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Lawyers faking online reviews : How pervasive is it?

20130929-222420.jpg What do lawyers have in common with a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club? Gaming online reviews.

Rather than improve the services customers complain of in negative online reviews, businesses go out and get inflated reviews. Until recently, the businesses have gotten away with the fraudulent practice.

As reported by the New York Times’ David Streitfeld (@DavidStreitfeld) New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced a crackdown on deceptive reviews on the Internet. Agreements were reached with 19 companies guilty of the practice with fines ranging as high as $350,000.

Per Schneiderman:

When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.

Deceptive ratings are no small time business. A 2011 Harvard Study found that a business increasing its Yelp rating by one star can expect a bump in revenue of 5 to 9%.

If it’s not enough to game reviews yourself, the New York Attorney General’s office found reviewers in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe producing raves, for as little as a buck, for companies located in countries the reviewers have never been to.

More disturbing than getting a bad meal as a result of inflated reciews, the investigation, per Streitfeld, uncovered a wide range of services buying fake reviews that could do more permanent damage: dentists, lawyers, even an ultrasound clinic.

Yep, lawyers. And this follows on the heals of Yelp filing suit against a San Diego law firm for allegedly gaming reviews on Yelp.

How pervasive is the practice of lawyers gaming online reviews? I am not sure anyone knows. But despite the practice being illegal and unethical, it has not stopped many lawyers.

I have received countless requests from lawyers asking me to give them a favorable online review. In not one of the cases was I familiar with the lawyer’s practice or the quality of the legal services they delivered.

In the early days of lawyer online ratings services, I saw regular discussions on listservs where lawyers discussed getting reviews and ratings from each other. These lawyers were across the country from each other and I suspect knew nothing more about each other than that they seemed like pretty good guys on a listserv.

We now have one-click LinkedIn endorsements which LinkedIn created to get more interaction on the site. Every day, my gut tells me, hundreds, if not thousands, of lawyer endorsements are made by fellow lawyers and other people who don’t have the basis to make the endorsement.

I can see charter bus operators, SEO companies, teeth whitening services, and adult entertainment clubs gaming online reviews. Heck, you’d almost expect it.

But lawyers? It’s sad. But with what I have seen from lawyers in their attempt to get work via the Internet, maybe I should bot be surprised.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Memphis CVB.