The Ethics of Soliciting Client Reviews and Testimonials

by Law Week Contributor

By Meranda Vieyra and Margrit Lent-Parker

 

Client testimonials and referrals are the lifeblood of any business, but they are especially crucial for professionals like doctors, engineers, and of course, lawyers. Naturally, folks want to highlight their best reviews as a way to boost their reputation and establish credibility in their industry. However, the solicitation of these testimonials is especially tricky for lawyers, as the regulations can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

First, is this a prohibited “solicitation?” Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3(a) and Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3(a) define a solicitation as “a communication initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm that is directed to a specific person the lawyer knows or reasonably should know needs legal services in a particular matter and that offers to provide, or reasonably can be understood as offering to provide, legal services for that matter.” Thus, the “solicitation” of a testimonial from a client or other person with whom you have a preexisting relationship is not the kind of solicitation prohibited under Rule 7.3(a). Across jurisdictions, however, there is some variation on  the ethics of displaying testimonials and how to solicit them . Despite varying rules, most Rules of Professional Conduct allow you to display client testimonials on your website. The trick, then, lies in knowing how to ethically ask for them.

As you seek out and display testimonials, bear in mind Model (and Colorado) RPC 7.1 that prohibits false or misleading communications about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. Comment 3 to that rule further explains that even truthful reports can be misleading if they lead a reasonable person to form unjustified expectation that the lawyer or law firm can deliver the same result without regard to the specific facts and circumstances of each case.

Also bear in mind your duty of confidentiality in Model (and Colorado) RPC 1.6(a) (see also Rules 1.8(b) and 1.9(c)). Obtaining permission to display a client testimonial on your website necessarily implicates Rule 1.6 and the requisite informed consent to publicly share “information relating to the representation of the client.” Many clients are involved in legal proceedings that, if publicized, could harm their personal or professional reputations. Thus, if clients are willing to provide a testimonial, be sure to heed any associated request for anonymity. (Whether and to what extent an attorney may respond to negative online reviews with otherwise confidential client information is beyond the scope of this article, but Colorado attorneys faced with this dilemma should at minimum consult Colorado Bar Association Ethics Opinion 136, adopted March 2019.)

How Does a Lawyer Ask for a Review or Recommendation?

It is not unreasonable to feel a little hesitant when asking a client for a testimonial. After all, what sane, well-adjusted person feels comfortable asking other people to tell them how great they are for business purposes? If you feel inauthentic doing this, you’re not alone.

But at the end of the day, you are in the business of helping others (or at least you should be), so of course you would want to showcase your success to prospective clients; it is what they are looking for, anyway. In fact, data collected by The Modern Firm shows that testimonials are in the top three most-clicked pages on a lawyer’s website, coming in after the homepage and lawyer’s profile.

Asking for testimonials need not be or feel tacky, either. Such requests can be a great way to reconnect with old clients and strengthen relationships with newer ones. What is more, past clients who were happy with your work could also be an excellent source for future work. The real kicker is getting over that initial hesitation of discomfort, and thankfully, there is a two-step request method that can help you do just that.

Two Step Approach to Soliciting Lawyer Reviews and Testimonial Requests

This sample testimonial language will serve as a template when requesting testimonials and recommendations from clients. Keep in mind that this script is only a template, and you should personalize it as much as possible to signal to your client that you remember them and value their business (and always double check your current ethics rules!). Asking concrete questions that infer specific answers will also help your client out as they write, for they will not have to think too hard about answering more open-ended questions.

This two-step approach also starts on the presumption that you have already reached out to your clients and asked them whether they would be interested in writing a testimonial for you. You can initiate this any way: phone call, email, text message, or face-to-face, to name a few. The initial request is important because it establishes a connection and does not put too much pressure on the client to write a testimonial right now. Simply ask the client if they would be interested in writing a recommendation for you. If no, then you both can continue going about your days. If yes, then you can implement some of the two-step template language below, offered by the Modern Firm:

Thank you for taking a few minutes to create a short testimonial about how I helped you with your case. These third-party validations of our client service are helpful for potential clients to see and support the health of our law firm online.  

I have a few questions here you can answer to help you think about your experience:

  1. Why were you looking for a lawyer and why did you choose me over other attorneys?
  2. What were some specific actions or ways I helped you?
  3. What else would you say to someone who was looking to hire me?

I welcome and appreciate your thoughts and your input. If you’d like your testimonial to remain anonymous, just let me know.  Also, please don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything else from me.

You can also include a signature line at the bottom to verify that the client freely and willingly gave this testimonial.

So Where Do Client Testimonials and Attorney Reviews Go?

Most go directly to the lawyer or law firm’s website. Marketing savvy lawyers, give their clients a link to their Google My Business page so that the client review is as public as it is prominent on an internet search. Additionally, there are great legal review websites with plenty of reviews to browse. One of the most popular is Avvo.com, a website specifically designed for lawyer reviews and testimonials. You can check out how long a lawyer has been practicing, their field of expertise, any past misconduct charges, and their location. Fortunately, 97% of U.S. lawyers are listed on Avvo, making it one of the most valuable legal review resources out there.

Martindale-Hubbell is a similar resource that boasts both peer review and client review ratings, giving you a unique insight into a lawyer’s competence from both within and outside of the industry. Coincidentally, Avvo joined the Martindale-Hubbell family in 2018. While the two websites are similar in purpose, they are also distinct from each other at this time.

The good news is asking for testimonials for your law practice does not have to be the root canal you think it is. Better yet, you can legally post these testimonials to you or your firm’s website to give potential clients an idea of how you can best serve them and what it feels like to be a client of your law firm. All it takes is a little courage and the right language.

— Lent Parker Law LLC is based in Firestone, Colorado, serving professionals and small business owners. As part of her practice, Margrit assists lawyers as ethics counsel and represents them before the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation.

Meranda Vieyra is the owner of Denver Legal Marketing LLC, an award winning marketing firm focused on the promotion of solo practitioners and small law firms.