One of the things I’m certain of, after building two 7-figure law firms and helping other lawyers across the country do the same, is that occasional disgruntled or upset clients are just part of running a law firm. Period.  

Life isn’t perfect, and neither are law firms.  

Despite your best efforts, stupendous verdicts, or stellar settlements, you will inevitably encounter a complaining and unhappy client. It happens, even in the best of law firms. 

But here’s the thing- in the “old days,” a disgruntled or angry client created an unpleasant situation you dealt with in the office, and that had the potential to damage your future referral opportunities with that client. But in today’s Google environment, where approximately 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, a blistering 1-star Google Review from an unhappy client can do real damage to your firm’s online marketing efforts. 

HOW DO I HANDLE A GOOGLE 1-STAR REVIEW? 

One-star reviews are the stuff that keeps lawyers up at night. These dreaded negative reviews are like toothpaste squirted out of the tube; once it’s out there, it stays there. Other potential clients will see it, and there’s nothing you can do about that. But you can take some immediate damage control steps to minimize or mitigate the negative impact.  

  • Is it Legitimate?  While legitimate negative reviews are permanent, Google will remove certain prohibited and restricted types of posts- such as those that are off-topic, spam, or sexually explicit. If the negative comment fits into one of Google’s prohibited categories, you can submit a request ticket to Google My Business. If they agree that it fits in one of the prohibited categories, then they will take it down within 5 days. Otherwise, it’s there to stay. 
  • Don’t just ignore it. Assuming the Review/comment is legitimate, you need to respond to it. Burying your head in the sand won’t help. While there are times when inaction is better than no action, this is NOT one of those times! Instead, you can and should take immediate action.
  • RESPOND IMMEDIATLYE BY POSTING a SINCERE, EMPATHETIC APOLOGY AND RESPONSE to the Review- Take immediate steps to acknowledge their concerns and apologize online in a reply ASAP.

Don’t try to justify your firm’s actions with details about what your firm did or didn’t do. (Details are best handled personally and in a phone conversation with the client.) Posting details related to the representation of a particular case could be construed as compromising client confidences and potentially violating Bar Ethics Rules.

While your posted response is directed to the client, your real audience is other prospects who may be reading this negative review. You need to show them that you are professional and caring.

Most people realize that no one is perfect- and no business is either. 

The important thing is to be real and empathetic. Own any misunderstanding and show a genuine desire to make things right if it’s possible. 

                       *******************

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

                                              – Benjamin Franklin

HOW TO AVOID Google 1-Star REVIEWS FROM ANGRY CLIENTS: 

It is important to train every staff member in your law firm on how to deal with and take care of an upset client.

Take time to give YOUR STAFF the clear training and tools they need so that they know how to respond quickly to put small fires out before they become an out-of-control Online disaster. 

I recently read an article by Keith Lee that provides an easy formula to help your staff handle these touchy or difficult situations and mirrors the steps I required of my staff in both my law firms. 

Lee suggests training your staff using a simple 4- prong approach called the “L.E.A.R. “principle: 

               LISTEN

               EMPATHIZE

               ASK

               REDUCE

1. Listen and don’t interrupt. 

The need to feel heard is universal. Many times, your clients are going through some of the most difficult times in their lives. It is important that they know that you and your staff truly care and that their concerns are important enough that the firm will take the necessary time to hear them out.  

2. Empathize.

“I understand why you are upset. ” 

There’s no substitute for empathy. Insist that your staff put themselves in the client’s shoes and seek to understand what the client has been going through and how the circumstances appear from their perspective.  

It’s amazing the immediate mindset shift that occurs the instant we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and seek to understand the situation from their perspective. 

3. Ask: “What can I do to make you happier?” 

Words without action can only go so far.

Asking the client what you can do to improve the situation for them is a game-changer. By doing so, you show them that you are serious about making things right and that you are willing to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

By asking this important question, you and your staff show authenticity and a willingness to live up to your marketing message; You are the real deal.

4. Reduce the Problem.

Now it’s time to take action to make things right whenever it is possible and within your firm’s power to do so.  

Unless what the client is asking for is completely ridiculous, be like NIKE and Just Do It! 

And here’s an important tip- if the client asks to talk to a lawyer, then give them a lawyer. If a lawyer isn’t around, then give them to a person in charge right then and there. It is important to address client concerns immediately.  

REFLECTION AND WRAP-UP: 

Right now, as you are reading this blog, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Does my firm pass the acid test of “make-you-happy client services?”
  • Are the vast majority of my firm’s client complaints resolved by the first person who talks to the client? 

If you find out that the majority of client complaints cannot be taken care of by the first person who talks to the client, a couple of things are going WRONG- and you need to Take Action!

First, train or retrain your staff on the L.E.A.R. principles. The more your staff is trained on specifically how to handle disgruntled clients, the less time you will need to spend trying to put out these fires yourself. 

Plus, immediate attention decreases the likelihood you will have negative 1-star online Google Reviews rearing their ugly head! 

Secondly, if you have implemented the L.E.A.R. principles and given your staff some clear guidelines but are finding that many client issues are still coming to your door, then you need to look at your basic law firm systems and ask yourself why you are having so many problems.    You may need to change some of your firm’s processes or procedures to improve client communication or other matters. 

  • Ask your staff for feedback on how your firm can improve client services and avoid these repeated client conflicts? Your staff is in the trenches, dealing with your clients on a daily basis- You may be surprised at the insights they can bring to the table if you ask them and are willing to listen. 
  • Conduct regular client surveys, asking them how your firm is doing in meeting their needs and what your firm could do to make their client experience even better? Carefully consider their input. Make changes to your firm’s processes where possible to alleviate their concerns. 
  • Lastly, TAKE ACTION to make things better! Don’t maintain the status quo when you see that there are problems you can solve or improvements you can implement within the firm that will improve your firm’s work product or client services.  

Seek to make changes to your firm’s systems or processes to improve your firm’s work product and client services, and you will see client complaints decrease. Make setting up a L.E.A.R- type system in your firm a priority, and you will see the dreaded one-star Google reviews decrease as well. And in the rare times when these one-star reviews show up, respond quickly.

The reality is that your clients aren’t perfect. You aren’t perfect, and your staff isn’t perfect. But by showing your genuine concern and empathy to your clients, owning up to mistakes when they happen, and taking action to make things right whenever you can, you will increase your connection with your clients and their satisfaction with you and your firm; And, you will also substantially decrease the likelihood of problematic one-star Google reviews as well. 

****If you want to stay up on the latest Law Firm Marketing & Management Strategies for Law firm Owners, then come to PILMMA’s 2021 Super Summit- We have 50 Speakers, and 3 1/2 days jampacked with Strategies designed just for law firm owners! 

**** If you want to help your key staff, then bring them to this year’s PILMMA Super Summit too, because we have Special Break out Sessions designed just for your key staff members- so that they can help you take your firm to the next level! 

PILMMA’s 2021 Legal Marketing & Management Super Summit- in New Orleans Sept 29-Oct. 2.  

****  For more info or to register, just click here www.pilmmasummit.com