Online review sites are increasingly important for product and service consumers, but to what extent are people really taking them into consideration when selecting an attorney? If potential clients are counting stars before they call, how do lawyers take control of their online reputations? Furthermore, with limited time and marketing budgets, what should solo and small firms focus on?
On this episode of The Legal Toolkit, Jared Correia interviews Jabez LeBret, co-founder of the digital marketing agency Get Noticed Get Found, about how lawyers can and should monitor their online reviews, how to respond to negative feedback, and ways to increase positive reviews where they matter.
- General consumers’ interest in online reviews
- Get stars to get calls
- The hierarchy of your online marketing budget
- Ethical responsibility of review content
- Who to send to Google, Yelp, and Avvo
- Two types of clients who leave anonymous reviews
- Checking your pride at the door when responding
- Collecting and analyzing data to determine what’s effective
Jabez LeBret is co-author of the best-selling legal technology book Online Law Practice Strategies. He is an international technology expert who has delivered CLE presentations at the Alaska, Ohio, Florida, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington State, Maryland, and Indiana State Bar Associations, the ABA and LMA, plus over 50 other bar associations. Jabez writes a regular business and technology column for Forbes and is also a contributor to the ABA Journal and NBC Chicago. He is also co-founder of the legal marketing agency GNGF, winner of the 2014 Best Places to Work by the Cincinnati Business Courier and runner-up for Business of the Year by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. He loves coffee and is a craft beer enthusiast.
Special thanks to our sponsor Amicus Attorney.
Advertiser: Welcome to the Legal Toolkit; bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm. Here are your hosts – experienced lawyers, writers and entrepreneurs, Heidi Alexander and Jared Correia. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Welcome to yet another fine episode of the Legal Toolkit here on Legal Talk Network. Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsor: Amicus Attorney, the world’s leading practice management solution for lawyers. Amicus Attorney helps manage your law firm so that you can concentrate on being a lawyer. How about that? To learn more, visit AmicusAttorney.com. If you’re a returning listener of the show, welcome back. If you’re a first time listener, hopefully you’ll become a longtime listener. If you’re my wife, yes, I know we need a new lightbulb in the bathroom. I’m your host, Jared Correia, and in addition to casting this pod I’m also the assistant director and senior law practice advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. We call it LOMAP for short and we provide free and confidential law practice management consulting services to Massachusetts attorneys. For more information on LOMAP’s offerings, visit our website at MassLOMAP.org. You can buy my book, Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers fro mthe American Bar Association on iTunes or at Amazon. If your desire is to more podcasting goodness, check out our Lunch Hour Legal Marketing show where we release monthly legal marketing episodes featuring industry experts. But back here on the Legal Toolkit, we provide you each month with a new tool to add to your own legal toolkit so that your practices will become more and more like best practices. In this episode, we’re going to talk about online reviews; you know, the kind that make you want to yelp for help. See what I did there? Our guest today is Jabez LeBret. He is the co-founder and chief marketing officer at the digital marketing agency GNGF, which stands for Get Noticed Get Found. He is the co-author of “Online Law Practice Strategies,” a columnist for NBC Chicago Business, and a regular contributor to Forbes in the areas of business and technology. Jabez is also a sought after speaker on a number of topics including ethical online marketing, reputation management, and marketing analytics. He delivers presentations across the globe and maybe even outer space, I’m not sure. Thanks for finding some time for us Jabez, and welcome to the show.
Jabez LeBret: Thank you for having me, I need to figure out how to book that outer space presentation, that sounds fantastic.
Jared Correia: I’ll get you on the first Mars flight, you just let me know.
Jabez LeBret: Oh no, that’s a one way ticket!
Jared Correia: I never said you were coming back! So let’s dive into it here. Let’s start by talking about the importance of online reviews. So to what extent are people really taking into consideration with online reviews, which are sort of written by people you don’t even know when they’re selecting an attorney.
Jabez LeBret: That’s interesting, this question has a second layer to it because I don’t think that lawyers are taking online reviews very seriously at all. But we are seeing that the general consumer is taking them very seriously. And the road started with Yelp and TripAdvisor and some of these companies that are doing travel and restaurants and bars. We got used to those being places we went for reviews. But now with Avvo, even Yelp and other professional review sites, inside the Google search engines reviews are showing up; you’ve got Google, we’re seeing these reviews popping up all over the place. And for better or for worse, clients are reading these reviews and they’re looking at those stars and they’re passing judgement. So they are taking seriously and they do make a difference across the board with our clients. We can track the actual impact on our clients, depending on the number of reviews and how many positive reviews that they have directly to the number of calls that they get and emails that they get requesting services; so I’d say quite a bit.
