If you’re trying to get more clients for your law firm website, profiles in customer review sites like Avvo and Google+ can help. In the modern age, clients are increasingly using the Internet as a resource to find their attorneys rather than asking for referrals from friends and colleagues.
When a prospective client searches for a law firm in Google, the first organic search results (i.e. not paid advertisements) are the law firms that are in Google+ and have reviews.
Once your Google+ profile is set up and you need to get positive reviews, attorneys can be tempted to create fake reviews, ones that they, employees, or family members created.
First off – don’t. Check out our article on how to get positive customer reviews. It’s 7 actionable tips for you. It’s easy, quick, and safe.
New York Sues 19 Companies for Fake Reviews
Recently, review sites and state attorneys general have begun to crack down on fake reviews. New York’s attorney general recently filed suit against 19 companies for providing fake reviews of businesses.
Customer Review Site Sues Law Firm
Not only is this practice against many state laws regarding false advertising, it also violates the terms of service of the reviewing websites. Yelp, a popular customer review site, recently filed suit against San Diego-based law firm McMillan Law Group after the firm had its employees and friends create Yelp accounts to give the firm positive reviews. The complaint alleges that the firm also traded positive reviews with other law firms. Yelp’s complaint seeks damages for breach of contract regarding Yelp’s terms of service, which, among other things (inter alia for you law fans out there) prohibit fake reviews, compensating people for reviews, and trading positive reviews. It also contains causes of action for intentional interference with contract, and claims for false advertising and unfair competition under California law.
Ethics and Customer Review Websites
That’s not all. Bringing it on home, if the fact that lawsuits brought by review websites and attorneys general weren’t enough of a deterrent for you, fake reviews also likely violate your state’s ethics rules.
Rule 7.2 of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct (adopted by many states) prohibits giving “anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services . . .” Moreover, Rule 7.1 prohibits making “a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.”
While attorneys have ethical obligations, they can’t blame their marketers for unethical conduct. When you hire an SEO firm to do your search engine marketing, you’re hiring an agent. If that agent engages in false advertising, you’re on the hook. So, making sure your SEO company is acting ethically is paramount (shameful plug here for JurisPage law firm SEO).
Carolyn Elefant of MyShingle has a great article in which she points out that while it is “crystal clear that lawyers have an ethical obligation to avoid deceptive practices in advertising” state ethics boards often lack the technical savvy and resources to police review sites. So, the more significant deterrent for the attorney is not likely going to be a disciplinary board, but rather a lawsuit with the threat of a $4 million fine.