Host Sean Harris talks with Jordan Schuetzle and Mike Brown from FindLaw about online reviews and maintaining a positive online reputation.

Sean: Hello, I’m your host Sean Harris and this is episode 38 of Civilly Speaking brought to you by the Ohio Association for Justice. Today is August 23rd, 2018. I’m here with our guest Jordan Schuetzle and Mike Brown from FindLaw and our topic today is online reviews and your reputation. Jordan and Mike, thanks very much for joining us here on Civilly Speaking.

Mike: Thanks for having us Sean.

Jordan: It’s our pleasure.

Sean: So obviously in the past, in the kind of pre-internet days as a lawyer, your reputation was really controlled and defined by the quality of your work, right? You did a good job, and clients were happy with the service they received, but that’s not the world we live in today. Talk to us about legal consumers when they’re looking at online reviews and recommendations from complete strangers.

Jordan: I think you’re absolutely right with that lead in. The world is definitely different, but I also think there’s some similarities. The work was defined by the quality and the performance of the attorney, but people were really having those conversations offline. It was over coffee in the morning, it was hey I need an attorney and then they would tell a story about how this person helped them many years ago and it was a positive experience. I think the world we are in today, that cycle is much quicker. It’s happening nearly instantaneously and instead of those one on one conversations, it’s one to many. When someone is receiving some sort of legal service and then they’re asked or maybe on their own accord they’re going out and telling the world about what it was like and that can be a scary proposition for lawyers. I was in that world. I’ve got some reviews out there back when I was practicing law and you can’t control them and that’s kind of the reality of the world we live in today, but I think what FindLaw’s done is we’ve researched this now for a couple of years and we’re trying to provide guidance to our customers and our partners to say this is really how you navigate this world.

Mike: If I could add to that Sean.

Sean: Yes please.

Mike: I think one of the important things that I think attorneys need to understand is that by the time somebody gets to your office, they’ve already decided to hire you. What happens is, the decision to hire an attorney isn’t being made in the office anymore, it’s being made out online where the consumer is and they need to make sure they understand that. They need to look as good online as they do offline and that’s where all this stuff about recommendations and reviews and social media, all that stuff comes into play because the conversation is now being out online, not in your office.

Sean: So, who are these folks that are leaving reviews? I mean are they prior clients? Do they know what they’re talking about?

Jordan: I’ve seen a lot of examples and it’s all over the board. I think the majority are certainly past clients like you alluded to. There’s a mix. Some of those are past clients of negative experiences, some are those with positive experiences and that all depends on what their motivation was for leaving that review, but I’m also seeing some reviews and we’ve got some almost funny versions or copies of this with people who really haven’t even hired the lawyer. Maybe they called and then they were upset because they never got a call back and they’re jumping to some conclusion to why they weren’t called back. There’s even a couple of funny ones out there where it’s entirely complete strangers and there’s one that I talked about where the pizza delivery person who just left a bad review because the law firm never tipps and you think about that, it has nothing to do with the quality of your work at all. You as an attorney probably weren’t even involved in that tipping decision, but because somebody in your office was not doing that, now all the sudden you have a one star rating out there, but by in large the majority are coming from clients and attorneys who are doing this well are reaching out to those clients who they think they’ve had a positive experience with and asking them and requesting those reviews so that if you do get that one star review from a pizza delivery person that, that is actually offset by twenty five star reviews.

Mike: The other part of that point to is if you don’t take reviews into your own hand then you’re leaving it to the people, the people that tend to leave reviews are a lot of times people who had a bad experience and if you’re more proactive on seeking reviews, you get your cheerleaders out there that are speaking up for you.

Jordan: Yes, Mike I think that’s the exact equation that an attorney should adopt. You need to ask or you will not end up motivating, people will not be self-motivated enough to leave those positive reviews so you really need to sort of embrace that online reputation management. I think it’s also fair, I’ll throw this out there, it’s certainly fair that some people who are leaving reviews have never even met you. They haven’t delivered a pizza, they just don’t like you, but you may have represented the business that terminated them or you may have been their spouses divorce attorney and they’re out to get some sort of vengeance against you. Certainly, to if you look at the rise of social media, the most recent one was the so-called racist attorney in New York. Certainly said some horrible things, and what ended up happening then the world, not just his local populace, but the world sort of out lashed against him and all the sudden just talked about what a horrible person this is and his online reputation was destroyed over night because of that.

Mike: I have a probate client down in Indiana that in somebody’s will, an older woman that passed away she asked that her dog be cremated, be euthanized in her will. The problem was the dog was a vicious dog and would only respond to her and she was only thinking about other people. It caused a fire storm and there were thousands of people that were speaking out against this law firm that represented her estate. You never know what will touch off the crowd.

