Client testimonials have become a hot topic for lawyers as they embrace marketing and business development, build websites and participate in social media. Some social media platforms, like LinkedIn, have a built-in mechanism for client testimonials (which they call recommendations). Platforms built especially for lawyers, such as Avvo, also provide an opportunity for clients to comment on their experience with lawyers. But should lawyers ask for client testimonials? And what does an effective testimonial look like?

Why use client testimonials?

The use of client testimonials is a matter of personal taste and preference for lawyers (and are subject to the ethical rules of the lawyer’s jurisdication), but they can be very powerful. Testimonials are a popular lawyer marketing tool precisely because they have proven to be powerful. If a client does not have a referral from someone they trust, a testimonial is the next best thing. Testimonials carry more weight than other marketing copy because they are the words of a third party, rather than the words of the business (or law firm) themselves; they are a good way for lawyers to demonstrate their value through the words of their clients. Those words can be very persuasive, and they can be an important part of your lawyer marketing and website strategy.

How to ask clients for testimonials

Not many satisfied clients will think to offer to provide their lawyer or law firm with a testimonial, although they may express their appreciation directly to the firm. The moment when the client expresses that appreciation is the best time to ask the client for a testimonial. Whether the client expresses their appreciation verbally or in writing, ask whether they would be willing to share those thoughts with others, and whether you can use them in your marketing materials. Ask clients to reduce their comments to writing and get their consent in writing to use their words. There is nothing wrong with asking a client for a testimonial, just as there is nothing wrong with asking a client for referrals to others you may be able to help.

Although unsolicited testimonials are the easiest to obtain since the client does the work for you, you may also have plenty of satisfied clients who do not go out of their way to tell you about their experience. You may still be able to capture testimonials from these clients by asking them for their feedback. You can do this verbally or in writing.

Client surveys should be a part of your regular routine to gauge your own performance and the client’s satisfaction throughout the engagement, to identify additional needs and improve your services to this client and future clients. This tool can also be helpful for obtaining testimonials.

What kinds of testimonials are most effective?

Many marketing consultants will tell you to get results based testimonials, and those kinds of testimonials can be helpful, particularly in certain practice areas. However, those testimonials can be difficult or problematic to obtain, in part because clients may not be willing to divulge (even anonymously) the specifics about their case in hard terms, but also because lawyers have to be careful about giving the appearance of guaranteeing clients a specific outcome. Some of that can be remedied by accompanying testimonials with disclaimers, but even then there is a fine line to be aware of, particularly in certain jurisdictions. And a results-based testimonial followed immediately by a disclaimer can water down the effect of the testimonial.

Most lay people do not choose or evaluate their lawyers based upon technical legal skill. Instead, they rate their lawyer based upon the service they receive and the client’s experience with your firm: how they are treated and how the lawyer (and the firm as a whole) makes them feel. Solicit feedback about the experience of working with you or with your firm. Ask clients about how they felt before you took on their representation and how they feel now that the matter has been concluded. Ask them what they think is the best feature of your service or what most surprised them about working with you.

Ideally, your marketing materials should contain testimonials that address different services that you provide to your clients. The combination of stories and experiences from different clients addressing different issues will provide a much better picture of your service as a whole.

Keep the client’s voice

Although you may want to guide the client in creating their testimonial by using  questions designed to solicit specific kinds of feedback, the best testimonials are in the client’s voice. In order to be believable, the testimonial must sound like it came from the client, rather than the lawyer. It does not need to be slick, and probably should not be. When the testimonial tells the client’s story in their own voice, there will be no question that it is genuine, even if it is anonymous.

(photo:http://flic.kr/p/7xvoCj)