Jared Correia: Yeah, so very important. And we’ll talk a little bit about how you track all of this later on in the second half of the podcast, so stay tuned everybody. So clearly this is something that lawyers should prioritize, their response to online reviews; getting good ones, responding to the bad ones. So in your mind, where does that sort of engagement with online review sites fall on the list of a typical lawyer’s marketing priorities?
Jabez LeBret: Well, if you’re trying to decide how to spend my time or resources internally at our law firm in marketing, I’m pretty much going to say that reviews should be probably third on your actual marketing efforts. I would say focusing on your website performance so making sure that your website’s working and search engine optimization stuff is important for people who can’t find you. That would be my number one thing that you should be worried about. Number two would be content, making sure that you’re producing some amount of content. Not necessarily all the time, but just get out there and produce some content for your site or somebody else’s site to help get your voice out there. And then I’d say thirdly, focus on reviews, because reviews are a mechanism that help you engage your current and previous clients. So there’s a huge marketing path to reviews. That’s why I think it’s so important is that it’s not just about getting the review, it’s also about asking for the review and there’s a process in there; there’s an interaction there. But that’s good and that’s healthy, that’s great; that helps with referral business and we shouldn’t ignore getting referrals. That’s obviously a huge part of running a law practice and reviews are a good way to help facilitate that.
Jared Correia: On that subject, how do you recommend attorneys actually acquire positive reviews when asking for them? Because I know that’s something a lot of attorneys have an issue with.
Jabez LeBret: You know it depends on your approach on your state. State by state there’s different ethical guidelines; in Florida, Ohio, Connecticut and I think Pennsylvania. If you ask for a review, you are ethically responsible for the content of that review. That’s kind of an interesting little bit of a twist. So the way that you can cause a headache for yourself is if you ask somebody to leave you a review and then that person goes on and says, “John was the best estate planning attorney ever. I guarantee he will get you everything that you ask for,” whether that’s comparative speech or solicitation issues, there’s a lot of ways that can go wrong and sometimes that scares people away. I think the issue is that even if you’re in a state where that’s not a requirement – and by the way, we’re seeing this become more and more prevalent from state to state so be expecting it’s going to happen probably eventually in your state. As you see it continue to happen, it just means you have to be mindful of the way that you ask, not that you can’t ask. You just have to be smart about it, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Jared Correia: I think that makes sense. Let’s jump the gun a little bit as well. I know we intended to talk about this after, but rather than tease it, let’s just get into it now. Let’s do ethics, because people love ethics. Lawyers are always thrilled by ethics talk. If somebody posted a review like that without your permission, you haven’t solicited it, what’s the response for the law firm?
Jabez Lebret: So you’re totally fine. If you did not solicit the review and someone writes a review and they say that you are the best ever and they guarantee someone will win or they release information that they shouldn’t, you are not – and there have already been cases on this – you are not liable for that because it’s out of your control. That falls directly under free speech. So let’s say in the signature of your email, if it says, “Please leave me a review on this website.” That might constitute as asking. Obviously, if you directly email someone and say, “Hey, please leave me a review,” or you have on your website a place that says, “Please leave us a review.” Those are all mechanisms that would probably incur that you’re asking for it, and that can get you into the ethical quandary there. But again, it’s such a rare case and it’s not hard to avoid the getting it done wrong. It’s not that difficult to avoid an ethics violation on this situation.
Jared Correia: No, it’s true, and practically speaking you don’t see a lot of people doing the unsolicited, “You’re the greatest lawyer ever.” More like, “You’re the crappiest lawyer ever,” but we’ll get to that as well; negative reviews. Let’s move back to a tactical question. Lawyers have limited time. There’s a lot of online review sites from generic sites like Yelp that we’ve talked about to specific sites like Avvo that we’ve talked about. Which review sites do you spend your time on as a lawyer trying to get reviews or reviewing to see if there has been posts about you, and does that include Martindale Hubbell? Are they still relevant?
