October 21, 2013
Everyone is a critic, so people like to write them. More importantly, people like to read them. A study from the University of California-Berkeley, for example, found that a positive Yelp review of a restaurant translated into a 19 percent increase in the likelihood that the restaurant would be full at peak meal times.
Naturally, it is not just restaurants that want in on this trend. Many law firms are exploring peer review sites and potential ways to influence how these sties view the firm because they know that few things are effective as the public endorsement of a satisfied client.
To put it generally, the legal industry has made a few missteps in adapting to the popularity of peer reviews. Here are three recent developments about peer reviews of which you and your firm should be aware:
- Yelp, the community review site, recently sued a San Diego law firm for allegedly posting made-up reviews . tactic known as “astroturfing”. The attorney who leads the law firm has said the suit has no merit and has claimed it is retaliation for his successful small-claims suit against Yelp, which alleged he was coerced into buying ads on the site in exchange for greater visibility. His lawsuit attracted a lot of attention because the judge overseeing the case compared Yelp to the mafia and said it shakes down businesses for “protection money” against bad reviews. Yelp denied that claim.
- What’s the takeaway? Peer reviews are exploding in popularity, but fake reviews are the new scourge of sites like Yelp. When it comes to “encouraging” positive reviews, tread very carefully. For reasons that will be discussed shortly, it is not quite the same as sweetening the deal for a customer who provides a client testimonial.
- A suburban Chicago lawyer recently sued the ex-husband of a client for posting a review of him on Google Plus. The review claimed the lawyer conducted business in an “underhanded and deceitful way”; the lawyer felt that was defamation.
- What’s the takeaway: All social media, not just peer reviews, is no longer a one-direction means of communicating. Certainly, you can (and ought to) make use of powerful social media tools, but do not expect that content you distribute will not go anywhere. It is entirely likely that it will provoke a reaction – a positive one, hopefully, but you need to be prepared in the event that you wind up generating a response you did not intend. To reduce that likelihood, you should have at least a general social media guideline for what you publish on the Internet in the first place, as well as a plan for how to respond in the event that a social media item results in an unfavorable reaction.
- In September, the office of the New York Attorney General announced that its Operation Clean Turf has resulted in 19 businesses settling to the tune of a collective $350,000. The companies — a teeth-whitening firm, a charter bus company and an adult entertainment venue among them — had all paid for positive reviews.
- What’s the takeaway? Fake reviews have been called “the false advertising of the 21st century,” and utterly made-up ones might be illegal. Furthermore, “fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement,” in the words of Aaron Schur, Yelp’s senior litigation counsel. In other words, Operation Clean Turf might be an indication that law enforcement agencies are willing to crack down on fake reviews as a consumer protection effort.