Sean: Talk to us about when it comes to hiring lawyers and what legal consumers who are looking to hire a lawyer, what they’re looking for, I mean everybody loves to tout awards and achievements and trying to tell everybody they’re the best lawyer out there, but is that what legal consumers necessarily want?

Jordan: We survey this every year. FindLaw does an annual consumer legal need survey and we try to assess and pretty consistently over the last it’s been steadily increasing if you think about it in a percentage terms, but reputation and reviews from former clients is always at the top. Things like cost are at the top, the attorneys, just their general broad perceptions so things kind of lumped together, but the awards, where you went to school, all that stuff is at the bottom of the list. We usually survey about fourteen things and those are usually in the bottom four so what interests me and why I really enjoy conducting and reviewing the results of that survey is to see what the consumers are basing their decisions off of and we know consistently in this survey, plus others that we’ve done directed at understanding ratings and reviews that these notions of reviews or ratings is consistently at the top. I think in one survey it was like the second biggest criteria that they would rely on. In another sixty-eight percent of all consumer clients said that reviews of former clients was the number one criteria and an interesting thing to that too is consumers are able tell and they see value in some sort of system that says yes, I can confirm that this person was a client. They don’t trust random reviews you know from obscure sites nearly as much, those are also at the bottom, they don’t trust them nearly as much as verified reviews from clients and I think it speaks to what people are interested in. They want to hear from other people. They don’t necessarily care what you have to say about yourself as a lawyer, they don’t care where you went to school. They want to know what it’s like working with you and they want to hear that from somebody who’s actually done that. If somebodies not getting paid or you know or not incentivized to say good things, like real raw, rough feedback about what it is like and that’s resonating and we are seeing it in conversion within FindLaw clients.

Mike: I would also add to that, that people want to connect with the attorney they are going to hire, they want to connect on a deeper level than just how many years you’ve been practicing or where you went to law school and that’s the kind of information that people are looking for when they’re going to connect with you. Think match.com or you want to put enough information out there, whether it’s in your bio or on your social media or on third party validations, they want enough information that they can connect with you on a deeper level.

Jordan: They’re not just necessarily just looking for the best attorney, like they’re not saying I want the person who everybody is saying is number one, but they’re looking for the best fit for them so they’re evaluating on a bunch of criteria and just saying is this the right person for me and one thing to that point to is, it’s not necessarily as important, you know if you have a negative review it’s not going to kill your reputation because what we’ve seen and what consumers are telling us, even if there is a negative review, they’re going to look to see how that attorney is responding and they’re going to see like okay there was an issue, we get it. Not everyone is going to win their case or sometimes there’s going to be billing discrepancies, but how did that attorney address it? You know I think as lawyers we have to understand the power dynamic and the vulnerability of clients that are coming to us and so they’re just looking to say hey if I end up having a dispute is this person going to listen to me or are they going to advocate for me or are they also going to become my enemy and that really comes out in the way that attorneys are responding to negative reviews which is such an important part of this whole equation.

Sean: Well and that’s a good point because I had always kind of had it in my head that gosh, you get a negative review, it’s already out there, the damage has been done and while you can try and explain or deal with it, the fact that it’s there is the problem, but it sounds like what you’re saying that the way that the attorney responds matters.

Jordan: Absolutely and consumers are telling us this to seventy-three percent said that responses from a law firm are useful in their overall purchasing decision and then seventy eight percent said that they thought it showed that the law firm cared about the client and that notion of caring consistently pops up in word clouds about what clients are looking for in attorneys as well.

Mike: I’ll add this to Sean. I tell this to attorneys all the time and I’m very passionate about this. It’s not that you have a negative review, that is not the problem. The problem is that you haven’t asked for or received any positive reviews. Everybody has a bad day. In fact, one negative review tends to make all the positive reviews legitimate. So, you need to seek the positive reviews. One bad review, everybody has a bad day and often times a negative review is about a topic that doesn’t even matter to me. It just matters to that person. So anyway, it’s not one negative review or even two. Where are your cheerleaders? Everybody needs there cheerleaders out there pulling for them.

Jordan: We did AB testing with two hundred fifty consumers and we put virtually identical law firm profiles in front of them and the vast majority chose the firm that had a four-point nine-star rating over the firm that had a five-star rating and then in follow up questions it consistently was it felt more authentic. It didn’t seem real, it was fake for someone to have a full five star so Mike your point is absolutely resonating with me. One negative review is not going to hurt you, in fact it will probably help.