Jabez LeBret: Martin who? No, I’m kidding. I would say there really are three places that you should be focusing. You need to be focusing on Google, because Google matters a lot in getting traffic to your website and converting people into new clients. So you want to be doing Google; Google Plus Local Business, getting reviews there. Yelp, because Yelp drives other things like Siri and Bing and other places kind of draw information from Yelp. So we want to make sure that we’re paying attention to Yelp. And Avvo, because Avvo ranks really, really well in the search engines. So I tell lawyers this all the time, i don’t care if you hate Avvo. It makes no difference to me. The consumer is seeing your Avvo profile so do yourself a favor, put your pride aside and go set up your profile the right way and get some reviews, because it’s going to make a difference when people do find your Avvo profile and they will.
Jared Correia: Oh yeah, absolutely, and I tell people the same thing. So now you’ve got three places to focus, attorneys who are listening-
Jabez LeBret: Can I give you a secret?
Jared Correia: Oh, yeah, tell us a secret. Sorry I cut you off, I didn’t know a secret was coming.
Jabez LeBret: We’ll give the audience a secret here. So those are the three you’re focusing on, but a really good rule of thumb that we have all of our clients do is we tell our clients, any of your clients that have a GMail address for their email, send them to Google Plus. And then anyone who doesn’t have a GMail, alternate between Avvo and Yelp. It’s a situation where the person would be likely to leave an anonymous review, send them to Avvo because you can leave an anonymous review on Avvo. If it’s a situation where this person’s never going to talk about it, send them to Avvo. So if they have a GMail account, send them to Google Plus because they’re already logged in and they already have an account. If they don’t have a GMail account, switch between Yelp and Avvo and hope that they’ll leave a review there.
Jared Correia: Magic. I like it. I like little tips like that, thanks for throwing that in. So let’s talk about pre history, before these review sites gave some traction when folks actually had to go to websites or ask people for reviews. Is there still a reason for attorneys to post reviews or testimonials on their own websites? Is there any value in publishing those in this climate?
Jabez LeBret: I would typically say you’re better off to draw directly from Yelp or Avvo than pull in your reviews onto your site from there instead of posting your own reviews for a couple of reasons. Ethically, you’ve got to watch out. There are many, many states that have ethics guidelines around whether or not you can put testimonials on your website. Plus, when you put it on your website, you have to kind of scrub a lot of the testimonial that would make it valuable. And from a psychology perspective, we know that it increases conversion rates, which is somebody taking action when they get to your website if they’re social proof. Social proof is anything that says I’m not just saying I’m good, I’m a good lawyer. This other person is saying I’m a good lawyer. So we know that increases conversion rates, so we know that’s important. But you can get that by saying, “Look on my Avvo badge, I’m an 8.5 out of 10 and I get really good reviews; go check it out,” or, “On Yelp I’m 4 out of stars, go look at my Yelp page.” So you can direct people there and you still get the benefit of the social proof without even having to worry about adding that stuff to your website or adding testimonials or really dealing with the ethical boundaries that come with that. So that’s typically how we address the website onsite issues when it comes to reviews. There’s even a question about are you misleading people if you only do personal injury and all you do is post, “Million dollar award in a car accident,” and, “1.8 million dollars in a boating accident, 800,000 dollars here,” but you don’t post any of the situations where it was like, “My client lost.” Like, “Cost my client $300,000 trying to do this.” Is that not kind of misleading because you’re only selecting the information you put out there? So we’re like, let’s not even play that game. Let’s go another route and we can still get the same results.
Jared Correia: That makes a lot of sense. After this podcast comes out I’ll be looking into personal injury websites that say, “Lost my client $3 million, excuse us.”
Jabez LeBret: It’ll be really honest!
Jared Correia: It certainly would be! So this has been good so far, Jabez, but we’re going to take a quick break. We’re going to have more with Jabez LeBret of GNGF.
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Jared Correia: Welcome back! We’re talking about online review sites with Jabez LeBret, chief marketing officer at Get Noticed, Get Found, or GNGF for those who love acronyms as clearly, Jabez and I both do.
Jabez LeBret: Get Noticed Get Found makes for a very long email address, so it’s hard enough for a first name like Jabez at Get Noticed Get Found, it was impossible; we had to go to four letters.
Jared Correia: Now I think you need to start going by JLB.
Jabez LeBret: JLB, I’ll take it.
