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Whether we’re deciding where to eat, where to get our car fixed, or what new laptop to buy, customer reviews have become a significant factor in everyday decision making. Who among us hasn’t fallen into a rabbit hole of reviews for a pillowcase? Oh, just me? Okay.
When it comes to something as crucial as choosing a law firm, the stakes are even higher. Many people turn to online reviews to determine whether a firm is the best fit for their case. For attorneys, these reviews can provide valuable marketing and help them reach future clients. However, the urge to control the firm’s narrative can lead some attorneys down a dangerous path.
A 2016 study found that roughly 95% of consumers rely on online reviews when choosing a firm to handle their legal issue. However, many review sites include an aggregate score, so isolated bad reviews can drag down a firm’s overall rating. For some, the temptation to balance the scales is too strong to resist, even though a few less-than-optimal reviews can actually be a good thing, since consumers tend to see it as a sign the reviews are real.
The practice of writing fake reviews – sometimes called “astroturfing” – has concerned regulators for several years. A 2013 investigation in New York discovered that at least 19 “reputation-enhancement services” were generating fraudulent reviews for businesses in the state, including a few law firms. Around the same time, Yelp sued a law firm in California for posting fake reviews.
Then, in 2016, what began as a relatively straightforward legal malpractice suit by Tabatha Wolfe of Pennsylvania became a fight over allegedly fraudulent reviews. According to Wolfe, many of the rave reviews she relied on when deciding to retain Kraemer Manes & Associates for her workplace sexual harassment suit were fake. Kraemer Manes now faces a class action suit, spearheaded by Wolfe, claiming non-lawyer employees of the firm were encouraged to solicit 5-star reviews from friends and relatives.
In its motion to dismiss, the firm denied any wrongdoing regarding its online reviews. This case’s results will be interesting to observe – and may serve as a warning sign for any business looking to fake five stars.