Help! Bad Client Review on Yelp!

Over in The Lab, there’s a discussion about what to do about a negative review in Yelp.

Of course, the best course of action is to be mindful of bad client warning signs, provide competent service and keep open lines of communication.

But, “you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.”

And as Rich Barton has said:

If it can be known, it will be known. If it can be rated, it will be rated.

Which means that sooner, but hopefully later, you’ll probably find yourself on the wrong end of a negative review wondering, whether anything can be done to “fix” a bad review and what can be done to get filtered reviews, unfiltered.

The quality of reviews on Yelp! matter to some people. So, I think that completely ignoring what people write about you online is just a bad idea.

As Sam pointed out, Yelp! provides some guidance on how to respond to reviews. They also provide a short video with some advice from one business owner about how and why you might consider responding to reviews.

But, as you know, lawyers have unique obligations that can make online interactions with clients tricky. As Carolyn has noted:

Unfortunately for lawyers, a public response proves sticky because of confidentiality concerns. Although presumably clients will post a reviews anonymously, it’s possible that they may include enough identifying information that it’s impossible to respond without breaching an attorney-client privilege.Consider, for example, a client who complains that “My lawyer sold me out in a custody case. I was a perfect dad to a 7 and 9 year old and my wife dumped me for a guy in Peru. Open and shut.” If you respond that you couldn’t raise certain issues in the case because your client told you a few hours before trial that he’d had several affairs before his wife left, you’d be violating attorney client privilege.

But not every bad review situation requires a lawyer’s silence. Ruth Carter recommends talking back to bad reviews:

Some people use online review sites when they want to rant about you without any desire to remedy the situation. If you’ve been respectful, invited the commenter to contact you directly, and the person hasn’t taken you up on it, at that point it’s okay to ignore them, since there’s not much more you can do. Avvo and JD Supra’s terms of service, for example, prohibit the posting of defamatory or harassing material but I didn’t see anything that suggests you can otherwise get a negative review removed from either site. However, if someone continues to rant to the point of harassment, report it to the website. If a client defames you, consider legal action. Otherwise, don’t feed their need for attention. The online community will see that you did all you could in the situation.

The Dreaded (and perhaps biased) Yelp Review Filter

It you’ve been managing/monitoring what people have been saying about you on Yelp, you’ve probably encountered the Yelp review filter:

Yelp has an automated Review Filter that many people are surprised to learn was put in place soon after our big launch in 2005. Of course, it’s evolved over the years; it’s an algorithm our engineers are constantly working on. Its purpose, however, remains the same: to protect consumers and business owners from fake, shill or malicious reviews.

The review filter has been the subject of much criticism. Most stems from the frustration of business owners that the review filter is biased against positive reviews and first-time users. On the other hand, Yelp’s FAQ states:

Does the filter only target positive reviews?
No. The software applies the same analysis to everyone. It sometimes affects more positive reviews simply because Yelp users write more positive reviews in the first place. In other cases, it affects positive reviews that appear to have been solicited by business owners (a practice which may seem like a good way to generate more reviews, but which tends to create an unintentional bias). In any event, the filter affects both positive and negative reviews — feel free to check out a random sampling of businesses listed on Yelp to see for yourself.

It’s worth noting that Yelp isn’t the only review site with filters. Google’s review filter has also been the subject of much consternation for business owners. Fortunately, they have recognized some of the problems with their filter and recently announced that they will be relaxing it (h/t: Mike Blumenthal).

Have you ever dealt with a negative review issue on Yelp? What did you do?

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Static says:

    With apologies for going orthogonally, isn’t Ruth Carter the brand new lawyer who has staked a claim on the niche practice of “flash mob law,” for which there is no fee involved and is done to hang out with really cool people? Or the Ruth Carter who is promoting the right of female lawyers to show their nipples? And this is the person whose advice you rely on and feel is worthy of transmitting to other lawyers?

    Wouldn’t it be a good idea to wait until she actually did something, you know, lawyerly before holding her up as a thought leader?

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