Negative online reviews can hurt businesses and law firms are no exception. But other types of businesses don’t have to be concerned about confidentiality and attorney-client privilege if they choose to respond to a negative review. Here are some suggestions for lawyers on dealing with negative online reviews.

The American Bar Association released Formal Opinion 496, titled Responding to Online Criticism on January 13, 2021. You can download the opinion here. If you have an interest in the opinion, I encourage you to download and save it, as these opinions are available for free download for a limited time.

The most important ethical takeaway is that an online post is not proceeding within the meaning of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6 (b)(5) which permits a lawyer to reveal client confidences to the extent a lawyer reasonably believes that it is necessary “to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client.” So, if an attorney chooses to respond to an online post, the attorney cannot reveal client information or in any way compromise the lawyer’s duty to the client.

While Formal Opinion 496 is well-reasoned and provides sound advice, some of the intended practical advice seems a bit dated. In particular, I don’t care for this sentence: “As a best practice, lawyers should consider not responding to a negative post or review, because doing so may draw more attention to it and invite further response from an already unhappy critic.”

While not responding could be the best strategy, I would say that in 2021, it is hardly a “best practice.”

I believe the best practice is to reach out to the client or former by telephone or email to privately discuss their criticisms. Sometimes the lawyer may know this will be fruitless or even aggravate the situation. But there are times a positive approach and listening to the client’s concerns can even result in the client removing the post voluntarily. The lawyer who was completely surprised and blindsided by the post should recognize that such surprise at least suggests that something could have been lacking in service delivery or communication with the client. So, keep an open mind when you reach out to the client.

I also note there is a slight chance the client did not write the post. In a martial dissolution case, a family member who disagreed with the settlement you negotiated may have posted something negative using the client’s name. If the client is willing to cooperate with you and provide a notarized statement to Google or another review site, that they were the lawyer’s client, but they didn’t write this review, there is a good chance of getting it removed. On the other hand, no legitimate review hosting site is going to remove a review just because it is negative, you don’t like it or you claim it is incorrect. That conflicts with the site’s business model. Lawyers, as noted, don’t have the freedom to respond to an incorrect negative review as easily and directly as a restaurant.

While not responding is one option, a negative review on a law firm’s Google My Business page or a well-trafficked site like Yelp is damaging and a business not responding can seem like an admission. If you are unable to contact the former client privately, then a response that the firm tries to serve all its clients well and inviting the former client to contact the firm privately to discuss the matter is often appropriate. As Formal Opinion 496 notes, a response that “Professional considerations preclude a response.” is another option.

Getting a negative review removed is usually challenging. But if they say they were a client and you will attest you never had a client with that name or haven’t handled those types of matters in years, you can try with Google My Business Customer Support or the support for another review site. If you can show similar negative posts on other lawyers’ sites, that could be helpful.

If a lawyer cannot get a negative review removed, then they may decide to solicit some positive reviews from satisfied clients. But don’t promise them something of value for the positive review. That can backfire. Like it or not, reviews, both positive and negative, carry a great deal of weight online. It is a part of today’s online business environment.

Muting a browser tab quickly is a skill that you may not know you need to know. But once you use it a few times, you won’t forget. Blaring popup video ads are bad enough, but when you still have the headphones on from your last video-conference, they can be startling. If you have many tabs open and are switching frequently, sometimes it is hard to determine which tab belatedly launched that video or sound. Some browsers have recently changed and so the results returned by search engines on this subject may be dated. But for most, it is simple:

For Microsoft Edge and Firefox, the tab playing the sound displays a microphone icon. Click on that tab to make it the “active” tab and Ctrl+M is the keyboard shortcut to mute the active tab.

Google Chrome is a bit more complicated. See below:

How To Mute a Tab in Google Chrome

 

It is now a cliché to note that we have more computing power in our mobile phones than NASA had at its disposal during the moon missions. Today we’ll discuss harnessing one bit of that power with scanning apps.

Suppose you are visiting with a client outside of your office and the client shows you an important document. You need the document for the client file, but you hate to take the only document with you when you don’t have the physical client file to keep it in. Hopefully this example points out how every lawyer should be able to use their phone as a photocopier to quickly save a copy of any document when needed.

Document scanning means using the high quality camera in your smart phone to take a picture of a document and then using software tools on the phone to a more usable format. For lawyers, this will almost always be PDF format. This used to more challenging some years ago. Now there are many ways to do this.

