Management Assistance Program

Ethically Dealing with Negative Online Attorney Reviews

By Jim Calloway

Suppose you are on a long-distance road trip and decide it is time for a nice sit-down meal for a break. You exit from the interstate, and then search your phone for dining locations. You locate several that are relatively close to you and read the reviews. One has a low 2-star rating and several negative comments. One has a higher rating, but several recent reviews mention food poisoning and the restaurant has not responded to any of them. Mentally those get crossed off the list. You sort through the four-star reviews and find a good choice. The locals may agree that the best option isn’t even considered by you because they do not have a website and have no reviews and little web presence.

This is how business marketing works today. Some may believe this may be fine for restaurants, but no one would shop for a lawyer by reading online reviews. That opinion is incorrect. People shop for everything online and reviews are often a crucial part of decision making.

Like it or not, reviews are some of the most-referenced marketing materials online. The most important thing for a lawyer dealing with a negative online review is to not exacerbate the situation by creating an ethical violation in your response. It is often challenging to get fake reviews removed and almost impossible to get ones from actual clients and customers removed. Mark C. Palmer has served as Chief Counsel of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism since 2015. His detailed post Ethically Dealing with Negative Online Attorney Reviews serves as a great guide for formulating a plan for responsive action. Replying to the post immediately is what lawyers want to do. But this action ranks low on the response plan and, if the review is from a client, responses can violate the client’s confidentiality. Follow Mark’s guidance instead.