Jared Correia: Let’s dive back in to the online review question. So we talked a lot about where attorneys would post online reviews and some of the ethical restrictions that are in place. But once the lawyer figures out where the reviews should be published, they’ll need to acquire some of those reviews. So we talked about this a little bit, but any additional advice on tactics attorneys could use to get reviews from clients? And how do you pick the client to write the review? Because you don’t want somebody writing a poor review about you.
Jabez LeBret: Yeah, certainly don’t start with asking the people who don’t like you. I would definitely avoid that. We work with all of our clients on the strategy we have them deploy is part of their exit interview – as they close at matters – is to talk to the client about, “Hey, it would really help out my firm if you wouldn’t mind leaving us a review,” and then sending them an email because they can’t leave the review at your office. They have to be somewhere else, they can’t even use their cell phone or iPad at the office. They have to go home and do it. So there’s really two methods. You send them an email, and in the email, you can’t tell them ethically what to write in the review, but you can guide them on what not to write in a way. And what we have our clients do is say, just send them an email that says, “Please avoid using any words like ‘guarantee,’ or ‘best.’ Don’t give any details of your actual case, just talk about what it was like to work with me and our firm.” And that’s a really good starting point because you’re just kind of guiding them, it doesn’t have to be complicated. And then you send them a link for where to go. Some firms, and our clients that do this really well, will actually have an admin get on the phone and call the client after they send the email and then walk them through on the phone in writing the review.
Jared Correia: So what about anonymous reviews? We know as you said before that clients can leave anonymous reviews on Avvo. But what’s the real value of those?
Jabez LeBret: What’s interesting is anonymous reviews typically come in two flavors. One of them is the person who wants to hide behind their computer but they’re really pissed at you and they want to just rail on you online. And that happens when you get a disgruntled client. Or even sometimes opposing counsel’s client because they lost and so they’re all upset and they go and they tear you down anonymously. Also competition, unfortunately. So it’s a poor practice, it’s an ethical violation that you can not do this, but there are situations where lawyers will go and post anonymous fake bad reviews. I actually wrote the piece on Avvo for Thompson v. Washington State Appellate Court where she was going after Avvo trying to get them to release the name of the anonymous reviewer and the court said that Avvo did not have to release that information. Because once they release that, obviously, they can’t undo that action and it would cause more harm than how that lawyer had been harmed by a negative review. So odds are you’re not going to get to know who the anonymous reviewer is, so I say take control of it. And that’s why I think anonymous reviews are important. Some of you have clients that don’t want to talk about their legal issue no matter what it is. That could be a contract dispute between two companies and they just don’t want to talk about it. But they would be happy to talk about you and the situation if they could be certain that it was going to be anonymous. So I think there’s some value there and I think that outweighs the potential risk. But guess what? People are going to leave anonymous reviews whether you have positive ones or not. So why sit around and wait?
Jared Correia: Yeah, and I think that’s sort of a theme that we’ve been working on here is that some of this, as a lawyer, you really can’t control and lawyers have a problem with that. So let’s talk about the elephant in the room here, which we’ve sort of been dancing around but we obviously need to get to negative reviews. Negative reviews are out there, and sometimes the challenges that lawyers don’t even know that they have. So from the standpoint of having a negative review and discovering it, what is the appropriate response for that on the power of the attorney?
