Early Saturday morning I was catching up on my reading while listening to “Queen of Latin Music” Celia Cruz, lawyer-turned-salsero Rubén Blades and soulful Sam Smith’s – “In The Lonely Hour.” I like mixing my music. Ditto my casual reading.
So my reading stack was pretty disconnected with magazines, news clippings, newspapers and digital items featuring book and movie reviews, history, sociopolitical commentaries, sports notes and an outrageous report about juvenile truants in court being jailed without assistance of counsel. (I’ll be blogging about that one later).
One item, though, also drew my interest. It concerned a just-released survey suggesting lawyers ought to be marketing with online review sites. More specifically, the report referred to “the online urban guide” Yelp as supposedly “the most commonly used site to search for attorney reviews online, with 58 percent of [the] respondents saying it is the first place they turn.” The study also claimed that for 83 percent of respondents, online reviews were the first step taken by would-be clients. Who knew?
Burritos not barristers.
What I do know is that I like Yelp for hunting burritos not barristers. Help me get a bagel, a beignet or some bouillabaisse. Or how about finding me a bowlful of cocido, pho or curry when I’m traveling. But lawyers?
I haven’t seen this study’s metrics, methodology or ‘motivation.’ So I’m skeptical.
And since anecdotally and experientially, I haven’t seen it happening, I’m having trouble — especially accepting the inference that all these consumer are allegedly posting reviews about lawyers, which in turn is helping other consumers find legal counsel.
While it’s true that consumers use the Internet to find legal services, consumers aren’t generating a whole lot of online reviews about lawyers. Maybe it’s because it’s not like going out for burgers and brews. Not many folks can afford to hire legal representation. In spite of the historic glut of lawyers, the high cost of legal services has nonetheless resulted in more and more litigants doing without.
So I don’t know who’s supposedly posting all those few and far-between reviews the study says the public’s relying on. Granted, as one marketing researcher at the University of Utah’s School of Business contends, perhaps you don’t need a lot of online buzz. It’s the quality of the online sentiment that’s more important than the quantity of the conversations when it comes to driving customers to your door. Dr. Shyam Gopinath and his research co-authors suggest “that, in our data, ‘what people say’ is more important than ‘how much people say.'”
All the same, given the paucity of online word of mouth about lawyers, I doubt you’ll see a time where like those ‘Elite’ Yelp restaurant reviewers, people dissing or raving about their lawyers will be feted at parties and treated “like royalty.”
Online legal reviews.
According to “How Prospective Clients Use Online Legal Reviews,” the randomly sampled 385 adults in the U.S. generated “385 unique responses to each of nine questions” for a “total of 3,465 respondents.” Say what?
To the everyday Joe, 385 adults is an infinitesimal number when there are an estimated 243,419,206 adults in the U.S. The findings then, are a real leap when the sample represents .00015816336201507453% of 243,419,206. But since statisticians assert this is a sufficiently sizable sampling to make the survey valid, I’ll just have to choke down my incredulity.
Here were the key findings from Software Advice, a consulting firm which according to their website, “helps buyers choose the right software. As a trusted resource, our website offers detailed reviews, comparisons and research to assist organizations in finding products that best fit their current and future needs.”
“1. Yelp is the most popular and trusted website for legal reviews.
“2. The most important information to prospective clients is quality of service and years of legal experience.
“3. Seventy percent of prospective clients would travel further to see an attorney with better online reviews.”
I don’t have a handle on how many lawyers currently rely on web-based business referral and review sites like Avvo, Yelp or the stodgy old school, Martindale-Hubbell. Lord knows they’re out there trolling for lawyer business.
And to some extent, lawyers should pay attention to what’s said about them online. But it’s a touchy proposition, especially when a lawyer feels compelled to respond to a negative review posted by a former client. Unlike other business owners who sue reviewers, lawyers may find that option a no-win proposition.
But as to my further thoughts about the survey, I’m hypothesizing not many lawyers are marketing through Yelp — not unless they’re also serving chowder with their counsel. Save for emerging social media savvy Millenials, lawyers as a class are rarely early adopters. If there’s gonna be a digital technology party, most will be late.
From my own admittedly unscientific Yelp search of “lawyers,” for example, in the Phoenix, AZ market, very few had any client reviews. Indeed, the Phoenix lawyer with the most reviews had 8. And even in the bigger metropolis of Los Angeles, CA, the “most reviewed” lawyer in Downtown Los Angeles garnered a mere 93 reviews. The “most reviewed” lawyer in San Francisco’s Civic Center had 53 reviews and in Cleveland, OH, of the Yelp lawyers listed, all were tied with a whopping one review each. One San Diego, CA firm had over 200 reviews — but the next two highest were at 47 and 34 reviews.
And unfortunately, among all those scant reviews, some were negative. When it comes to lawyers, I disagree with Brendan Behan that “All publicity is good, except an obituary notice.”
To be fair, not all lawyers are Luddites. Some are just risk-adverse. They may be reluctant to run afoul of ethical rules governing how they advertise. After all, client recommendations are analogous to testimonials and so lawyers can’t have clients violate or attempt to violate Ethical Rule 8.4 (a) by knowingly assisting their clients to say things they aren’t allowed to say — like making false or misleading communications about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.
And then there’s that other burden that requires lawyers to monitor their social networks and blogs for reviews and recommendations that may need to be revised or deleted. In Virginia, for instance, “the lawyer cannot permit to remain on his LinkedIn page a client recommendation that says the lawyer is the “best personal injury lawyer in town” because it is a comparative statement that cannot be factually substantiated. Rule 7.1(a)(3).”
From my own sorry experiences, I’ve also developed my own ‘rules’ for finding restaurants not lawyers on Yelp. Unless I’m in the middle of Smallville, USA where you won’t find 100 residents let alone 100 reviewers, I don’t pick a restaurant with less than 100 reviews. This takes out the possibility the restaurateur may have tried gaming the system by having biased friends and family stack the deck with glowing reviews.
Reviews should also be recent. And hopefully, substantive — not just whining because the waiter didn’t make eye contact, smile enough or sympathize about your troubling hangnail. Last, I also don’t pick restaurants with less than 4 stars.
And yet despite my ‘rules,’ I’ve still been burned — more than once, especially in the bad dining town where I live.
Yet come to think about it, if my Yelp restaurant rules were ever applied to picking lawyers, consumers would find it near impossible to find one.