Are “fake reviews” a cause for concern in the legal sector?

Following the news that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched formal enforcement cases against Amazon and Google over the use of fake reviews on their platforms, legal professionals are becoming increasingly concerned about fake reviews creeping into legal sector businesses as well. We asked a panel of industry experts for their views and advice on the subject.

Although reviews are usually found on travel and consumer websites such as Amazon, there is a definite increase in the number of reviews being posted about client-facing service businesses such as legal firms.

“These days, it is not just about looking up a hotel or a restaurant online where TripAdvisor and others started”

says Managing Director of Convey Law, Lloyd Davies,

“reviews and the power of reviews has spread into all other industries, even the Law”.

But although there is “no evidence per se” of reviews influencing consumers in legal industries specifically, Simon Brown, Managing Director at the ESTAS commented that

“Google estimates from their own data that 70% of the buying decision to use a firm’s services is made before a consumer makes direct contact. Consumers do more research online and are better informed than ever before and customer reviews are an essential part of that research.”

Conveyancing firms in particular are the most heavily reviewed of legal services, because first and foremost conveyancing is a client-centred industry and secondly “buying a house is one of the most important – and expensive – transactions most of us will ever make. It makes sense that these days, most people will go straight on the Internet to look at what other people say about us before they decide to work with us” says Lloyd Davies Managing Director of Convey Law.

The need for more transparency in legal services has been highlighted by the CMA before. In 2020 a government report suggested that there were signs of progress especially around firms providing information on price, service, redress and regulatory status to help consumers shop around, but there is still work to be done with regard to competition between providers and providing more information on quality.

“The quality issue will be the main purpose of the reviews and therefore it is imperative they are reliable and the systems employed to deliver reviews are audited regularly for fake ones”

says Beth Rudolf, Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association

“we understand the CLC, SRA and CILEx are looking into reviews generally”.

So how can businesses tackle the issue of fake reviews, and how damaging can it actually be?

Simon Brown commented that fake or misinformed reviews are a huge problem for legal firms,

“once a fake review is posted they are incredibly difficult to get taken down and can have a huge negative impact on a firm’s online reputation. The key things to do is to report it, and acknowledge it with a response that removes any emotion from the conversation”.

Paul Sams of Dutton Gregory remembers another damaging review that eventually came good, a client of Sams had been sent an old negative review of Dutton Gregory that another firm had found online, presumably to try and win business.

“The firm in question thought it was acceptable to do that to try and influence the potential client, the client came to us anyway based on what they liked about what we could offer”

says Sams.

Action can however be taken against fake or misleading reviews. Davies works with TrustPilot to monitor client reviews,

“if we are concerned that a review is not from a genuine client, TrustPilot are able to contact them and ask them for proof that they are a client of Convey Law. If they cannot prove this, their review is taken down”.

ESTAS is also a popular option, as it is an invite-only platform so firms know that the review invite is going to a client that has used their services “with ESTAS we can monitor our customer service score which is very useful, it follows therefore that the issue of fake reviews is a serious one because the reviews directly affect our ratings” adds Davies.

Overall the sector is wising up to the negatives and indeed positives that online reviews can bring to businesses, as Simon Brown states,

“we’ve been working with the legal sector for a number of years but in the last few months the message has suddenly got through. Many conveyancers now understand that their digital reputation through their website and social media is crucial to attract new business and reviews can have a huge role to play.”

Lloyd Davies agrees and thinks that perhaps further measures are needed in order to govern reviews,

“I believe that the industry may need to adopt its own trusted review platform with agreed policies and practices if some of the major review platforms do not provide more protection for companies from potential defamation”.

Today's Conveyancer