Reviews are Extremely Important – But Don’t Forget, They Must be Ethical Reviews
I can always tell the next trend in law firm marketing by the phone calls and emails I receive from salespeople. Fortunately, I always seem to be ahead of the trend, so I am never surprised when the calls start. But sometimes, the people calling have useful tools that will help me make my life easier. A current trend marketers are focusing on involves online reviews.
Online Reviews are Important
Online reviews are very important. People go to the web to find as much information as possible about a product, company or law firm before they make a decision. Good reviews make an informed decision easier. Everything I have read supports the concept that people are more likely to hire a firm that has good reviews. You only need to look at the success of eBay to see the import of reviews online.
Finding the right lawyer is extremely difficult. So it makes sense that someone would prefer to hire a lawyer or firm with good reviews than one with no or bad reviews. Avvo exists for this reason, after all. Adding in Yelp, Google+, and other popular sites can only help people seeking to make the right choice in legal representation.
Getting Reviews is Hard
Since I have just started focusing my attention on reviews, you won’t see many for my firm at the moment. I have plenty of very good reviews that I can put on my firm’s site, but actually getting people to take the time to log in to Yelp, or create a Google+ account, frankly, isn’t easy. So I have been giving it a lot of thought, and have seen some success. But I have been looking for ways to get reviews on more sites and manage the process. As a result, when I got an email from a company offering just this service, I was intrigued.
In an initial conversation, I learned that the company offers a portal. You send the client to the portal, he writes the review, and then he can choose to share it on up to three sites at a time. Some sites allow for anonymous reviews, some sites the person has to have a username.
I like this idea, because it is a lot to ask a client to log in to Google+ to write a review, then log in to Yelp to write a review, and so on. Many of our clients are extremely happy and are therefore willing to do this for us, but even so, I hate to ask, and I want to make the process as easy as possible. So I decided I would give the company a chance and chat with one of the salespeople.
Many Marketers Don’t Know Ethics
The fact that I am not only an attorney, but one who is known to be “overly ethical” (if such a thing is possible) is one of the reasons my lawyer clients like me. The reality is, most marketers don’t appreciate or understand attorney ethics. And, unfortunately, there is a lot of unethical online marketing behavior going on out there. Not because the law firms mean to be unethical, but because they are relying on their consultants or marketing companies. This is a very serious mistake. Unfortunately, it seems the issue of ethical reviews is not one that all marketers understand.
When I spoke with the review company I was informed that they tell lawyers to offer a discount on the bill or a gift card in exchange for the review. I said you cannot do that if you are a law firm. And you also have some FTC issues as well. The person insisted that other law firms used the product and that everything was ok. I said (and I mean no offense to anyone) that a lot of lawyers do not know the marketing rules for lawyers. The rules are complicated, they vary by state, and they can be confusing. Lawyers want to practice law. They want their consultants to know the rules. The salesperson was shocked I so viscerally reacted to his suggestion, but quickly told me that this method was not required, we could skip gift cards and discounts. I said good to know, otherwise I cannot use your service, the reviews would not be ethical.
I Checked with the Pennsylvania Bar Association Ethics Hotline
The sales person was so convinced that everything he was doing was ok, and that it must just be Pennsylvania, that I found myself wondering if I was being overly ethical. I didn’t think so. I, as you know, speak on marketing and ethics, and I always say, don’t ever pay anyone for an opinion. We cannot do this. But I wondered, have I been wrong all this time? I decided it would be best to check.
I emailed Victoria White at the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Victoria is an ethics attorney and is part of the ethics service that PBA provides for members. Sure enough, Victoria was concerned about the whole concept of paying someone for a testimonial. She was also concerned about the honesty of the reviews. I am concerned about that as well.
FTC Requirements Implicated Too
We aren’t only looking at ethical rules here, we have some FTC requirements at issue. If you provide someone something of value to review your product, the review must reveal that.
Reviews are Important – But Don’t Get Tripped Up
In most states (I would say all states but I haven’t checked) lawyers may not pay for testimonials. This is something I see as very straightforward. And a gift card or discount on past fees in exchange for a review, is payment for a testimonial. Therefore I will not do or allow such a thing to be done on my behalf or on the behalf of any firm with which I work.
Yes, reviews are important. Yes, reviews are hard to get. But please, be careful. Make sure you appreciate the rules (and the laws) and don’t just listen to what the marketing company tells you is ok. As attorneys, we are responsible for our marketing. We cannot rely on the opinions of non-attorneys to tell us what is and is not ok. Please seek out reviews, but don’t compromise your ethics or the laws in your efforts to do so.