Online Reputation Management in Attorney Regulation

69 Pages Posted: 29 May 2015

See all articles by Cassandra Burke Robertson

Cassandra Burke Robertson

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2015


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

JEL Classification: K20

Suggested Citation

Robertson, Cassandra Burke, Online Reputation Management in Attorney Regulation (May 1, 2015). 29 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, 2015, Forthcoming, Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-12, Available at SSRN:

Cassandra Burke Robertson (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States
216-368-3302 (Phone)

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