Should Lawyers Ask Clients to Post “Reviews” Online?
After our August 30, 2017, national webcast on “Ethical Use of Social Media,” I received half a dozen email inquiries concerning my advice that it is improper for an attorney to ask clients to post reviews about their legal service. Typically, a lawyer would ask: “Our firm has a policy of asking clients if they felt the firm provided good service to post a favorable review on our website about their experiences. You’re saying we shouldn’t do that. Why not?”
I took some time answering each email, realizing how important this is to firms seeking publicity in a crowded legal-service world, and acknowledging the increasing propensity of the public to turn to services like Yelp to help with decisions on merchandise, professional services, and restaurants.
My response to most of these lawyers was the following:
I get lots of pushback on this issue from lawyers, especially younger lawyers, who are accustomed to using Yelp and searching for reviews as part of their own background checks on merchants and restaurants.
So, what’s the big deal about asking for reviews, right?
Let’s start with this inescapable premise—you have a duty of complete confidentiality concerning everything, even the fact you represented the person (unless the disclosure is governed by an exception, such as intent to commit crime or injury). So, just by asking for a review, you’re asking the client to break that seal of confidentiality. Similarly, my wife, who is a psychotherapist, advises her clients, “If I see you in the grocery store, I will ignore you, and that’s appropriate to preserve YOUR privacy, as many clients do not want folks to know they are going to counseling.” And to this day, my wife has never named a single client to me.
“Wait, wait…,” you say. “I’m not ASKING them, I’m giving them the option.” You’re right—but just asking them is a bit of an unfair arm-twist. Once you make the ask, no matter HOW delicately, you’ve asked. And you’re not supposed to ask clients to review you. However, here’s one situation I can imagine:
Client Bob is very happy with your representation and says, “I tell ALL MY FRIENDS about you, Mary. You’re the best!” I think you could delicately reply, “Well, lawyers are not supposed to ask clients to post reviews, because clients might feel that they have to, and that would divulge our confidential relationship and invade your right to expect me to keep everything about you confidential. So, as long as you know that I am perfectly happy if you never post, and I would never reveal your confidences, or even the fact that you were a client, and yet you still are inclined to post, that’s great. And you can post anonymously, or with initials.”
As long as the client feels NO pressure whatsoever.
Does that make sense? Again, you’re trying to avoid any implication at all that you made “the ask.”
And remember, please remember, that unreasonable and mentally ill people know how to post, too. Once you start down the “everyone post a review” route, you are welcoming those unreasonable and uncontrollable folks, too, whom you refused to represent or couldn’t satisfy.
Remember: you are part of a great and honorable profession. Always honor it with your own professionalism.