CLIENT TESTIMONIALS, or social proof, has become one of the most powerful marketing tools in modern-day marketing. In fact, social proof can make (or break, if it’s not good) a business. Think of your own habits: Before you make an online purchase, do you check the reviews? Have you ever NOT made a purchase because of negative reviews? Are you a testimonial writer yourself? Do you post positive or negative reviews online to reflect your experience?

Perhaps you’ve been following some recent defamation cases about social media posters who take their ire, or even just their opinions, to social media instead of directly to the service provider? If not, I’d suggest conducting a bit of research, if for nothing else than your own edification (and because it is interesting). My prediction is we are going to see more and more companies fight back against negative reviewers in an effort to protect their reputations.

Attorneys, in particular, face a daunting task of reputation management and combating negative reviews because we are bound not only by attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, but by our ethical rules and regulations. Former clients, or even disgruntled former employees, former friends or professionals foes can easily take to search engines, attorney referral sites and other review sites, and post vitriol about us and our firms, and there’s little we can do about it.

Often, our best recourse is to seek out as many positive reviews as we can get to outweigh the negative ones. If t’s a former client, we must tread very lightly in responding. If it’s another type of party, we can contact the review site hosts with some evidence and see if they will take it down. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. In some cases, it might be worth it to file a lawsuit, if for no other reason than as a cautionary tale to defamers with no basis in fact.

The question is, if we must tolerate the evil of negative reviews, can we at least use the power of social proof for good? Can attorneys use testimonials in their own marketing materials, like on websites and social media sites, to shore up our reputations and help us attract more clients?

Each jurisdiction is different, so I encourage you to check the rules in your state before proceeding with use of testimonials to promote your practice. I’m going to use Florida rules as an example, though, because Florida tends to be pretty highly regulated (and it’s also where I am licensed to practice.)

The following is an excerpt from The Florida Bar rules. It serves as a quick reference guide to the use of testimonials on attorney websites. (I added the underlines for emphasis). Before posting testimonials on their websites, Florida attorneys are to ask themselves:

Does the advertisement contain any testimonials or endorsements that the person offering the testimonial is not qualified to make, that is not the actual experience of the person, that the person has received something of value for giving, that is not representative of the general experience of that lawyer or firm’s clients, that the lawyer has written or drafted, or that does not include a disclaimer that prospective clients may not receive the same or similar results? Rule 4-7.13(b)(8) Is the disclosure illegible or not reasonably prominent? Rule 4-7.12(d) Does the disclosure fail to appear in the same language used in the testimonial? Rule 4- 7.12(c)

To make it a bit clearer, here’s the recap in the form of statements instead of questions (at least this is my interpretation):

  1. The person giving the testimonial about the lawyer’s or law firm’s services, must be qualified to make it in that the testimonial must reflect the actual experience of the person.
  2. The person who wrote the testimonial must not have received something of value from the lawyer or law firm receiving the testimonial in exchange for the testimonial–so no paid testimonials, whether that’s with cash or discounts or some other reward.
  3. The testimonial must be consistent with most of the lawyer or firm’s other clients BUT it must contain a disclaimer along with the testimonial that prospective clients may not receive the same or similar results. That disclaimer must be 1) legible, 2) prominent (and I would imagine in close proximity to the testimonial), and 3) in the same language used in the testimonial.
  4. The lawyer can’t write the testimonial for the client and then just have the client sign off on it. The client has to actually write the testimonial.

Where I’m seeing a lot of attorneys and law firms, particularly newer solos, go off the rails is with a failure to include disclaimers as required by the Bar rules. I do not know whether any have offered incentives for testimonials or whether they’ve written testimonials themselves and then asked the client to just review and “okay” them. One interesting situation I’ve seen on social media are client testimonials on video in which the client appears with the attorney and talks about how happy they are because the attorney helped them win their case. My concern about this type of testimonial is that, not only does it not include a disclaimer as required by the rules, but it may be a violation of confidentiality. I don’t know for sure how the Bar would view it, but it is something I would encourage all attorneys to research before they post.

Personally, I think testimonials are here to stay, and we are going to see more and more social proof appear as part of lawyer’s and law firm’s marketing strategies. This is going to continue to present a challenge to the Bar associations in its efforts to regulate lawyers and protect consumers. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. How do you feel about social proof, testimonials and reviews for attorneys? Attorneys: What has your experience been with each of these?

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