If Your Law Firm Was A Restaurant, Would Anyone Recommend It?
The other day a co-worker told me about a restaurant experience he once had. He was visiting a friend on the Upper West Side of Manhattan talking to a woman they’d just met at a party. The topics of restaurants came up and she made a recommendation for one of her must-see stops.
The place she recommended was small and located in a basement under the Manhattan Bridge. This was all the way on the opposite side of the island and not the sort of site you’d typically expect to find great food. This coworker trusted her review, however, even though he had just met this person. Turns out, he had one of the best dining experience of his life.
I really dig these kinds of stories because I hear them a lot. Someone who is open to a new experience takes the word of a stranger and is pleasantly surprised at the results. Now, hunting for hidden gems under a bridge may not be for you but when it comes to finding an attorney, the value of a strong reputation appeals to just about everyone.
Millennials, for example trust reviews at almost twice the rate as the average legal consumer. It makes sense as this generation was among the first to widely adopt sites like Amazon and Yelp where reputations (in the form of reviews) are highly influential. Don’t dismiss this out of hand. The similarities between product reviews, restaurant feedback and an attorneys online reputation is stronger than you think. In recent years, star ratings and customer reports have moved from on-site features to search engine results – meaning your reputation as a lawyer needs to be part of your marketing plan in much the same way that search visibility is. Skip out on managing your reputation and you’re failing to address a key decision-making element of the legal hiring process.
When ratings and reviews are part of the search results or even just part of a consumer’s typical behaviors, having nothing to verify your law firm’s good name may be far worse than having the occasional one or two-star review out there on the web. Think of it this way, it’s not enough for legal consumers to know that you exist. They’re hoping to understand how good you are. And like an open-minded tourist in the big apple, the opinion of a stranger carries a lot of water online. People facing legal issues want to know about you from other clients who have worked with you in the past and can tell them what to expect from your law firm. They look to strangers because their words carry more “social proof” than any law firm’s official marketing materials.
Don’t Sweat It. Manage It.
As we’ve said before, this concept of asking past clients to (effectively) speak publicly on your law firm’s behalf can get a bit nerve-wracking. But remember that enlisting the help of your clients isn’t quite the same as putting your reputation into the hands of a stranger. First of all, your common sense will keep you from asking for a review from a clearly dissatisfied client. Many times, if you simply don’t ask, they won’t raise a stink across the whole web. However, most clients who are open to giving you a review in the first place are going to be motivated to share good news about their experience. In fact, a FindLaw survey found that among the 57 percent of legal consumers who left reviews for an attorney, 81 percent left generally positive feedback. All you have to do is ask them to share, and make it easy for them to do so.
My most bare-bones recommendation for managing your reviews is to select one or two sites where your law firm already has a presence and direct your clients to these sites as part of your firm’s outtake process. For example, if you have accounts on Google My Business and Facebook, print up a nice postcard with links to your profiles and hand it to your clients during your final visit. Explain what you’re asking for and why it’s important to your firm. Remember to speak to the consumer’s needs even at this stage. Instead of, “Your review will improve my reputation and help keep us in business.” say something like, “We’ve found that people really appreciate hearing about the positive experiences of other clients. It helps them feel good about contacting our firm. If you’d like to help them by sharing your thoughts, please feel free to do so on one of these websites.”
Of course, you need to do all of this within the ethical guidelines of your state bar and in a manner that fits with your firm’s brand and communication style. But as you think about and act on your reputation as an attorney or law firm, keep in mind that restaurant under the bridge in New York. The owners probably face some major visibility challenges – quite literally – yet are overcoming that obstacle by delivering excellent service and (I’ll bet) taking an active role in managing their reputation.