, are realistic that their outcome may not necessarily be a miracle. But they want to try to mitigate their downside as much as possible. In your review, if you show them what you do to make sure that gets mitigated, that can help.

When you’re formulating responses to negative law firm reviews, every word matters. 

When you’re writing a response to a negative review, it might be plainly obvious to any other attorney that you’ve boxed the reviewer into a factual or legal corner and that you’re in the right. 

But it doesn’t matter if you’re in the right if your average potential client doesn’t understand that. 

In fact, a well thought out response can, in some cases, make you sound condescending, or that you’re gloating, or that you don’t care. Make sure you have a good balance of defending yourself factually and making yourself likable.

Think of it as a marketing opportunity. Before you publish a response to a review, keep in mind:

You’re too close to the problem.

You want to be able to respond objectively. You also want to be able to respond in such a way that, a month from now, when things calm down, you’d still be happy with your response.

Before you publish, have a trusted colleague (or several) review the response and give you candid feedback before you send it. 

If you’re a solo practitioner, reach out to a buddy from the legal community or law school. Find someone who will spend the time to give you honest feedback. Listen to their advice; ask if there’s anything that they see that, through the layman’s lens, would stand out as being problematic. 

Tell your colleague that you want to turn this negative review into a positive one. Ask them for suggestions. You’ll probably get some ideas you haven’t thought of yourself. 

How do I defend against bad law firm reviews from the start?

The best defense against bad reviews is to get plenty of good ones. If you have tons of good reviews, a bad review every once in a while isn’t going to hurt you. 

Unfortunately, attorneys can’t depend on the review sites to remove bogus reviews. Some sites will flag particular reviews if they seem like they might not be real, but they often give the reviewer the benefit of the doubt unless it’s proven to be false. You’ll have an uphill battle trying to get it removed. Usually, it’s better and more time-efficient to focus on getting good reviews and go through the response protocol.

In an upcoming post, we’ll go over what to do if your firm gets a fake review.

Learn more about getting good online reviews for your law firm

Online reputation building is important for law firms. Many potential clients look to online reviews as part of their decision-making process when it comes time to hire an attorney. What potential clients find — or don’t find — about the experience that clients have had with your firm can affect the decision to hire you. To learn more about collecting good online reviews for your law firm, listen to our podcast episode: “Law Firm Reviews & Recommendations That Attract New Clients.