Almost every attorney has experienced a client with unreasonable expectations or one who has terminated the representation for no apparent reason. However, in the digital age when clients are only a few clicks away from anonymously venting their anger and airing grievances in real-time on bios and social media sites, attorneys must be alert about monitoring their reputation. We no longer live in an era where word-of-mouth referrals and advertisements in the telephone book are the only means of generating business. Therefore, attorneys should be more aware and cautious regarding their online reviews. Whether or not you engage in social media, clients can freely post statements about the quality of the legal services rendered and your performance.
If the client decides to publish confidential information related to the representation publicly, the attorney may not reveal similar material unless the client gives informed consent. The Bar Association of San Francisco has stated that while an attorney is not ethically barred from vaguely responding to a negative online review, the duty of confidentiality would prohibit disclosing any confidential information. Texas State Bar Opinion 662 (2016) advised that a lawyer may not publish a response to a former client's negative review on the internet if it reveals any confidential information. The opinion further explained that the lawyer may post a proportional and restrained response that does not disclose any confidential information or otherwise violate the rules of ethics.
Here are the best practice for dealing with a negative online review:
- Don't respond at all. While it may be a difficult decision, you may determine that it is best to remain silent. If the negative review is irrational or nonsensical on its face, it may have no impact on your profile and responding will draw unwanted attention.
- Request that your satisfied clients post their positive experiences with your professional services. Depending on the website, the negative reviews will scroll out of sight as the positive reviews are posted.
- Take a critical look at the negative review and ask whether the negative review is appropriate, or if it violates the terms of service of the website? If you can prove that the review is defamatory, false, or written by a competitor, you may be able to contact the site and submit a request to have the review be taken down.