Your online reviews are glowing – so what’s the problem?
It’s always nice to get good online reviews. But, what if they are over the top and you don’t recognize the client? What if you don’t spend much time online checking your reviews? In both cases, there is an issue of which you need to be aware, because not knowing what is online could get you in hot water with the state Bar Association, and knowing, and not doing something about it, also can get you in trouble.
Consider the case of Fears Nachawati, a Dallas law firm, which discovered that they had several online reviews from people they could not identify as clients. They were five-star ratings, but there was something strange about the situation. The same person reviewing the law firm also handed out similar reviews and ratings to five other law firms, a back rehabilitation center, and a water-conditioning business.
Oddly, two other reviewers on the same day also gave Fears Nachawati and the same other firms and businesses, five-star ratings. And therein lies the key concern in this kind of a situation – commissioning fake reviews, or ignoring them.
Phony reviews, or ignoring questionable reviews that raise concerns, even if they are good reviews, may result in an attorney running afoul of the rules of professional conduct in virtually every state.
The Model Rules are specific:
- Model Rule 7.1 – Lawyers may not make false or misleading statements about themselves or their services.
- Model Rule 7.2 – An attorney may advertise their services, but must not give anything of value to an individual for recommending the lawyer’s services, aside from the cost of the advertising.
- Model Rule 8.4 – An attorney is guilty of misconduct if they violate or attempt to violate ethics rules by asking someone else to act unethically for them.
- Model Rule 5.3 – An attorney managing or supervising a non-lawyer is obligated to make sure their conduct would not be in violation of the rules of professional conduct if that conduct were engaged in by the attorney.
What if an attorney doesn’t know someone is doing something they should not be doing on their behalf, and that amounts to a violation of legal ethics? What if an attorney’s marketing firm tells them they create fake reviews and the attorney does not raise any objections? Once an attorney is made aware that someone is creating false reviews to boost their firm’s rating, they “must” not work with that firm any longer because they are unethically using means the attorney cannot use.
It’s not clear whether an attorney needs to constantly monitor their online reviews, but in the interests of staying on the right side of the rules of ethics, it would be better to check frequently and remove the ones that seem out-of-line.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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