Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 55 seconds

Criticism can be difficult to swallow, especially when it demeans a person or the services they provided to a client or customer. However, receiving negative feedback online doesn’t spell the end of your professional career, says Josh King, Vice President of Business Development and General Counsel of Avvo, an online legal repository.

Still, there are things an attorney can and should do to lessen the sting of a negative review posted on the Internet. King offered several suggestions on how to respond appropriately in a recent webinar he hosted titled ‘Someone Online Hates You: Ethical Responses to Negative Feedback Online.’

Post, Post and Then Post Some More

First and foremost, a lawyer who wishes for his or her practice to be taken seriously should have a website, King says. A website introduces the lawyer to potential clients, allowing them to learn about the attorney and his or her law practice prior to investing time and money meeting the lawyer personally. A compelling, attractive website should also highlight a lawyer’s legal experience and perhaps even educate site visitors with a legal blog.

While a website is one way a lawyer becomes vulnerable to the possibility someone will post negative comments about the attorney and their level of service, it can also serve as a venue to counteract potentially damning comments. For example, says King, it is perfectly ethical for a lawyer to ask clients to post reviews on the lawyer’s website.

He says a great time to request that feedback is when the lawyer sends the file closing letter to the client. However, it is not proper for the lawyer to write the review and then ask a client to claim it as their own. Having positive reviews and comments about you on your website or online, in general, is an excellent way to offset the potential damage negative comments could cause. That’s because “it will build up (your reputation) against the inevitable negative review. It’s important to make it part of your flow,” King says.

One frowned-upon practice is for an attorney to anonymously write and post a review of his or her services online. “Writing your own review is known as ‘astroturfing’ (because it is fake). It is a known problem within online forums that are relatively open. Steer clear of that,” cautions King.

“You are never as anonymous online as you think you are,” King cautions. The more positive information posted online about a lawyer, the more likely a negative review won’t have much impact on their bottom line. Even lawyers who don’t maintain a website or minimize their interaction with the World Wide Web are impacted by the onset of technology.

“There is a lot of information about you posted online. You can’t hide anymore. You are doing yourself a disservice if you try to hide online,” King says.

Pause Before Hitting ‘Send’

Despite popular belief, lawyers are people too, with feelings and emotions just like anyone else. King cautions attorneys to use their smarts after reading a negative review someone posted online. “Always think twice before hitting ‘send’” if a derogatory post about you online leads you to pen an equally negative or sarcastic retort to the initial comment, King says.

While striking back might seem like the most natural response to negative criticism, it’s not necessarily the smartest move. Instead, King offers a few other suggestions. They include:

  • Responding briefly with a note apologizing for an oversights that might have occurred while encouraging a dialogue with the poster to resolve their complaints. Do not criticize nor condescend the initial poster and be wary of revealing confidential client information.
  • If the poster’s name or contact information is not included in their negative review, do some sleuthing online to try to figure out who actually posted the comments. While it’s not automatic that the poster can be identified, the forum sponsoring the blog can obtain the site’s metadata. Expertise and luck can play a role in identifying otherwise anonymous poster.
  • Ensuring your law firm’s web site includes positive client testimonials or feedback, so potential clients can read offsetting reviews.
  • Litigating, although this option is risky and potentially costly.

It’s also a great idea to monitor your online reputation, which is easy to do. While there are proprietary platforms typically offered by reputation management firms, anyone can monitor their online reputation themselves. “The only technology you need is Google. Just Google yourself – your name, plus your city and maybe the word ‘attorney’ every month or so,” says King. “Make it your business to improve and expand your online presence.”

Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer. 

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