How Can Lawyers Effectively Respond to Negative Online Reviews?

How to manage a small law firm reviews online

More than 84% of people seeking legal counsel trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations according to recent studies by several legal watchdog groups.

In fact, it has been determined that, on average, one negative review can cost a law firm as many as 30 customers. That’s a great loss of potential business because of one lousy review.

But there are ways to turn negative reviews into positive outcomes that can also boost local SEO for lawyers.

How a law firm responds to a negative review can help the reader hear your voice and build trust in your business. So much so, that 90% of consumers who see a few negative lawyer reviews say they would still consider retaining that firm, so long as the negative reviews were properly addressed.

If you’re part of the legal industry, the following guide will reveal how to effectively – and positively – respond to negative online reviews.


The Legalities of Responding to Your Law Firm’s Negative Reviews

There is often a knee-jerk reaction to negative reviews no matter your industry. 

It’s human nature to immediately feel defensive and lash out at the review’s author.


The first piece of advice is to take a step back and really understand the nature of the negative review.

“Think, and breathe deep, before responding,” Vermont’s bar counsel, Michael Kennedy told the ABA Journal. “(It’s all about) risk management.” 

Managing risk means embracing the strategies of fostering positive online reputation management for lawyers. That means addressing negative reviews head on but with prudence and temperance.


What About Attorney/Client Confidentiality?

One critical boundary for an attorney’s response to a negative review is set by Model Rule 1.6 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. This rule prohibits revealing confidential information acquired during the professional relationship. 

Self-defense can be one such exception. But beware using the “self-defense” position to support an overly aggressive response to a review.

The tone should always remain respectful and tactful. 

If a negative review presents outright lies, the lawyer can take the position that the allegation contained in the review is false but, beyond that, the attorney’s ethical duties do not allow him or her to respond in greater detail.

In that example, the false or exaggerated negative review has been addressed, but the lawyer has taken the high road of not disclosing any confidential details.  

While there is a fine line to walk in the court of public opinion as to how best to respond to a negative review, several states have authored some clear guidelines.

According to Ethics Opinion No. 525 put forth by the Los Angeles County Bar Association, a public response by a lawyer is allowed as long as:

  1. No confidential information is disclosed.
  2. The response does not injure the former client with regard to the prior representation.
  3. The response is “proportionate and restrained”. 

Several other states beyond California have adopted similar standards including Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas.

So, let’s explore various ways of addressing negative reviews. 

local seo for lawyers means managing negative reviews

Lawyers need to properly manage all online reviews, especially the negative ones.

Different Approaches for Lawyers to Respond to Negative Reviews

When faced with a negative review, it’s vital the responses are made in a professional, considerate manner. So how to manage a small law firm’s reviews becomes paramount to enticing new client prospects.

Here are some response strategies that can be used independently or in tandem with one another:

  • Maintain a positive outlook
  • Explain the situation
  • Subtly deny the assertions
  • Solicit positive reviews

Maintain a positive outlook

A positive outlook is imperative for ensuring your law firm is seen as a professional organization that cares about its clients. 

Rather than launching attacks that make the reviewer feel like a victim, maintain a professional demeanor that is composed, calm and positive. Never assign blame, and make sure you let the client know you’ve taken their concerns seriously. 

This might even be a good place to thank the reviewer for the feedback. 

The only way a law firm will grow and improve its services to future clients is to understand where a mistake or misunderstanding occurred. 

This is also called “owning it” which makes other potential clients reading this review understand that no one is perfect. This tact further humanizes the firm and makes it look more relatable.

Explain the situation 

Explaining the situation in a clear, factual way is beneficial for all prospective clients who read your response. 

Obviously, a negative review is only going to detail the client’s side of the story.

Yet the average client isn’t going to understand the finer details of court proceedings, which means they could feel let down by your work – even though you did everything by the book and within your power. 

Without violating any attorney/client privileges, try to explain the situation from your point of view. 

Maybe the client and the lawyer just weren’t a good fit. This admission can also show that you are honest and straight-forward.

When you fully explain the situation, you effectively change the narrative and provide readers with a more realistic perspective of the situation. 

Subtly deny the assertions

What if you’re in the right and the client is in the wrong? 

In this case, you don’t want to assault the integrity of the reviewer. 

Instead of an abrupt and uncompromising response, go with a softer attitude as you gently refute whatever allegations have been thrown your way. This isn’t easy, admittedly, as you’ll likely be personally offended by the review that has been posted. 

Yet, a subtle denial will, again, reflect positively on your business. This is particularly the case if you can back up your counter response with some facts and details. 

It might also be helpful to reiterate or outline the policies of the firm. 

Perhaps the client created unreasonable expectations as to the outcome of his case. If so, your firm may have not had a chance to succeed as the client didn’t understand the nuances of the case or the bigger picture of its outcome.

Sometimes effective digital marketing for lawyers means moving the online discourse offline to make a point.

In this approach, the lawyer would respond to the negative review by inviting the dissatisfied client to a phone conversation where they can have a personal discussion about what went wrong and why.

Chances are the client won’t follow-up. However, just posing the olive branch outreach will be a favorable look at your desire to provide understanding and closure that perhaps your competition wouldn’t take the time to offer. 

Again, it’s the perception of caring and concern that could tip a potential new client into your retainer.

Solicit positive reviews

The best defense can also be a great offense. 

One way to minimize negative reviews is to solicit positive, five-star reviews from past or current clients who appreciated your efforts and the outcome.

Positive reviews also work in pushing down the negative reviews. So the more uplifting reviews that are consistently added to your review pages, the faster the older, negative reviews will get pushed off of the Page One results. 

The follow-up to constantly solicit reviews should be an ongoing practice that one of your law firm’s support staff should maintain. 

That person could also be tasked with sending the clients links to the exact URLs where reviews of your practice appear. That way, the client doesn’t have to go searching for the page to write a positive review. 

Make it as easy as possible for people to leave you a positive mention.

Some of the most popular reviews sites for the legal industry include:

How Negative Reviews Can Also Adversely Affect Local SEO for Lawyers

You may not realize it, but reviews are becoming an increasingly more essential element when it comes to good local SEO for lawyers. 

In fact, when it comes to higher rankings for the local pack feature on Google, online reviews of your law firm are the second most important factor for having your law firm show up in the local pack area such as the one shown here:

Positive reviews will help push your firm to the top of the local pack quicker than anything but an updated Google My Business presence. 

Even more fuel to get those clients and their family members to write positive reviews on your Google My Business page. 

In Conclusion

Review sites have become both a blessing and a burden in maintaining every law firm’s professional online reputation. It’s important to continue a vigilant due diligence on review sites and the reviews that appear. 

With the right approach – and response – you can…

  • Turn the negatives into positives
  • Highlight the excellent service you provide for a public audience
  • Work out any issues previous clients had with your business
  • Improve your local search engine results

Whatever you do, don’t disregard negative reviews of your law firm. Silence can be deadly to the growth of your practice.

If you require any further advice on how to deal with negative reviews, Avita Group is a Calabasas digital marketing firm that would love to speak with you about your needs in the online reputation management space. 


Avita Group is a digital marketing firm based in Calabasas, California. We specialize in organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign management, Online Reputation Management (ORM), website creation and conversion optimization. The Avita Group team boasts a collective experience of over 25 years in the industry and has worked with a variety of multi-million dollar companies to help them improve their ROI, build better brand awareness, and mitigate negative online reviews and results.