Adobe Scan app If you have an Adobe Acrobat DC license, then one easy way to accomplish this is to download and install the Adobe App and the Adobe Scan app to your device. This is available in iOS or Android. And, as long as you are adding apps, I’d also suggest the Adobe Fill and Sign app so you can fill out forms and sign them on your device. If you are a frequent user of Acrobat editing tools and other advanced features, you will really appreciate the linkage between the app and Adobe Acrobat DC.

Microsoft Office Lens/PDF Scan— If you are a Microsoft 365 user, then you may lean to  Microsoft Office Lens/PDF Scan because of that integration. It also included a nifty special feature – good text recognition for handwritten notes. Some reviewers say a downside with this app is that the scanned image isn’t as clear as Adobe’s. This is also available in either iOS or Android.

Other Scanning Apps — There are many different scanning apps with a variety of features. See Wirecutter’s The Best Mobile Scanning Apps for a more extensive review of top scanning apps.

My most important advice on this subject — Make a decision on what tool to try first, install the app and practice a few times. You don’t want to do this for the first time in front of a client or when you are rushed. And you certainly don’t want to try to sign an actual contract using Adobe Fill and Sign for the first time. You have some These tools will be useful only after you have become comfortable with them. A few practice runs will also help your technique. You will learn to smooth out all the wrinkles in the paper and place the document in a very well-lit area before taking the picture.

(Reprinted from Oklahoma Bar Association Courts & More)

The Oklahoma Bar Association has a new digital publication called Courts & More. It is sent to OBA members and features links to the recent Oklahoma appellate court opinions and other Oklahoma legal news. I write a practice management feature for that publication and will republish it here the week after it goes out to OBA members.

Every law firm needs the ability to securely share information electronically with clients. Email is not a secure communication tool. Every law firm also should have a goal of providing superior client service. Providing your clients a secure location to log-in to review all the documents in their matter at any time and securely communicate with the firm demonstrates a commitment to great client service and careful attention to securing their confidential information. Let us briefly discuss how to affordably set up a secure client portal and the ethical considerations about managing one.

Even a small law firm can easily set up secure client portals by subscribing to one of the cloud-based law practice management services. Client portals for all clients are included in the basic subscription fee for those services. Some basic tech support and information for clients is supplied by these providers. Six of these services provide new subscribers who are OBA members a discount: Clio, CosmoLex, MyCase, PracticePanther, Rocket Matter and Zola Suite. To access the discount codes, go to your MyOKBar account on www.okbar.org and select the “Practice Management Software Benefits” link.

We at the OBA Management Assistant Program believe practice management software solutions are important for lawyers to use for their digital client files. We also believe these tools provide best solutions for most lawyers because it is simple to share documents from the digital client file to the included portal. Citrix Sharefile provides a nice option and Office 365’s One Drive can also be used to create sharable folders.

One of the common ethical questions about portals is when it is appropriate to close the client portal, meaning the clients no longer have access to their information. The answer is that the portal should be considered an extension of the client file and ending portal access should be addressed in the attorney-client engagement agreement as matters like file destruction are addressed. 30 to 45 days after a file is closed is a good target. Personally, I do not believe you do clients any favors by leaving a portal open for many months after a client’s matter has been concluded. The idea is not to exclude the clients from their information. Rather it is to assist them in saving their information before the portal is closed.Virtual handshake

So, the file closing process should include reminding the client (more than once) when the portal will be closed and they should print or save the documents before this date. Printing is simple and does not involve digital security issues. Giving the clients a few words about saving digital information securely is warranted. Many clients now have access to secure cloud storage and understand how it works. But others are very lax with their digital security. One suggestion might be to save everything to a flash drive and put the drive in the family safe in an envelope identifying the contents.

What about the client who misses the deadline and wants or needs something later? At that point you no longer have a client portal, but you still have a closed client file, whether digital or physical. Your attorney client agreement should address obtaining documents from closed files and whether there will be a charge for such retrieval.

Ambitious law firms may develop different types of client portals in the future. If you represent clients in a particular industry, it might be full of news, information and downloads related to that industry. The law firm may decide that indefinite portal access for current and former clients is in the best interest of the firm. A law firm catering to individual consumer clients may build a portal with a wealth of basic information, downloads, statutory forms and even some do-it-yourself forms for consumers. (If reading that strikes you as too risky, then your law firm will not be doing that; but other law firms will.) The model for that type of portal  that may be 90 days complementary access after all client matters are concluded and afterwards there is a annual fee for a subscription to that service. Maybe a few simple questions would also be answered at no charge under the subscription. But I also see models like a consumer bankruptcy law firm portal providing months of largely automated “after care” helping clients to make better financial decisions in the future.

