Received a bad or fake Google review? Here’s what you do next

By Elaine Pasini, Head of Communications at Legal Futures Associate ILFM

It’s no surprise that the majority of law firms who receive harmful, malicious, fake or bad reviews offer legal services such as divorce law, litigation and dispute resolution, and debt collection. However, if a client and instructed firm’s relationship crumbles, that is often another cause for a bad review. In our digital world, it is too easy to write a bad review without thinking it through properly. That emotional outage, however, affects a firm’s reputation plus Google’s ranking for that firm’s website will take a hit.

A case in Canada recently of the disgruntled client of a law firm where the relationship had broken down, left damaging Google reviews that said the lawyers in the firm were “incompetent”, that there was a “paralegal posing as a lawyer”, “highly negligent”, “highly unprofessional and disorganized”, “not trustworthy”, and “shady, pathetic and awful”. The defendant also alleged that the firm deliberately caused delays by refusing to transfer her files. They asked the person to take down the review. She refused. They sued her for defamation. She took the review down after 3 months.

Verdict: Although the law firm responded to the post and gave notice to the defendant to take down the review, the defendant refused to do so. The issue for the court was to ascertain whether the words were defamatory. The court decided for the plaintiff (law firm) and awarded them $20,000 in damages as the defendant’s actions with the damning Google review lowered the professional reputation of the law firm, and directly assaulted the plaintiffs’ legal and business acumen and reputation.

Essentially, the disgruntled former client of the above firm left a “bad” review, which was deemed defamatory, but it wasn’t a “fake” review.

Google has no tolerance for fake reviews and “may” (being the operative word here) take down any review that it thinks is fake or that doesn’t follow Google’s review policies.

Difference between a Bad and Fake Google Review

We all have opinions, however for Google & brand reputation and deciding on throwing money into suing a person who has left a “bad” review over, say a broken-down relationship, as opposed to working on building that trust again is an executive decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

bad Google review typically refers to a genuine client’s negative feedback based on their experience with your firm. It might be hard to read, and a kick in the gut, but it’s their authentic opinion of their dissatisfaction with your services.

fake Google review on the other hand, is one that doesn’t reflect a real client experience. Examples of fake reviews are ones that manipulate a business’s Google ratings and reputation either positively or negatively.

From working over the years as an SEO and Google marketing and content specialist in the legal profession, I would always urge my clients to think hard about why bad reviews come along. Bad reviews are often an obvious gap in the firm’s overall culture and client experience, and worth improving, and measuring client engagement, as well as internal communications. However, working in debt collection is always going to be challenging when running a Google Business Profile. Best advice would be to ask if clients who had received good outcomes would leave a complimentary review. The more you ask of these clients, the more the bad ones won’t seem as hard hitting.

It is important for legal practices to distinguish between the two types of review, as a bad one offers up a chance for internal culture improvement and engagement, whilst a fake review may need to be reported and removed.

Can I delete a bad or fake Google review?

In one word, no you cannot simply “remove” an external review on your Google Business Profile. However, there are two ways that a review can be removed; Either to get the person who posted the review to delete it, or you can “flag the review as inappropriate”. Flagging the review alerts Google that the review doesn’t comply with Google’s review policies.

Flag a review in Google Maps

  1. On your desktop, open Google Maps.
  2. Find your Business Profile.
  3. Find the review you’d like to report.
  4. Click More Flag as inappropriate.

Flag a review in Google Search

  1. On your desktop, go to Google.
  2. Find your Business Profile.
  3. Click Google Reviews.
  4. Find the review you’d like to report.
  5. Click More Report review. Select the type of violation you want to report.

Flag a review in your account

  1. On your computer, sign in to Manage your Business Profile.
  2. Choose the review you’d like to report:
    • Single business: Open the profile you’d like to manage. On the left, in the menu, click Reviews.
    • Multiple businesses: On the left, in the menu, click Manage reviews. Then use the drop-down menu to choose a location group. (This choice is not for organisation accounts.)
  3. On the review you’d like to flag, click More Flag as inappropriate.


Google’s Policies

Spam and fake content

The following is what Google wants to read from a user when they review a business:

Your content should reflect your genuine experience at the location and should not be posted just to manipulate a place’s ratings. Don’t post fake content, don’t post the same content multiple times, and don’t post content for the same place from multiple accounts.

This is a word of caution from Google to say that if they find “fake” reviews that are trying to raise your business’s profile on Google for better reputation and ranking, it will see this as a violation.


A reviewer should only post content based on their experience or questions about experiences at the specific location. Maps is not meant to be a forum for general political, social commentary, or personal rants. Content that does not meet this standard will be removed.

The off-topic policy point is where you could pick up on the “personal rant” and is that for the public to know for transparency or totally defamatory?

