How and When Should Attorneys Respond to Negative Online Reviews?
Blake A. Klinkner, The Klinkner Law Firm, LLC Cheyenne, Wyoming
Individuals frequently turn to online reviews when deciding which products to purchase and where they should go for professional services—and the legal industry is no exception. Industry analysts estimate that over 80% of consumers looking to hire an attorney will consult online lawyer reviews from a variety of websites as their first step in deciding which attorneys to contact for an initial consultation.1 When negative reviews are posted, the initial reaction from many businesses is to post a response that defends the business and explains or otherwise critiques the negative review. However, ethical rules require that attorneys generally refrain from such responses, and attorneys in various jurisdictions have received reprimand for responding to negative online reviews with confidential information pertaining to the reviewer. Attorneys should therefore understand how ethical duties may impact their ability to respond to negative online reviews. Additionally, attorneys should appreciate that sometimes negative online reviews do not warrant any response at all.
Rule 1.6 and the Duty to Maintain Confidential Information
When deciding whether to respond to a negative online review, and how to respond, attorneys should keep in mind their ethical duties to past, present and potential clients. Particularly important is the duty to maintain confidentiality, and a failure to properly maintain confidentiality in responding to negative online reviews is where attorneys have run into trouble. Rule 1.6 of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys at Law provides that a "lawyer shall not reveal confidential information relating to the representation of a client" unless certain exceptions apply, and specifies that an attorney "shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of  confidential information relating to the representation of a client." A review of disciplinary actions and ethics opinions from around the country...