Sean: Yes, I’m just thinking of when I go shopping on Amazon there’s always one or two reviews that’s a low rating and those are, when you see those as outliers, they’re easily dismissed.

Jordan: There’s a vast majority or a big chunk of consumers who that, that’s all they read. They skip over all the positive and they want to go to those negative reviews to see what it was like. Like what didn’t this person like about that product and I think the same thing resonates here. How did that attorney react to a potential negative issue?

Sean: I hear what you’re saying and that is that attorneys should be what, asking for more reviews it sounds like.

Jordan: One of the top things I could recommend, you know, it’s difficult for me to say this because of course our company sells a bunch of digital marketing products, but if I was still in private practice this is one of the things I would be focusing on above anything else is just building that online reputation.

Mike: It’s absolutely critical and you need to ask for reviews and I’ve talked to attorneys over and over and I said that you need to incorporate asking for review in the closing of your engagements with your client. Thank you for allowing us to help you with your legal matter, we appreciate it, our business relies on referrals and reviews from good clients help that process. If you wouldn’t mind leaving us a review we would really appreciate it. Have that conversation. You know, I think lawyers feel funny about it because in the past lawyers felt like if they did their job and you paid their bill that was a review, but today that’s not true anymore. You have to have people speak about their experience and I also tell them you don’t need specifics, you don’t want any specifics about your case. You just want a review on how they felt you handled them as a client and how you communicated with them and how you helped them through the process. When consumers have a legal problem, they become a new legal consumer, but they don’t become new consumers and they’re using different decision-making processes that they do when they’re buying a tv or a computer or a phone they use that same process and this is why reviews are such an important part of the closing process when a lawyer is closing an engagement. They have to ask for these Sean.

Jordan: And what Mike is talking about really starts the process that primes the pump. I mean the more reviews you ask for obviously the more reviews you’re going to get. We know that fifty-seven percent of people who are asked to leave a review, do leave a review and of those about eighty-one percent of those end up being positive reviews and positive is really in this sentiment like a five star like you can get a three and a four and that’s still very valuable, but the whole thing starts with you asking for it and whether you care about that individual consumers decision making point, I think there’s a lot to be said about the SEO benefit of reviews. I think if you went out and Goggled your name, did a Bing search, whatever you choose and you just start seeing what pops up you’ll start to see these little yellow starts in the search result page and if you look at heat maps of consumer behaviors they may skip over the top five six lawyers that pop up in a search result and go straight to that person whose got those bright yellow stars and we also know scientifically that reduce signals like how often those are coming in, the velocity at which they are coming in, the length, the pure volume, the digital marketing experts believe that that could make up to about ten percent of the entire equation as to where Google is going to place your firm or your law firm profile into those search result pages and so if you don’t care about that individual sentiment, this is just a really good thing you can do to just boost your overall search visibility.

Mike: I think another important aspect of what Jordan is talking about as well is a lot of times today when you buy something or go to a restaurant, on a receipt, they’ll ask if you’ll call this eight hundred number and take a short survey, you know they’d appreciate it. Surveying your clients is a great way to get feedback from them and a great way to see how you’re doing. Do a survey with your clients and hear, get some feedback and then ask for the review as well. That’s another way to possibly garner the reviews from the people that you’re working with.

Sean: And I wonder, you know it’s one thing to ask for a review, it’s another thing to in an ethical way try and guide or help them or I mean I guess I would be a little bit afraid if you just said give me a review without obviously you don’t want to write it for them that’s not what I’m suggesting, but are there ways to talk with clients to help them understand what’s important and what to highlight?

Jordan: I think Mike touched on one thing originally there where he said you don’t have to talk about the specifics, just talk about what it was like working with me. You don’t need to talk about your divorce or you know your bankruptcy or your embarrassing criminal charge and I think that speaks to how the lawyer should really approach it. The lawyer needs to be very personal on how they ask for these reviews. Perhaps reflect on something that worked really well. Time it at the right moment so that you know their settled or received the verdict in your favor or whatever it may be. Sean you raised a good point, there’s ethical implication. Some states prohibit you from soliciting you know recommendations and you have to be careful about that. As long as we are talking about ethics of course lawyers have to remind themselves if they are going to respond to a review that they need to not reveal attorney client privilege and then one thing to is you know I think I’d suggest lawyers consider who their seeking a review from and try to match it to where that review might be the most impactful and so you know if you got a bunch of young clients and that review, the way they write it  may come across as, perhaps immature, maybe more casual maybe those reviews are going to work well for Facebook, but if you’re doing a lot of business or you’re working with a sophisticated perhaps older individual, sometimes those reviews match up better with a website like Yelp.   You just have to think about how you know you want that brand image to come across, what they may say about you and spread them across the web and wherever you think your getting your clients from so that no matter where they find you they see that others have had a positive experience working with your firm. There’s a lot of worries about you know, mitigating the negatives and you know what do I do when I get that negative review and I think we’ve talked about that fairly significantly here today, but you know I think we should also talk about accentuating the positives. So, if someone does give you a positive review or they just say something nice. They send you a letter or a little note saying hey we really enjoyed working with you, I would try to convert that into additional pr. If someone leaves a review on Yelp you can retweet that so now all the sudden your Twitter following page sees hey this person is consistently and continuously giving great service and people who follow your Twitter page probably had some interaction with you in the past, but they’re going to be reminded and they’re going to think of you now when it comes to referrals. If someone does send you a letter ask them if you can share it on Facebook or as Mike kind of suggested take a positive degree of feedback that you get from serving your client’s and say hey can you please leave a review. Would you be willing to tell others about that positive experience? I think we are so focused on the negative we also lose track of the benefits of sharing that good news.

