When reading the Google reviews of many law firms it quickly becomes clear that significant numbers are fake and/or malicious. You can quickly tell this by the number of times law firms have to reply that they ‘do not have a record of [the reviewer] ever being a client’’. It is difficult to delete a negative Google review and the tech giant will not remove it simply because it is unfavourable.
Instead, you need to flag that the review is inappropriate or try to persuade the reviewer to delete their comments. Another way to combat negative reviews is to ask existing clients to post positive reviews, something many people find uncomfortable.
To add to the pressure of managing reviews, the Legal Services Board (LSB) is discussing the possibility of forcing law firms to sign up to online review sites.
In a paper on quality indicators, the oversight regulator states:
“Our policy around quality indicators will be a key component of our upcoming statement of policy on consumer engagement. We will expect regulatory bodies to make use of a variety of levers to effect change, including mandatory requirements on providers as required.”
The paper goes on to suggest that if firms do not embrace online review websites fast enough, measures to make sign-up mandatory may be recommended.
The demand for transparency of information available to prospective law firm clients and the accessibility and availability of such information is behind the drive to publish online reviews. It follows on from the recent requirement for law firms to make fees transparent on their websites, in certain specified circumstances.
The LSB’s Quality Indicators in Legal Services report found that:
“Many [people] said that they use reviews routinely for making decisions about products and services across sectors. The majority valued the fact that customer reviews came from ‘everyday people’ like them giving honest views of a provider’s service from experience. Customer reviews, therefore provide a counterpoint to a provider’s ‘sell’. With regards to legal services, they felt that reviews serve a number of purposes:
• They indicate weight and credibility: a company which has reviews has some standing, especially if reviews appear on an independent source (e.g. Trustpilot, Google);
• They enable consumers to weed out poor providers: firms with several bad reviews (or reviews that consistently mention the same shortcoming) can be filtered out;
• They provide an insight into aspects of ‘quality’ that they value, such as customer service (what the provider is like to work with; how they treat you), costs and outcomes.”
According to Legal Futures , other factors considered by the LSB’s report, amongst others, include:
- Regulators can use a variety of measures to bring about change; however, if the voluntary approach does not achieve sufficient uptake, regulatory requirements may be placed on providers.
- The availability of core regulatory information on websites should be increased along with the quality of such information.
- The information available to clients should be put in context, for example, the size of the firm and/or particular practice area to make the data more meaningful.
- Public and provider (of the review site) trust should be promoted through a voluntary accreditation scheme with a code of conduct – this should be operated by regulatory bodies and supported in public legal education.
- Practice areas which could benefit from further transparency should be identified.
Online reviews – a help or a hinderance?
Online reviews of law firms in the past have resulted in defamation claims, the most notorious example being that of Rick Kordowski who ran the Solicitors From Hell website which was closed following action by the Law Society in 2011.
The proposed requirement to sign up to a review website such as Trustpilot or one built specifically for the profession is bound to cause controversy, especially since some law firms do not even have a website as they receive plenty of business from that most old-fashioned of genuine review – word of mouth referrals from happy clients. Furthermore, an increase in regulatory requirements will place an additional administrative burden on law firms that are already struggling to cope with masses of regulatory compliance requirements.
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