It’s a hard fact of life. Despite your best efforts or altruistic ambitions, somebody somewhere is going to say something bad about you or your practice online. It’s all too easy for disgruntled clients and unscrupulous competitors to drag your reputation through the digital mud these days, and if you’re not on top of things, these negative comments could be the first thing potential clients see when they type your name (or the name of your firm) into Google.
When it comes to managing the online reputation for your law practice, it’s not enough to simply respond to the bad press when it happens. You need to make sure you’re out in front of the negative, accentuating the positive and telling the story your practice wants to tell. In short, you need to own your online presence.
Easier said than done, I know. But here are 5 steps you can take to make sure the online impression you’re making is the best one possible.
Own Your Domain(s)
Remember back in 1997, when the Internet was still new and exciting? When the Clinton administration set out to create a website for the White House, they discovered, much to their chagrin, that the www.whitehouse.com domain had already been claimed and was being used as an adult entertainment website. And so unsuspecting web surfers would innocently visit whitehouse.com and suddenly find themselves confronted by content that was totally inappropriate for a government website.
My point is, you need to make sure you own the domains that are pertinent to your practice. Let’s say your name is John Stubbs and your private practice is Stubbs Law Group, LLC. At a bare minimum, you’ll want to make sure you have the www.StubbsLawGroup.com domain sewn up. You may also want to consider grabbing the www.JohnStubbs.com and www.JohnStubbsLawyer.com domains, if they’re available. Here’s why:
- If you don’t publish content on these domains, odds are somebody else eventually will. If it’s somebody with an axe to grind with your practice, they’ll have a ready channel to reach your potential clients with their negative message. Even if the domains are owned by someone who has nothing to do with you or your practice, there’s still a chance that folks who are searching for you online will be confused or discouraged by the irrelevant content.
- A personalized domain simply looks more professional and shows an attention to detail that many clients will appreciate. It may not seem like a big deal, but the domain www.StubbsLawGroup.com will have far more credibility than www.freeinternetdomain.net/hosting/stubbslaw.htm.
Once you’ve staked your claim, you can build out your website with fresh, original, and compelling content. If you do purchase more than one domain, you won’t want to build out individual websites for each one unless they each have separate and distinct purposes (like one website focusing only on family law services and one on criminal law services, or a separate website for each partner). In most cases it’s best to have just one website for your firm and simply redirect visitors to your primary website’s homepage from any other domains you purchase.
Own Your Online Profiles
Consumer review sites have really leveled the playing field when it comes to online marketing, allowing smaller firms and private practices to compete with the big firms. But the downside to this increase in visibility is that one bad review can sometimes be enough to torpedo your online reputation.
Your best bet is to make sure you’re represented where folks are likely to be venting their collective spleens, and this means claiming your profiles on attorney review sites like:
When someone is looking to vet an attorney, they’re more than likely to check out one or more of these sites. That’s why claiming your profiles will help maximize your online presence, as well as establish your experience and expertise. You’ll also be able to stay abreast of what folks are saying about your practice, and even participate in the conversation when necessary.
Develop a Social Media Presence
Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest are wonderful tools for connecting with clients (and potential clients) and building them into a loyal, tight-knit community. Admittedly, updating those accounts on a regular basis can be a full-time job in and of itself. However, even if you can only manage the occasional sporadic update, you’ll still see some benefit as social media sites tend to rank really well in the search engines. So at the very least, they have the potential to drive negative and/or unwanted content from the first page of Google results.
Just bear in mind that there are a number of ethical concerns for lawyers with regards to social media, so tread carefully and make sure you’re aware of the rules set forth by your state and local bar associations.
Show Off Your Expertise
Let potential clients know you can be relied upon by sharing your expertise with them. You can contribute articles to legal blogs, post information on your social media platforms, or (if you’re feeling industrious) set up a personal blog of your own. For those who aren’t trained in the ways of jurisprudence, general legal advice can make for some really useful reading.
That said, just remember the idea is to establish your expertise with potential clients, not to give away the store. Attorney-client privilege issues aside, offering specific legal advice or discussing the particulars of an ongoing case for free is just bad for your bottom line. If you’re looking to offer more direct legal advice, your best bet is to provide contact information with your posts and invite those with questions to reach out to you.
Respond Professionally to Complaints
Reputation management is an ongoing process, and requires constant diligence. You need to set up Google Alerts to notify you when new content about your practice shows up online. You need to actively monitor the consumer review sites for positive and negative reviews. And, when necessary, you need to respond to your critics.
Responding to negative feedback can be a tricky proposition. It’s hard not to take criticism personally, and your first inclination may be to wade in and set the record straight. However, if you respond to hostility with hostility or condescension, then you risk others perceiving you and your practice as defensive and/or unprofessional. And if you happen to let slip some specifics about your client or the case, you run the risk of a reprimand (or worse) from your state bar.
A reasonable and professional response to criticism has the potential to turn a disgruntled client around, and can make a positive impression on any potential clients who might stumble upon the exchange. When faced with a legitimate criticism, your best bet is to take the high road and handle the problem courteously and with discretion.
It’s a lot easier to build a good online reputation than it is to recover from a bad one, so think carefully about how you’re presenting your law practice online. With just a little bit of effort, you can make a stellar first impression on potential clients and avoid the pitfalls that might otherwise damage the online reputation of your law practice.
- “Insider Tips: Reputation Management for Attorneys” – LawInfo
- “Online Reputation Management for Attorneys” – Reputation.com
- “Rank for Your Name: Reputation Management for Lawyers – and Anyone Whose Name IS Their Brand” – Bruce Clay, Inc.