Online reviews, much like referrals, are social proof of the type of experience a client can expect to have with your law firm. Yet when lawyers talk about these online reviews we often hear them complain bitterly that “anyone can say anything – regardless of whether it is true.”
What is interesting about this response is that it assumes that reviews are just something that passively happen to us – as if we cannot control what our clients write about us.
We have a lot more influence on the frequency and type of review we receive than one might normally assume. Attorneys should be more strategic when it comes to thinking about how to cultivate positive reviews.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, offers us insights about why we should start paying more attention to what our clients value and how we can deliver more of it. In his book, Gladwell examined lawsuit trends in the medical field to see what kinds of doctors were being sued for malpractice. He expected to learn that the most competent doctors were sued the least.
To the contrary, the data revealed that incompetent doctors were rarely sued when their patients liked them, despite shoddy medical care. On the flip side, exceptionally competent surgeons were frequently targeted with lawsuits when patients reported that they were “rushed, ignored or treated poorly.”
There is a valuable lesson for lawyers in Gladwell’s findings. Like doctors, lawyers are brought in to solve difficult, and sometimes impossible problems for our clients. We cannot guarantee favorable outcomes, and there are many factors that we cannot control.
But we can control for our client’s experience with our firm. We can protect our clients from being rushed, ignored or treated poorly. Gladwell’s findings suggest that a good client experience is what the client values most.
Gladwell’s Rule: Protect Your Clients From Being Treated Poorly
Lawyers are rarely taught to prioritize kindness when dealing with clients, or that we will be better advocates for our clients if we can cultivate a friendly attorney-client relationship. We are taught to find the right answers, be honest, and be professional. But it is rare for attorneys to prioritize kindness.
Like lawyers, doctors are not always known for treating patients with kindness. This was part of what Gladwell found so compelling. The doctors who were most frequently sued were often renowned experts who were well known for also having a poor bedside manner, in other words, their demeanor was less than kind.
The lesson we need to learn as lawyers is that competency is no longer sufficient – and quite frankly, never was. Our clients deserve more, and one of the things they are entitled to is our kindness.
We can have difficult conversations with our clients, but we can also be kind. Not only does it create a fantastic client experience, but it is also the right thing to do.
ABA Rule 2.1 – Advisor
In representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice. In rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client’s situation.
Clients Know What Customer Service Looks Like
There are plenty of practical reasons to care about the client experience in the modern world, reasons beyond ‘its the right thing to do.’ Ten years ago, an unhappy client might have been fairly ordinary. Lawyers would tell themselves “I’ll do better next time.” The chances of the client filing a disciplinary complaint or impacting future profit were slim.
Today’s world is different, and there are new rules that apply to running a successful business. One bad review can have a severe impact on your bottom line. If you are not prioritizing the client experience, then you are not going to have good reviews. In the absence of good reviews, it is difficult to imagine a lawyer and/or law firm succeeding in the modern business world.
Your next clients will expect to be able to see what your former clients have to say about you online.
Happy Clients Make for Happy Lawyers
There are other benefits to designing an exceptional client experience. A positive client experience will impact how satisfying your work is.
There is a curious truth about human interaction. We almost always enjoy working with people who also enjoy working with us. This is very true in the attorney-client relationship. The clients who seem to like us the most, are also the clients we love to work with.
In fact, isn’t the most basic definition of a ‘good’ client one who likes and values his attorney? When the majority of our clients are ‘good’ clients, we experience far less stress, fewer sleepless nights, and greater satisfaction in our work.
When people enjoy working with your firm, they will reward your efforts by promoting you online and by posting good reviews.
There is little doubt that online reviews and social media have become the new word of mouth. No matter how someone is referred to you, they’re likely to go online and search for information about how your clients describe working with you.
While there are a variety of systems, tools, and processes that can increase the number and quality of online reviews, none of them are a substitute for providing remarkable client service.
If you do nothing else, you should seek ways to make your practice more client-centric. Get regular feedback from clients. Listen to what they are telling you. Make adjustments to how you serve clients.
Lawyers that do not adjust to this new paradigm are likely to lose business to those that adopt a more client-centric approach and motivate their happy clients to sing their praises online.
Erin Gerstenzang is a trial attorney with a law practice in Atlanta, Georgia. She provides concierge-level service to clients facing drug and alcohol-related offenses. In addition to running her boutique criminal defense law practice in Atlanta, Georgia, Erin Gerstenzang is dedicated to helping other attorneys succeed in their practices. She is a regular speaker at CLE events across the country and helps lawyers understand legal ethics in a technology-enabled world. She also lectures on design-thinking for law firms, automation, paperless systems, and using social media to build a legal brand.