Being a consumer in the world today is practically a full-time job. Everyone wants the best of the best, so we research products and services before deciding on them. Sometimes we get our answers through word-of-mouth but since most of us have the entire Internet at our fingertips, we usually Google it.
Review sites are ubiquitous and any professionals, including attorneys, who don’t attend to their online reputation are making a huge mistake and seriously missing out.
How Influential Are Review Sites?
Every piece of evidence that we collected indicated that people would, in fact, check review sites when considering their attorney options. We looked at how people might do this and who would be most likely to do it. Here’s what we found.
Finding a Lawyer to Hire
Identifying a suitable lawyer can be a challenge. How do people go about tackling that challenge? They head to review sites.
Here are some specifics:
77% of prospects would check review sites to find a lawyer to hire
- 24% are somewhat likely
- 30% are likely
- 23% are very likely
As you can see, a small minority would be less likely to check review sites: 7% of people were somewhat unlikely, 6% of people were unlikely, and 10% were very unlikely to rely on review sites when finding a lawyer.
So, even among the people who aren’t likely to check review sites, only 10% of Americans are staunchly opposed to the notion of using review sites when hiring a lawyer. The chances are that new clients have checked an attorney’s reviews before hiring them.
Researching a Word-of-Mouth Referral
You might be thinking: “Most of my clients come to me by word-of-mouth referrals anyway”. That may very well be true. But does that single word-of-mouth referral replace all the potential opinions a prospect can find online? Absolutely not!
Statistically, people were even more likely to check review sites to research a word of mouth referral than when finding an attorney to hire.
Apparently, getting one person’s opinion isn’t enough and, on average, people consistently go searching for more opinions on review sites. Here are the numbers:
84% of prospects would check review sites after getting a word-of-mouth referral
- 16% are somewhat likely
- 30% are likely
- 38% are very likely
On the one hand, it could be borderline offensive that one of your friends or acquaintances would be so motivated to check up on a word-of-mouth referral. Isn’t your recommendation sufficient?
On the other hand, they may be so eager to research your word of mouth referral because they do trust your judgment and they want to confirm it with social proof. It’s incredibly powerful to see that most or all people agree that the attorney is of the highest caliber.
Of those asked about validating a referral, an even smaller number were opposed to using review sites. Just 4% were somewhat unlikely. 4% were unlikely. 8% were very unlikely. Small numbers.
Surprisingly, the people who were staunchly opposed to review sites when hiring an attorney aren’t always the same people who are staunchly opposed to review sites when researching a word-of-mouth referral.
Only 6% of people surveyed were very unlikely to use review sites in the process of hiring and researching a referral. In other words, a measly 6% of prospects would avoid the direct influence of review sites.
With numbers like these, knowing which sites to focus on and monitor is essential to success. In the legal world, Avvo is a commonly referred to review site. It has ratings, reviews, and disciplinary records for lawyers in every single state. Although it’s a great review site to keep an eye on, Avvo isn’t the most commonly used review site, so don’t give it ALL your attention.
Yelp is the biggest and most commonly referred to review site. As you may have guessed, that goes for lawyers too. The website’s guidelines specifically say that you cannot request reviews, so saying something along the lines of “Check out our Yelp reviews and see what people are saying about us,” could show prospective clients that you genuinely want them to make informed decisions.
Attracting Repeat Clients
What kind of clients would you ideally attract? The one-offs who pay once? Or the repeat clients who need your services on an ongoing basis? Most attorneys would choose repeat clients, and for good reason.
People looking for an attorney for the second, third or even fourth time have various reasons for doing so, including:
- They need a specialist in a certain area of law
- They’re dissatisfied with their prior counsel
- Their prior attorney’s firm closed down
- They moved to a distant location and want a local attorney
From our survey data, repeat clients are:
- Older (45 years old)
- More educated (54% have 4 year degrees)
- Republican (62% republican)
- Married (50% married)
- Earning over $100,000/year (12%)
How Does Experience With Attorneys Change Review Site Usage?
You might expect that the statistics would change for people who have hired an attorney in the past. Presumably, they would have their proven method and know the steps to follow. Surely, they wouldn’t use review sites in the same way as everyone else, right?
Do people with experience hiring an attorney still turn to review sites when making their decisions? We compared people with experience hiring an attorney to people who have never hired an attorney. What’s the verdict? There’s no difference!
Whether you’re a repeat client needing an attorney or a complete newbie searching for the first time, “attorney shoppers” rely on review sites to the same extent.
Even among those individuals who had hired an attorney before, their level of experience in dealing with attorneys was unrelated to their use of review sites.
Does Prior Experience EVER Matter?
We did uncover an unusual group of people who, for whatever reason, tend to rely less on review sites when researching referrals: Male repeat clients.
Men who have experience hiring an attorney in the past were less likely to validate word-of-mouth referrals by visiting review sites. That’s compared to:
- Men who have never hired an attorney
- Women how have never hired an attorney
- Women with experience hiring an attorney in the past
It’s important to realize that this reduced reliance on review sites isn’t simply a result of consumer gender. Otherwise men and women without experience hiring an attorney would have shown that same pattern (they didn’t).
It’s also important to realize that it’s not just a result of experience. Otherwise experienced men and experienced women would show the same pattern (they didn’t).
Instead, male repeat clients statistically stand out from other prospects. The reasons why this happens aren’t clear, but there could still certainly be implications for this. As two examples:
- Imagine that you were hit with a particularly bad online review. By focusing your marketing budget on attracting male repeat clients, you might reduce the negative impact of those online reviews.
- If you have stellar reviews online, then you may funnel your marketing budget into attracting female repeat clients. They are more likely to search for that valuable social proof and then hire your firm.
What’s Your Reputation Management Plan?
Too often, attorneys either ignore or minimize the potential impact of online reviews for their business. Seeing negative reviews online is unpleasant and can leave you feeling powerless to defend yourself.
However, there are several strategies that you can implement to manage your online reputation. Here are a couple steps you can take:
Just Make People Aware
Maybe you don’t want to be “selling” online reviews for your firm. Totally understandable! However, simply mentioning that you’ve received or couldreceive reviews on a review site could motivate your loyal clients to write up a nice note about you.
Often times, people either 1) don’t know that you could be reviewed online or 2) just don’t think about doing it until they are cued to do so.
If you already have positive reviews online, then a small sign in your firm’s lobby thanking your clients for their positive reviews might be a good idea. This will enhance the impression you make on other clients and trigger even more positive reviews.
Review sites will sometimes give you the option to respond to reviews. You should ALWAYS respond to reviews when you have the opportunity, especially if they are negative. A bad review is not the end of the world, but responding will show that you are sensitive to your clients’ needs and responsive to them. Whether the review is positive or negative, a thoughtful response is always better than dead air.
If the review is negative, don’t get defensive even if you are a defense attorney. It can be tricky to stay calm when a review is blatantly biased and inaccurate, but take a breath before writing that response. Use your ability to reply as an opportunity to address the situation.
Sometimes, inviting unhappy former clients to come in or contact you is very effective. Even if you don’t resolve that person’s dissatisfaction, you’ll show other visitors to the review site how open you were to resolving the complaint. If you do manage to chat with the dissatisfied reviewer, it can encourage them to go online and update their review.
Many times people just need to feel like they have a voice and that their views are valued. You can do that for them IF you’re online.
Don’t just let review sites determine how your firm is perceived by the world. Get in there and help shape those perceptions! The outcomes may pleasantly surprise you.