How do I deal with negative online reviews?

Adverse online reviews can seriously impact any small business that relies upon reputation, and a law firm is no exception. While fake and unfair reviews can have an adverse impact on a solicitor’s practice, dealing with them requires a high degree of caution.


A solicitor must keep a client’s confidential information confidential.1 Broadly speaking, confidential information includes all information about the client and their affairs2 gleaned by the solicitor during the course of the retainer. A lawyer may even be precluded from disclosing client information obtained or obtainable from public sources. While we may disclose – to the necessary degree and in the appropriate forum - confidential information to defend a bill or a disciplinary charge, we cannot do so to rebut a client’s criticism on social media or a review site, especially where the information is used to discredit the client rather than counter a specific allegation.3 

In Legal Services Commissioner v Tampoe4 a solicitor – annoyed by public criticism from his client during a high profile case – described her and her family as ‘trash’ and disclosed past convictions. Notwithstanding that such convictions had been pronounced in open court, they were not widely known and Justice Atkinson considered that the disclosure was a breach of confidentiality amounting to professional misconduct. Her Honour ordered the practitioner to be struck from the roll (for this and other breaches).

A template referencing the issue of confidentiality prepared for healthcare providers by a brand management specialist in the US suggests the following approach:

Thank you for taking the time to leave a review. Due to our ethical obligations of confidentiality we cannot respond to specifics, but we are very proud of our client record and disappointed that you do not share their high opinion of our service. Please contact <<Avenue>> to discuss the matter further. 

Care is also required if demanding a client remove a review on the grounds that it is defamatory. Solicitors have an obvious disparity of legal knowledge compared to a lay client and making unfounded threats of legal proceedings can be regarded as bullying. While we have the same legal rights as any other member of the community, letters of demand must be very carefully calibrated to ensure that they are not disproportionate and there is foundation for all statements made.5 Solicitors can, and have successfully prosecuted defamation claims arising from fake online reviews, however the effort in doing so was significant.6  


Remember the objective is to reduce damage to your business and move on. Engaging in tit-for-tat allegations with an annoyed client in public simply feeds oxygen to the problem. Conversely, not responding to reviews at all creates the impression that you don’t care.7 To detect adverse comments quickly it is necessary to set up alerts and monitor firm social media pages on a regular basis. 

Many brands now employ professional social media and review managers. None of them respond to negative reviews with a counter-attack, no matter how ridiculous the complaint is. The usual strategy is to thank the reviewer for their time, acknowledge any complaint, express concern that the client / customer is not delighted with the service and offer an off-forum option to fix the issue. For a professional’s take on the appropriate path see here. Where the review seems to be fake, it would be appropriate to question it, again remaining courteous: 

“Thank you for taking the time to leave this review, however we have no record of a client matching your user name. If you are a genuine client, please contact <<avenue>> and we will be very pleased to address your concerns.”


The best counter to a bad review is a good one. Clients should be encouraged to provide feedback, testimonials and reviews. These must, however, be genuine. Purchasing or writing fake positive reviews would contravene a solicitor’s fundamental duty of honesty8 and the prohibition on false advertising.9 Even manipulating reviews by soliciting public feedback only from clients you know are happy with your service may be problematic.10 

Asking the review website to delete adverse or defamatory comment is also worth considering, but this is often not straightforward (the process for Google reviews is set out here). Professional “reputation cleaners” offer this service at substantial rates, reflecting the amount of work that can be involved. This may be the only viable option when faced with an endless string of one star reviews from the same person using different accounts who may not even be a client but a disgruntled ex-employee or counterparty with a grudge.

Mending fences with a disgruntled client and requesting that the review be deleted or modified to reflect that they are now happy with the response can also be effective but often difficult. Some clients are simply after a bill reduction or are so unreasonable they cannot be placated, but genuine grievances should be addressed and lessons learned.11  

Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012 (Qld) r 9.

Either literal or more broadly.

The American Bar Association Journal list a series of examples of intemperate responses that got the lawyers involved in hot water: Cynthia Sharp, ‘How to ethically respond to negative reviews from clients’ (2020) American Bar Association Journal <>.

4 Legal Services Commissioner v Tampoe [2009] LPT 14.

5 Legal Services Commissioner v Jensen [2017] QCAT 148.

Cheng v Lok [2020] SASC 14.

Opinions differ. The more traditional approach is that legal practitioners should not dignify criticism with a response. However, while a valid perspective this fails to recognise the importance of online reputation to ‘retail’ service providers, and the damage that an orchestrated campaign can do in a short time.

Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012 (Qld) rr 4-5. 

Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012 (Qld) r 36. See also, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Aveling Homes Pty Ltd [2017] FCA 1470.

10 See Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Meriton Property Services Pty Ltd (No 2) [2018] FCA 1125.

11 Red flags for clients who will never be happy about anything include multiple solicitors before you, complaints about previous representation, un-realistic fee expectations and implacably fixed ideas about the outcome of a matter. Sometimes the best way to prevent damage to your reputation is to be more selective about client intake.