In July 2020, the Law Society Gazette reported that legal industry revenue had dropped to a four year low. With everything else on the decline, this is no surprise. However, not all of the trends initiated by Covid-19 are negative – and some are giving the legal industry a much needed boost, one of which is online reviews.

Transforming professional services

Online reviews have taken the world of professional services by storm over the last decade. With more and more of us relying on the internet to hold all of the answers, it’s unlikely we’ll make any kind of decision – whether it’s a new pair of trainers or something far more consequential like instructing a solicitor – without giving it a quick search on Google beforehand.

Professional services, from accountancy to insurance, are seeing the benefits of online reviews without having to spend a small fortune on hit-and-miss advertising campaigns. If 91 per cent of us trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (BrightLocal), it is no surprise that the online legal review immediately holds significant value, since they can be distinctive and highly regarded accounts of a client’s experience.

For firms which do not showcase their testimonials on their websites, online reviews are an alternative and can provide the reassurance that a potential client needs. Furthermore, as face-to-face interactions are being cut across the board, online rapport is pivotal to the growth of a professional service and, by reading and responding to online reviews, lawyers can continue the conversation outside the office.

Reviews and the legal sector

When it comes to collecting feedback on legal services, there are several means to do so:

1. Reviews can be directly requested via email template. This is cheap and can be efficient, but response rates are low and questions may be too restrictive.

2. LinkedIn testimonials can be a great help for the online presence of your firm. Browsing the testimonials of like-minded professionals immediately creates a network of mutual esteem and recommendation, meaning that connections extend beyond the site and translate into real client instructions. The service is completely free for anyone with an account, which makes it an easy marketing solution in terms of exposure and cost.

3. Outsourcing review collection to external platforms like Feefo.com or Reviews.io means a law firm does not have to intervene – but, in doing so, they give up some element of control over the process. If a defamatory review appears, for example, removing it from the site is not simple.

4. Alternatively, one can deploy a system integrated with the firm’s CMS, such as our own described below.

An alternative approach

ReviewSolicitors offers an alternative method for law firms to gather online reviews.

Once a matter is closed, a law firm can provide a client’s details in order to generate a personalised and trackable link that is emailed directly to them. Alternatively, a multi-purpose link can be generated for each solicitor and branch for multiple clients to use. A very efficient method is to send a single client request involving an instant email sent from ReviewSolicitors – but paper reviews can also be uploaded. There are many more ways of collecting reviews with the platform, from CSV file uploads, to the integration of your case management system.

With this level of integration, law firms do not have to do anything to encourage clients to leave reviews – the whole process is automated. Each firm also has access to their own dashboard, which displays the number of people that have clicked on their profile and how many widget impressions they have received from their own website.

If a review is disputed, a firm can initiate the defamatory review process, where immediate action is taken by the team. If a review directly breaches the family friendly content policy (use of bad language, for example), this can be reported and the team will look at it within the hour – although most of the time, it only takes about five minutes. Comments can then be removed, and the user permanently blocked.

If the review is defamatory or comes from a client on the opposite side of the transaction, this can be reported via the firm’s dashboard. The review is instantly removed from a firm’s profile for 14 days whilst a verification process takes place. This involves the reviewer confirming a name, address, whether they stand by the review and if they were a genuine client (if they were not a client they will not be able to provide this information and the post will therefore be permanently removed).

Cutting costs

More and more law firms are looking to outsource some of their processes to cut costs and improve productivity, according to City Business Solutions. By outsourcing some of the routine tasks, firms can
become more client-centric – and online reviews can aid this process of automation.

According to the same research, this year will see a new cohort of solicitors (who are seeking more flexibility) switch to freelance roles. The SRA introduced new regulations making this possible in 2019 and many will establish themselves with lower costs than the traditional firm. Naturally then, such freelancers will need to find other ways to get their names heard – and collecting online reviews can be an easy and cost-effective method of exposure. Not only can an online presence directly translate into client instructions, which is integral to a freelancer starting out independently, but a thread of positive reviews will potentially mean that clients are willing to pay more – whether that solicitor is tied to a particular firm or not.

Whilst it’s easy to get carried away with the positives, it should be noted that the collection of online reviews isn’t completely infallible. Legal technology for example, is something that is always expanding and software development is seeing certain functions in the firm being replaced by AI. Digital transformation is rarely a bad thing, yet the Law Society has suggested that jobs in the legal sector are predicted to fall by 4 per cent over the next few years, as tasks can simply be allocated elsewhere. This is something that could potentially hinder the success of online reviews. With fewer personal interactions and the opportunity to build rapport, clients will have less to praise. As more engage with machine learning and digital means of getting the job done, there may simply be fewer experiences to talk about online!

Using online reviews to your advantage

Even if there are some negatives of online reviews, the pros generally outweigh the cons, and solicitors are learning how to use them to their advantage. Online reviews can help to free up the marketing budgets of firms, allowing clients to do the talking and spreading the word, ideally leading to new instructions for minimal cost. They also translate into increased presence and, by using a review collection platform, new enquiries can potentially be generated for a fraction of the cost of a bus shelter advert.

ROI and countering the pitfalls

Spending a fraction of the marketing budget on review collection means a firm’s return on investment (ROI) is maximised for minimal cost. Whilst other means of communications are free – such as social media posts – they of course only serve self-promotion. By getting clients to do the talking instead, authenticity excels, credibility soars and the small cost of review collection can be quickly earned back in direct client instructions.

But although the good outweighs the bad when it comes to online reviews, there are certain reservations when it comes to promoting a firm on the internet. Some of the pitfalls include link farms, which intend to increase SEO rankings but with low-quality information that may not be genuine or credible. Malicious comments can also be left and seen before they have had a chance to be removed which may be damaging to a firm’s reputation. And having time gaps between reviews may make the ones you are left seem out of date or irrelevant. When you collect reviews with a specific review platform, however, you enter an online community of support and integration which means these need not be issues. Defamatory reviews can be reported, you appear at the top of rankings based on genuine achievement, and review requests mean the comments keep coming in.

Reviews and the future

The future of the legal review has never been more exciting. As face-to-face interaction decreases, reviews are becoming the “go to” when it comes to building rapport and trust, but it’s important to try and make sure they are only ever a help to your firm, not a hindrance.

Saleem Arif is the Chief Executive of ReviewSolicitors. Emily Owen is the Marketing Manager. Email saleem.arif@reviewsolicitors.com. Twitter @ReviewSolicitor.

Image cc by Kreg Steppe on Flickr.

Editor’s note: Other solicitor review sites include www.solicitor.info and www.ratedsolicitors.com.

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