Attorney Tip #8 – Tread Lightly

What do you do when a client posts a negative review on Yelp, Avvo, Martindale Hubbell or another review website?  Do you shoot off a response?  Do you provide your side of the story?  Given what’s at stake, you should tread lightly.

Document4Susan Michmerhuizen, ETHICSearch Research Counsel with the American Bar Association, addressed the thorny issue of negative client reviews on social media in the September 2014 issue of YourABA.  In an article titled, “Client reviews: Your thumbs down may come back around,” Ms. Michmerhuizen poses the hypothetical of a client, who while not truthful about the facts in a custody matter that led to an unfavorable outcome, writes a negative review about the attorney.  The attorney in the hypothetical grapples with whether to reveal the true facts in a response to the review.

The article cautions that although it can be “maddening” for there to be only the client’s version of events, attorneys should not opt for a “scorched earth” response.

In these days of the Internet and social media, remember the “new” adage: Only post materials on the Internet that you wouldn’t mind seeing on the front page of the New York Times. Remember that any reply will live on, past the time when your emotions have cooled down. It will also remain for new clients to see and use to evaluate you. Damage control, not revenge, is the mantra.

Attorneys should carefully consider the consequences to defending themselves in a response.  As explained in the article, the self-defense exception to Rule 1.6 does not apply to online reviews, because they are not “controversies” or “proceedings” as required by the rule.

Suggestions on what to do include letting it go if the post is poorly written and seeking positive reviews from other clients (without any quid pro quo).  In Opinion 2014-200 (2014), the Pennsylvania State Bar ethics committee proposed attorneys consider posting the following response:

A lawyer’s duty to keep client confidences has few exceptions and in an abundance of caution I do not feel at liberty to respond in a point-by-point fashion in this forum. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that the post presents a fair and accurate picture of the events.

Regardless of how untruthful an online review is, tread lightly and consider the long-term implications of shooting off a defensive response.

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