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Bad client reviews hurt. They damage your firm’s ability to attract new business. A single bad review that is visible to your potential clients will measurably decrease new business from referred and advertising driven potential clients.

When a bad review is posted about you, whether it’s on Yelp, Avvo, Google or any other site where clients rate attorneys, there is only one good option. Bury that bad review by earning enough legitimate good reviews to negate it, or push it down so far on the list that if and when your potential client sees it, he or she has already read dozens of good reviews about you.

That’s not what a lot of lawyers do though. Many turn to sleazy SEO and reputation management companies who don’t understand your practice or the rules of legal ethics. They don’t understand or care that their actions may get you in hot water with your state bar, and they get paid either way.

Online reputation management is a big business with huge implications for lawyers. Suppose an SEO company posts a fake Yelp review for a restaurant. Ok, so that may not look great for the owners of the restaurant who hired the SEO company, but it’s probably not fatal to that business. Now picture what will happen if you, a lawyer, hire that same sleazy SEO company and they post a fake review. And they get caught.

Here’s what happened with several reputation management companies in New York.

If you’re a lawyer thinking about engaging a company like this, understand first that what these types of companies do is very transparent. You probably won’t be able to claim that you acted in good faith in hiring them, and that you were unaware that the positive fake reviews were, in fact fake. The reputation management company may get out of it with a fine and agreement to quit it, but you’re a lawyer and you’re held to a higher standard.

It is fraud. It is deception. It is certainly in violation of the rules of professional conduct.

If you’re tempted by a company’s promise that it’s all done off-shore, the IP addresses are masked, and there’s no way it will get traced back to you… well then, you probably aren’t much of a lawyer anyways. There is no benefit, no discount, no promise that could or would ever make engaging in online reputation management involving the practice of posting fake reviews worth it. Not to a competent, self-respecting lawyer.