The belief that review websites favour big law firms which can provide large numbers of reviews is a misconception, the chairman and co-founder of ReviewSolicitors has said.
Saleem Arif rejected the criticism that review websites put firms which paid premium rates at the top of the list, saying the law firm ranked top on his site if you searched for ‘solicitors in London’ did not pay premium rates.
Speaking at last week’s Solicitors Regulation Authority compliance conference, Mr Arif said a law firm’s ranking on ReviewSolicitors was based not only on the number of reviews but on how recent they were and their star rating.
He said that if you searched on his site for employment lawyers in Oxford, a sole practitioner came top of the list with “outstanding reviews” − “way ahead” of larger firms.
If you typed in ‘solicitors in London’, the firm that came top was not a “premium-paying customer” but was very good at gathering reviews.
Mr Arif said the link between those who paid premium rates and a high ranking was often because firms that paid more were incentivised to encourage clients to give feedback.
Research carried out by ReviewSolicitors found that 56% of complaints on the website were about levels of service, 24% about price, particularly where clients felt they had been misinformed, and only 14% about quality.
Vicky Hosking, managing partner of Smith & Co solicitors in Ipswich, said her firm sent a link to ReviewSolicitors to clients “at an early stage” to reassure them, before asking them to leave a review at the end of the service.
She said dealing with reviews required a “constant investment” for her firm, which has 16 staff, but could result in what became a “race to the top”.
Ms Hosking said providing reviews “really helped” with complaints management, but “most important of all” it meant fee-earners could take responsibility for managing relationships with clients themselves.
“The process becomes embedded in your culture. There are so many advantages.”
A poll taken in the conference room in Birmingham found that a majority of solicitors attending in person were against the use of comparison websites for legal services.
One criticism from the audience was that law firms were ranked on review websites in alphabetical order, a reminder of the days of the Yellow Pages and companies calling themselves ‘AA Taxis’.
Mr Arif said that firms which provided reviews were ranked by an algorithm. Firms which failed to provide reviews were harder to deal with and the issue of how they were ranked was “something we are looking at right now”.
David Abbott, a member of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said it wanted to see a “thriving” legal services sector.
“The key issue is not about price, but about value for money and putting information about quality and cost into the public domain.”