Jabez LeBret: There are a few factors you have to consider. The first step is you have to do your best to determine if it is a real client. So is the negative review someone who actually worked with your law firm? A good example is we have a client up near Chicago, and someone on Yelp who was never a client went on and left this scathing review and we couldn’t figure out who this person was, where they came from or why they left the review. But you don’t want to respond to that review. What you want to do is you want to immediately flag the review as inappropriate and then email Yelp or Avvo or Google and say, “Look, this person was never a client, they never worked with our firm, so this review should not be up.” Because review sites don’t want people who are not clients leaving reviews. Because how could you leave a review of a business you never worked with? So if the client never worked with you, that’s one thing you’ve got to consider. The second thing is, let’s say that it is a client. First thing is you’ve kind of got to check your pride at the door. It’s hard to do. I remember the first time I ever saw a negative review about our book online about four or five years ago and it was one of our early, early, early editions and I took it so personally. I get it, because you’re like, “What? Wait a minute, are you serious? You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” and that’s okay. Calm down for a second, take a breath, go get a drink of water, walk around the block if you have to, come back to your computer and your response should be very, very simple. It should just say something along the lines of, “Obviously this is not how we work with our clients. We apologize if this was your experience,” or if you don’t want to apologize, you could say, “We always strive to offer clearly better service than you believe you received.” However you want to word it. Keep in mind that this person is ticked off, so don’t piss them off more. And then just say, “Please contact our law office so that we can talk to you about this and make it better.” All that you’re doing is leaving them that review so that when other people find the negative review, they see that you actually cared, you responded, and that you obviously are taking steps to remedy it. That’s all people care about. Nobody expects you to hit a homerun every single time you get up to bat. And they understand that some people are going to be upset. Negative reviews are actually should be something that you hope for. And I know that sounds crazy, but if all you have are 20 reviews and they’re all five stars, guess what it looks like? It looks like you totally faked it. If you’ve got 20 reviews and ten of them are five stars and five of them are four stars and two are three stars and one’s a two star, that looks totally normal. I don’t know if that added up to 20 but you get the idea. Don’t be afraid of negative reviews, just be careful. Where you get an ethics problem in negative reviews and responding is oftentimes lawyers will accidentally release confidential information in their response. “So you didn’t even have me file that motion,” and these are things they accidentally put in the review where they’re getting defense and they say, “You never even sent me the email about your stupid divorce,” and all of a sudden they end up saying something on accident just because they get emotionally charged about it. That’s why its important to step back, keep your response simple, and make sure that when you’re replying, you just give them the easy, “Please contact our law firm.”
Jared Correia: Yeah, absolutely, your advice to weight is good because you can calm yourself down. You don’t want to be charged when you do that. So let’s talk about finally wrapping this up, because there’s a lot of data out there about online reviews and we talked before that there are some ways to utilize that data to make some specific choices about which reviews are helping you and what sites are useful and which sites are not. How can a lawyer determine that? Are there specific tools you suggest for collecting and analyzing that kind of data?
Jabez LeBret: One of the tools that we use is GetFiveStars and we’re big fans. Mike Blumenthal who does Local U, and he’s a huge, huge Gonzaga – it’s almost like college basketball season. So he’s already got gun season on the brain. So Blumenthal does a lot of work on Local U which is basically Google Plus Local Business listings and how to rank and he’s got GetFiveStars. A super, super great resource, it literally is just GetFiveStars.com. We use tracking numbers, so we use tracking phone numbers. Do be careful with those, it can mess up your online presence if you don’t know what you’re doing. We do Google Analytics and Goal Tracking. There’s tools out there, like Avvo has their night platform, Clio has their platform that they just released, their Campaign Manager that helps you figure out where people came to you from. And that’s a useful thing to know. Did they go to my Facebook page? My website? Then go to Yelp and then back to my website and then contact me? That gives you an idea of the path that the prospect is coming to your law firm from. That is useful information, now that’s really only if you have the resources. I’ve got to be honest, that takes a lot of work. That level of tracking can take a lot of work. So if you’re a small practice, then just really focus on your Google Analytics and see what kind of inbound stuff you’re getting and then do some call tracking and it’ll tell you this call originated from my Yelp listing. A lot of times, Yelp is not the place where they pick up the phone and call you, though. A lot of times it’s the thing they check out before they go to your website and call you.
Jared Correia: Alright. Well, that will do it for this episode of the Legal Toolkit. It’s been great talking to Jabez LeBret. Now don’t worry, we’ll be back next month. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can check out all of our old shows any time you want at LegalTalkNetwork.com. So big thanks to Jabez Lebret of Get Noticed, Get Found and Gonzaga fan for taking the time to come by the virtual studio today to enlighten us on the subject of online reviews. This was fun. So, Jabez, can you tell our listeners if they’re interested how they can find out more about you or find out more about GNGF?
Jabez LeBret: Yeah, there’s three ways. I do a lot of speaking, so if you’re ever at an event, please come up and say hi. I’ll be at Lawyernomics this Spring and I do a lot of Bar Association events. I’ve been out there to Mass, actually, to your Bar out there, I’d love to come back. You can check out our book, Online Law Practice Strategies on Amazon and leave us a review if you read it, tell us what you think, that’d be fantastic. And then our website’s just GNGF.com.
Jared Correia: Alright, thanks Jabez and thanks to all of you out there for listening. Please be kind to us during the review cycle. We’ll talk to you next time.
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