In today’s online-centric world, lawyers often get just one click and one page of search engine results to make their cases to prospective clients. It’s the first and maybe only opportunity to showcase their credibility to clients in an increasingly competitive market.
As a result, online reputation management is a vital part of any business strategy for attorneys. In dealing with just about any legal matter, clients face highly impactful and emotionally charged issues with a wide range of potential outcomes, so they’re particularly diligent about using information they find online to select an attorney worthy of their trust, time and money.
Research from iLawyerMarketing shows that 98% of potential clients look at online reviews before making a hiring decision, with Google being the main source. Previous iLawyerMarketing research also found that potential clients are willing to travel further to meet with an attorney at his or her office if their reviews are higher than other attorneys located closer.
The best defense against unwanted online content is a strategic offense. There are three simple steps that any attorney can take today toward strengthening his or her online reputation.
You may have already Googled your own name or your firm’s name—just as clients do on a daily basis. When reviewing your Google search results, pay special attention to the contents of the first couple of pages, and don’t sweat most of the rest. Recent data shows that most people stay on the first page of Google search results and 75% click on the first one or two results, while only 7% browse past the first page. When you control the real estate at the top of your search results, you effectively control the first impression you’re making to virtually all of your personal and professional associates. Your goal should be to populate the top pages of Google with positive, objective and truthful content that reflects you accurately.
Lawyers can make it easier to monitor their current online reputations by subscribing to Google Alerts for their own names and their firm’s names. This will notify them promptly via email when new online content is posted about them. Additionally, our company provides a free Reputation Report Card to allow users to evaluate their positive and negative search results and estimate the overall impact on their online reputations.
One bad review can have long-term ramifications. For attorneys in particular, there are many profession-specific review sites, and lawyers must regularly monitor the content on these sources if they want to maintain positive online reputations.
Well-known attorney review sites include Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com. Most allow attorneys to claim their own profiles and add content to help demonstrate their expertise and practice focus areas. Joining a review website can also add balance to help offset the impact of negative reviews, should they appear.
Once you have claimed your profile, encouraging clients to leave reviews is a small step that can yield big returns over time. It’s not as common for clients to leave reviews on their own in the same way they might naturally do for businesses in other fields, such as hospitality. Satisfied clients might need a little extra nudge to review your work online, and you can subscribe to a number of different online software services that simplify and optimize this process.
These online reviews typically include star ratings, which provide a quick and quantifiable way for potential clients to gauge your reputation. When possible, you should encourage all clients to share their feedback and reviews because this will improve your average star ratings over time by offsetting the few negative ones. Similarly, you can use Net Promoter surveys to understand, quantify and improve your clients’ experience, which will lead to more repeat business and referrals in the long run.
According to a BrightLocal survey, over 70% of clients have written a review for a local business. Unless the experience was expressly negative, many clients are likely to leave reviews that lean toward the positive. It is best to send a personalized note asking for their honest feedback that includes an easy link to your firm’s review profile pages, strategically highlighting the ones you’d like to boost the most.
Negative reviews are inevitable, especially if a case is lost or an undesired outcome occurs, which is often outside of a lawyer’s control. In other professions, we typically advise business owners to respond promptly, briefly and courteously to all reviews and attempt to shift any complex back-and-forth discussions offline. This shows current and prospective clients that you are responsive and take all concerns seriously.
For lawyers, the guidelines for handling negative reviews are more nuanced due to the special ethical requirement to maintain client confidentiality. Lawyers can reference the ABA’s recently published Formal Opinion 496 on this topic, “Responding to Online Criticism.” The opinion suggests ignoring negative reviews altogether because any response poses an inherent risk of disclosing a client relationship or other confidential details. But the opinion also leaves the door open for lawyers to respond, stating, “Lawyers who choose to respond online must not disclose information that relates to a client matter, or that could reasonably lead to the discovery of confidential information by another, in the response. Lawyers may post an invitation to contact the lawyer privately to resolve the matter.”
To stand out on page one, a professional website that highlights one’s legal specialties is key. In addition to creating their own professional websites, lawyers can contribute regularly to other legal industry blogs to help grow their online presence. A blog or website can become a go-to resource and helps cultivate an image of authority for lawyers in their fields. Content should include bylined articles, op-eds, brief commentary on relevant industry trends and links to recent online and/or broadcast interviews where an individual has been featured.
Thoughtful content can also directly fuel lead generation. According to research by marketing firm Impact, B2C companies such as law firms that maintain a blog generate almost 90% more leads than competing firms without blogs. Additionally, lawyers should consider posting links to content they’ve authored on their social media channels. This can help generate more website traffic and strengthen their search results.
It is also important to note that attorneys’ branding, messaging and image must be consistent from one online platform to the next to ensure they appear credible, dependable and worthy of prospective clients’ trust.
The internet is a courtroom of a completely different kind, where very few rules exist and lawyers are often the ones being judged. And just as in a courtroom, preparing for the case in a thoughtful and deliberate manner leads to better outcomes. The more focus you put into shining a spotlight on your core values, areas of expertise and accomplishments, the more comfortable clients will feel seeking your counsel during a time in their lives that is often filled with doubt and uncertainty.
Rich Matta is a data privacy advocate and chief executive officer of ReputationDefender, a global digital privacy and online reputation management firm. He regularly consults with high-profile individuals, executives, public figures and businesses to build positive online reputations and suppress unwelcome and defamatory information online. Lawyers interested in finding more free resources, the latest online trends and strategies for tackling online reputation management on their own can visit ReputationDefender’s resource blog.
Mind Your Business is a series of columns written by lawyers, legal professionals and others within the legal industry. The purpose of these columns is to offer practical guidance for attorneys on how to run their practices, provide information about the latest trends in legal technology, and how it can help lawyers work more efficiently, and strategies for building a thriving business.