Mike: I’ve got a client that will share a good review on their Facebook page. They’ll screen shot the Google business page review they got and thank the person publicly on their Facebook page. I will have attorneys that will say you know, where do I even start? I’ll say how many thank you notes do you have sitting in your drawer that you’ve gotten in the past several years from clients and all of them have gotten numerous thank you notes from clients and I said that’s a great place to start. Call the people that sent you those thank you notes and ask if they wouldn’t mind leaving a similar sentiment on either the Facebook page or the Google business page or some of the properties that are out there that allow you to leave a review. It’s perfectly legitimate to ask them to do that and they’re willing to do it. They’re very willing to do it and you can even ask friends that you’ve done legal services for in the past. Everybody’s worked or done some legal services for friends and helped friends out. Sometimes it’s time to call in the marker.

Jordan: I think one thing I should probably bring up too, because this consistently I guess causes trouble for lawyers and there’s quite a few fun examples out there, but lawyers end up getting themselves into trouble when they try to get defensive in their response to negative reviews so I think we’ve kind of come up with five tips to remember before you respond to a negative review and first off you have to stay calm. Just wait, attorney’s I get it they can be sensitive. No one should be able to tell me I’m doing something wrong, they don’t understand it, they don’t understand what it’s like. We need to stop, stay calm and then stop and asses the issue. What are they really trying to get at? Are they worried about what this means for their ability to pay bills and they’re taking it out on me? Are they upset because there was a, I overcharged them or are they just simply upset because we lost, but once you understand really why they’re upset then you can effectively respond and I think it’s important to really try to put yourself in their shoes. Number three would be to be empathetic and try not to state excuses for why you perhaps didn’t serve them the way wanted and then when you do respond I think it’s good to just be very succinct. Try to keep it to a paragraph, no more. We always suggest you avoid getting into back and fourths arguments. So, leave one response and if they reply there after just let it drop, but then the biggest thing that can come from out digital marketing experiences, is really you end up writing for the next reader and we talked about that earlier in the podcast. It’s the person who is going to jump and read that negative review and see how do you respond. That’s who your audience is. Your probably not going to win over that person you’ve already upset, but if you think about what that next person wants to read while still remembering that you are responding and you are being empathetic to that original writer, I think you’re going to be successful in converting the next readers as clients even though that previous client had a negative experience.

Mike: I agree one hundred percent with what Jordan just said. When I have seen negative reviews, I am so impressed with the response of the company with what they’ve responded to that it actually mitigates the negative review and I think it’s very important for the firms to be proactive, but again as Jordan said you can’t breach attorney client privilege, but ask them to contact the office. Tell them you’re sorry they felt that way, we’d like you to contact the office to make this right, right? I’ve seen where people have recanted negative reviews because the law firm was able to address the issue that the person had. I think it’s also critically important Sean that attorneys monitor their reputation. They need to be vigilant and monitor what’s being said about them online. You can set up a Goggle alert when anything about your firm or you the attorney is being said online. You can set up an alert and it will come right to your email box, but the other thing is just to do a search for yourself and look at everything. A lot of people won’t do it because they don’t want to see what’s out there, but I think if you know what’s out there and you respond appropriately, you’re going to be way ahead of the game and you are controlling your brand and your reputation.

Sean: Well Jordan and Mike thanks very much. This is fascinating debate and obviously an ever evolving and ever-changing issue for attorneys to keep on top of.

Jordan and Mike: Thanks for the opportunity, we really appreciate it.

Sean: And to all our listeners out there if you like our show and want to learn more about it check out civillyspeaking.com and please leave us a review on iTunes. See you all on the next episode of Civilly Speaking.