Client portals are at the top of my mind right now as I’ve been invited to speak at ABA TECHSHOW 2020 on Client Portals: The Cornerstone of Virtual Practice on the virtual practice track. This year ABA TECHSHOW will be virtual, beginning March 8th, which means it has never been more affordable for you to attend. Using OBA discount code EP2109 when you register reduces your registration fee to $295.

I added a new category of posts to my blog for occasionally called Words of Wisdom. After doing daily tips since the pandemic began in March 2020, it’s time to focus on  longer blog posts and directing readers to some longer essays in 2021. The first one was Clio CEO Jack Newton’s essay on The Future of Law: A New Vision for Legal. Now I’m directing readers to an essay on building trust written by George P. Shultz on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

Lawyers are in the trust business. If our clients do not trust our judgment, will they take our advice about the critical decisions that must be made on legal matters?.

Today I submit for your enjoyment and enlightenment an essay on trust written by a 100 year old man. George P. Shultz served our country as a former U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Treasury. His reflections contained in The 10 most important things I’ve learned about trust over my 100 years contain lessons for anyone, but especially for lawyers who are in the trust-building business. Whether it is a client, a judge or opposing counsel, having the trust of others is critical for lawyers. If the paywall blocks you because you have already read too many free Washington Post articles this month, it is worth putting a note on the calendar to revisit this link.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be passing along what I am calling Words of Wisdom. Some of these will be longer reads, although not this one. We at the Oklahoma Bar Association were so thrilled that Clio was a sponsor of our 2020 OBA virtual Annual Meeting last month and Jack Newton gave a presentation based on his book The Client-Centered Law Firm: How to Succeed in an Experience-Driven World. His presentation was very well-attended. Jack’s observations are important and useful. So for today’s wisdom, read his short post The Future of Law: A New Vision for Legal. One thing seems certain to all of us who are following changes in the legal services delivery. More changes are coming and coming fast.

I haven’t promoted many of the traditional 2020 “year in review” roundups. Perhaps it is because we have all disliked 2020 so much and I just want to have 2020 over and done. But some of my favorite legal tech journalists have been hosting regular video roundups this year and the discussions have been very interesting. If you haven’t seen any of these, then Legaltech Journalists Pick the Top Stories of 2020 is a great one for you to watch. I’ve known some of these participants for decades. For those in my field of work, the need for objective legal tech journalism is so important to help fact check vendor claims and deal with questions and misinformation online.

As regular readers of this blog know know, Sharon Nelson and OBA MAP Director Jim Calloway host a monthly podcast, The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. For our final podcast of 2020, we decided to forgo having a guest and instead have a discussion of the many changes occurring in our profession, both Covid and non-Covid-related.

From changing ideas about how many square feet a law firm needs to occupy to the future of lawyer-client video conferencing to technology tools that actually deliver legal services, there is a lot to discuss and frequent listeners will know Sharon and I never lack for opinions where law office operations and legal technology is concerned. Certainly, things won’t go back to normal as 2021 is rung in. But despite the pressure and the angst of 2020, our profession learned a lot, as did everyone.

What is your most important law office operations takeaway from 2020? Listen to What’s on the Horizon for Law Firms in 2021? to see if Sharon or Jim agree with your pick.

For an end-of-year feature the ABA Law Practice Division Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC) asked several panelists from the editorial team to reflect on their 2020 technology experience and what changes they have experienced. The group included Oklahoma Bar Association Practice Management Advisor Julie Bays, Dennis Kennedy, Alexander Paykin, Lance Johnson and Sofia Lingos. The feature is called LTRC Roundtable: The 2020 Technology Experience.

The idea that Google would run out of storage for its many premium services is unbelievable. Google did not run out of storage, but a misconfiguration which limited storage access did knock out many services from the Gmail app to YouTube offline for about 45 minutes. My colleague Sharon Nelson covered all of the important facts in her Ride the Lightning Blog post Google Global Outage Caused by Critical System Running Out of Storage.

A 45-minute outage can seem like an eternity when you are working on a deadline. But you know what might have been even worse than not having access to your email for an hour or so? Maybe it would be not having access to your Contacts! At least with that you can easily telephone the people who are expecting that email from you.

My personal Gmail account is mostly non-urgent email. But perhaps we all should download our Gmail contacts to a file we can access if Gmail is offline. So here from WikiHow is How to Export Gmail Contacts. It is a very simple process. Whether you do this once a year or more frequently depends on how dependent you are on this Gmail account.

Do I think there’s a realistic chance Gmail will vanish without notice and leave you permanently without access to your contacts? No. But if there’s data important to you