Do you, as a lawyer, pay much attention to your online reputation? You should. Because, in 2018, legal consumers are online consumers, as the following statistics clearly show:
- 96% of people with a legal issue use the Internet first to find answers with regard to their problem.
- 38% of people looking to hire a lawyer turn to the Internet first. (29% ask a friend or relative, 10% go directly to the local bar association, 4% rely on business directories like the Yellow Pages).
- Once legal consumers have narrowed down their search to one or more potential lawyers, 74% of all legal consumers will visit that lawyer’s or law firms’ websites first, before taking action.
- 74% of all legal consumers end up contacting a lawyer they found on the Internet, and of those 74%, 87% end up hiring that lawyer.
- 70% of law firms have generated new cases through their website in the last year.
In these circumstances, Online Reputation Management (ORM) is more than highly recommended.
But how do you start managing your online reputation? After all, as the team of Blue Ocean points out: “Reputation, by its very definition is a nebulous, intangible and complex concept. Trust, along with an excellent reputation as a legal resource, cannot be directly measured like income and expenses.”
The Wikipedia describes Online Reputation Management as “the practice of attempting to shape public perception of a person or organization by influencing information about that entity, primarily online. (…) Specifically, reputation management involves the monitoring of the reputation of an individual or a brand on the internet, addressing content which is potentially damaging to it, and using customer feedback to try to solve problems before they damage the individual’s or brand’s reputation.”
In other words, ORM is about influencing how you are perceived on the Internet. You can affect this perception through multiple channels:
- Your website often will be responsible for a potential client’s first impression of you.
- Make sure to use testimonials.
- You can publish a blog to help establish you as an authority in your field.
- You can engage people via social media and discussion groups, by answering questions and offering free advice.
- Online consumers typically also look for reviews on third party websites. It is recommended to respond to those reviews. (More on that below).
- There are search results in search engines.
- Not to be forgotten are your profiles in business directories.
Practically speaking, the first step is finding out what is being said about you and your firm. So you can start by doing an online search about your firm. Make sure, too, to find out what is being said on online review sites, as online consumers are eager to know what the experiences are of others who have used your services. You want to augment positive reviews, and to address negative reviews.
Addressing negative reviews can be tricky, especially since there are ethical considerations. You must make sure you never reveal any confidential information! As a rule, the best response to a negative review is to not respond with specific details, but to issue an apology instead, and to ask for personal feedback and to be contacted privately to address the matter.
In 2018, addressing fake news is also a concern. Make sure you do not give out false information about yourself (or your clients), and make sure to address any false information about you or your firm that might be available online.
Apart from addressing any factors that might damage your reputation, you can also more proactively start building a positive reputation through the channels mentioned above: your website, testimonials, blog articles, engagement with potential clients via social media and discussion groups, professional profiles in business directories, etc. Here, too, however, it is important to remain aware of ethical considerations, which may be specific to the bar association you belong to. Most bar associations do not allow lawyers to directly solicit clients. Some bar associations do not even allow lawyers to actively ask for reviews or testimonials.