Title

Online Reputation Management in Attorney Regulation

Abstract

Online review sites have become an increasingly important source of consumer information over the last decade. Review sites for professional service providers like doctors and lawyers are following the trail blazed by restaurants and hotels and are beginning to catch up. A 2014 survey found that prospective clients actively seek out lawyer reviews online and will travel farther to hire an attorney with positive reviews. At the same time as reputational data has grown in relevance, however, the media is increasingly reporting stories of individuals and businesses that have handled online reviews in spectacularly counterproductive ways. Lawyers are not exempt: recent disciplinary cases and ethics opinions have demonstrated that lawyers can also be tempted to respond to negative reviews by lashing out at former clients a manner that violates the duties of loyalty and confidentiality.

This Article explores the psychological dynamics arising from online reviews, and it explains how these dynamics unleash processes of ego threat and cognitive distortion that encourage overreaction. It examines the limits of attorney responses under the rules of professional conduct, looking at both ex ante strategies to influence and control what is posted, as well as ex post efforts to neutralize or rebut negative reputational information after reviews have been posted. It concludes that both of these strategies fail to serve regulatory goals.

The Article therefore proposes broadening the structure of attorney regulation to encompass reputation management. It recommends that states create voluntary proceedings that would allow attorneys to challenge allegedly false or misleading online reviews in a confidential setting — and would also empower disciplinary committees to impose sanctions for instances of lawyer misconduct that come to light during these proceedings. The Article concludes that this shift in regulatory emphasis would improve the reliability of lawyer review sites and would also offer two additional benefits: first, it would help close the regulatory gap arising from an increase in multijurisdictional law practice, and second, it would give the client perspective a greater influence in attorney regulation.

Keywords

Online review sites, consumer, psychological dynamics, negative reviews, confidentiality, reputation management

Publication Date

2015

Document Type

Article

Place of Original Publication

Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics

Publication Information

29 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 97 (2016)

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COinS Cassandra Burke Robertson Faculty Bio