Nobody likes reading negative opinions of themselves. I’ll no doubt steer clear of the comments under this piece for fear that someone might point out a grammatical error or tell me how, in their eyes, to a certain extent, from time to time, I have a tendency to over-write.
It’s not hard to see why law firms would run a mile from an online review. Like a partisan football fan trying to give their assessment of the referee, any client’s comment will be heavily influenced by the outcome of the work. A conveyancing solicitor might have done well to secure a sale during unprecedently busy times, but their client might still say the transaction took too long. A litigation adviser might have provided exemplary service, but defeat at trial and the client may well vent online.
But in spite of misgivings, my own view is that lawyers should not shy away from online reviews. They can highlight problems you might not have known about and allow the business to improve. Engaging positively with a disgruntled customer – and the world seeing you have done that – is far more impressive than the saccharine and dubious reviews posted on firms’ own websites.
But forcing firms to put themselves on review or comparison sites – as discussed by the Legal Services Board – is a step too far on a number of fronts.
For a start, these are commercial enterprises themselves. The regulator has no place promoting – let alone mandating – that firms sign up to websites that are profit-making businesses. If these sites are worthwhile then let them prove as such to their potential customers, but they shouldn’t be handed work on a plate by public service regulators.
Compelling firms to join up to a review or comparison site is also out of sync with other professional services. Insurers have taken to this type of customer-reach like no other, but even then there are firms that opt not to join. Indeed, some of the biggest firms make a big deal of not being on these sites. Why deny law firms the opportunity to do the same?
The problem the regulators seem to have is that the Competition and Markets Authority is breathing down their necks demanding that Something Must Be Done, without ever seeming to suggest what. They want more choice and information for consumers but those pesky consumers don’t seem to be in any hurry to use comparison or review websites. Instead, legal services consumers rely on reputation, locality and word of mouth and show little inclination to change.
The meddling CMA and its regulator minions can’t seem to grasp that many legal services are not a simple transaction where the lowest prices win out and good service can be easily judged. If review websites are such a godsend for consumers, then the market will prove that and reward firms who sign up - prompting others to follow suit. It should’t need interference from regulators.
The great irony here is the desperation to offer consumers a choice and doing so by offering fewer ways to differentiate between providers. Right now, they have a choice between firms that embrace review and comparison sites and those that don’t. Any attempt to mandate is actually ripping away the USP of the firms that have done exactly as the CMA and regulators would want.