Restricted content

Here’s what Google means on “restricted content”: For some services that are subject to local regulations, you as the business owner of the Business Profile, as well as the reviewer, must follow certain guidelines when posting content. The content uploaded may not feature calls to action or offers for the sale of services that are subject to local legal regulations. This includes, but is not limited to, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, guns, health and medical devices, regulated pharmaceuticals, adult services, and financial services.

The content shouldn’t display:

 Links to a landing page where it is possible to buy restricted goods or services.

 Email address and/or phone numbers to contact for the purchase of restricted goods.

 Promotional offers for restricted goods or services. For example, you shouldn’t upload content that displays deals, coupons, pricing information or other promotions for a restricted product or service.

Note that incidental depictions of these products are excluded from this policy. Examples include:

 Images of menus.

 Images where alcoholic beverages are present but not the main focus.

Personal Information

If someone is reviewing on your profile personally identifiable information (about an employee for example), financial information or medical information without that person’s consent, it is violating Google’s terms & conditions.

Disclosing personal information that makes it blindingly obvious who it’s about that could result in harm is ultimately a no-no. It could be a full name, a photograph or video of that person’s face, but having said that Google does allow an individual’s full name if it is “part of the commonly known or advertised business entity or if they are a public-facing professional conducting business under their name”.

Conflict of Interest

Maps user contributed content is most valuable when it is honest and unbiased. Examples of disallowed practices include, but are not limited to:

 Reviewing your own business.

 Posting content about a current or former employment experience.

 Posting content about a competitor to manipulate their ratings.

There are also policies surrounding:

  • Terrorism
  • Prohibited and Restricted Content
  • Sexually Explicit Content
  • Offensive Content


Google will remove any content that it views as “obscene, profane, or offensive.” It will also remove reviews that are threatening or contain derogatory comments. If you come across any reviews like these, you should flag them at once to protect your reputation.

Bullying or Harassment

If someone has posted a negative review on your Google Business Profile, it may cross the line into bullying or harassment when it targets a particular person, like the owner of the law firm, or staff members. Sometimes, these reviews may contain threats and potentially result in grave repercussions for the person who posted them.

This is where you must quickly decide your actions.

Discrimination or hate speech

If the review includes harmful language about an individual or group based on their identity, Google considers this discrimination or hate speech. These types of reviews are grounds for removal by Google or the business owner who reports the review. Have a read of the Equality Act 2010 to guide you with what is allowed.

Just a random point on Google and the Equality Act 2010, your website should be aligned to the Accessibility Requirements part of this act to aid your business and website with its own online ranking & reputational factor!

Is the review defamatory?

Has a negative review left a dip in profits? Existing clients dropping off? New clients in the pipeline not instructing you because of the online review? Essentially can you show a court that your business has suffered significant hardship because of the bad review?

Remember, a review that is based on the truth or honest opinion is allowed. Sleep on it and remember, a bad review is an opportunity to work on your firm’s client relationships and culture, and of course rather than heading into the litigation arena, where we know costs can explode, try and obtain a retraction or a corrective statement from the person who has left a bad review.

If this has not worked and you feel you must threaten the pursuit of defamation, then the criteria under the Defamation Act 2013, that will need to be proven are:

It must be published to a third party

This requires a statement to be made publicly and be shared with someone else, verbally or in writing. A Google review is a third party.

It must be a false statement

A statement is only considered to be false if it is untrue and/or intended to create a false impression. The freedom of speech online report from the House of Lords can be read in the link, but we all must be mindful of Article 10 of the 1998 Human Rights Act which protects our right to freedom of expression:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

I’m not going into the differences between freedom of speech and freedom of expression in this article, but suffice to say there are some great reads including one here from Trustpilot when the Online Safety Act was in its bill status, and the Competition & Markets Authority in their report last updated in 2021 entitled “Fake and Misleading Online Reviews”.

It must cause serious harm

The defamation from the reviewer needs to be serious enough to show reputational and financial damage. The Court will usually consider all relevant circumstances, but in the case of Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd [2015] proof of damage to the claimant’s reputation was fundamental to establishing its case.


In summary, and it seems like this would never happen, but it does! Is the negative review actually for you and your business? You’d be surprised at how many reviews have been written on the wrong profile by accident.  Whether they have clicked on the wrong link, or have mixed up the spelling, or forgotten the name….it happens, but it is up to you, the business owner who looks after the Google Business Profile to attempt to contact the reviewer to clarify if they meant to write a bad review.

Elaine Pasini is the Head of Communications at the ILFM, has a legal background and is a specialist with Google and in SEO.

This article is for informational purposes only, please seek legal advice for specific on defamation and litigation.


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