5 Tips for Small Law Firms to Deal with Negative Online Reviews

Your law firm just received a scathing negative online review. Adrenaline courses through your veins as you contemplate this brazen affront to your integrity.

We've heard all the horror stories of small businesses trying to deal with the consequences of negative online reviews, malicious blog comments and inaccurate reports, which can damage a company's reputation and hinder sales for years.

How do you react? Don't panic. Take a deep breath and address the issue.

InternetReputationManagement.com founder and chief SEO strategist Kent Campbell offers the following 5 tips on how to deal with a negative online review:

1. DON'T respond online: It is possible that any additional comments on the review site will just strengthen the link in the eyes of search engines. By defending yourself online, you may be drawing more attention to the negative. While you may be tempted to immediately explain or defend yourself, resist the urge to do so, so you don't unintentionally fan the flames.

2. DON'T file suit or fire off a demand letter: Or at least think about it first. As an attorney, you may file a complaint or send a letter which could find its way online, get indexed on Google, and then pop up as a link in Google's search results -- it can worsen the problem if handled incorrectly.

3. DON'T share the bad news: Business owners usually want to talk about the bad review with their teams, or worse, online, asking "Can you believe this guy?" . . . but Kent advises not to. "It's the opposite of containing the problem. You share the bad news, which is the same as spreading the negative sentiment." Make your best call, but you don't want it to end up on an employee's Facebook page.

4. DO call the reviewer (or reporter) on the phone (if you can get a hold of his number) and speak calmly. Don't send an email. If you do, the email may be reposted online. Discuss the reviewer's concerns and allow them to feel heard. Many times, people who are upset about a perceived situation simply want to have their grievances heard and addressed.

5. DO try to get the reviewer to retract the comment. If you are able to get a hold of her by phone, offer to fix the problem and see if she's willing to retract the comment once you do. If you're successful, you'll be saving yourself the cost of an internet reputation expert to push the review further down in Google's search results.

By following Mr. Campbell's "do's and don'ts," hopefully you can keep an unpleasant experience from turning into an even bigger headache.

There may, of course, be instances where a reviewer will not respond to calm dialogue or a polite request to resolve the issue. In such situations, pursuing legal options may be unavoidable.

It is important to remember, however, that whatever approach you take in responding to a negative online review, your ethical obligations are still paramount. Regardless of how upset your are by the situation, you still have professional responsibilities to maintain.