BEST RESPONSE TO AN ONLINE REVIEW
In managing my client’s online reputations, social media and online marketing, I am often presented with the question of how my clients should respond to negative reviews or comments on social media platforms.
With most clients, the recommendation for the response usually depends on the comment and the situation, sometimes recommending no response (in an effort to not provide more visibility to the review) or a tempered, professional, unemotional response (depending on the comment and the severity of potential damage.) In some situations, if I feel there may be a marketing benefit to the client, I may suggest the response include facts of relevance about the situation or dispute.
Since a business’ reputation is perhaps their most valuable commodity, I have found, however, that when crafting a response, many clients understandably are very emotional and upset about these negative reviews and a tailored response by someone outside of the immediate criticism like my firm, can be the most effective strategy for handling this situation.
The response to negative reviews becomes more important if the client is a lawyer or a law firm, since professionalism is not the only risk at play. Crafting a response to a negative review of a lawyer or law firm by a current or former client, one must ensure that nothing in the response violates the code of ethics or professional responsibility, including releasing any private or confidential information about the representation in the response
As with any business, attorneys/law firms have a knee jerk reaction to respond by stating “what really happened.” In doing so, however, the attorney could run afoul of the Code of Professional Responsibility or Code of Ethics by revealing confidential details about the client and the matter.
The American Bar Association recently addressed this issue and offered some guidelines regarding attorney response to negative online criticism. In their January 13, 2021 formal opinion “Responding to Online Criticism” the opinion discussed the ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6, which “prohibits a lawyer’s voluntary disclosure of any information that relates to a client’s representation, whatever its source, without the client’s informed consent, implied authorization to disclose, or application of an exception to the general rule.”
Attorneys who practice in California are similarly bound by the California Rules of Professional Conduct – which includes a duty of loyalty and confidentiality. This can encompasses any communication and information that the attorney acquires in connection with the representation.
The ABA opinion confirms the advice I have been providing for years to my attorney and law firm clients. I offer a few more options than 3, but you get the gist. The ABA opinon recommends that attorneys should respond in one of three ways to a negative review of a prior or current client:
- As difficult as it may be, the best response may be no response at all. Not only does the attorney risk of a claim that confidential information has been released, it also limits additional attention to the negative review. In time (if coordinated effort with a highly trained SEO firm) this negative review will most likely seep down to the depths of the internet abyss and be unseen
- Another approach suggested by the ABA is to provide a blanket statement which specifies that confidentiality restricts any response to the negative review due to the rules of professional conduct
- The final option, could be to request the comment be removed from the search engine
The ABA opinion goes on to remind attorneys that negative reviews on social media do not rise to the level of a “dispute” as it would in malpractice claims or fee disputes and which an exemption may be allowed for the release of confidential client communications or information to defend himself/herself from a malpractice claim or fee.
Nothing in the ABA opinion recommends that an attorney provide an actual response to the allegations by attempting to disprove or argue with the facts of the review.
If you are encountering a negative review and would like to discuss options on how best to respond or actions you can take to mitigate the visibility of the negative review, please feel free to contact my our online reputation management expert.