Many lawyers don’t think about testimonials until it’s time to create or update their website. Only then do they contact clients or send them a recommendation request on LinkedIn. The best clients are perfectly willing to provide a testimonial. Unfortunately, asking clients for a testimonial or a recommendation without providing any guidelines is likely to lead to bad testimonials.
By “bad testimonials,” I don’t mean testimonials that disparage the lawyer – indeed many bad testimonials are just the opposite – they praise the lawyer in glowing terms. Unfortunately, those glowing terms are often vague, which can lead to the impression that the lawyer wrote the testimonial themselves. Even if readers don’t believe the testimonials were made up, they are likely to carry very little weight if they are packed with superlatives but contain little substance or detail. These kinds of testimonials leave the reader with almost no impression of the lawyer at all.
The same problems can occur with unsolicited testimonials; a happy client writes a note of thanks or sends an email telling the lawyer how grateful they are to her and what a wonderful job she did. The lawyer then asks for (and receives) permission to use the client’s words as a testimonial, and posts those words on the lawyer’s website. While I applaud lawyers who seek the opportunity to showcase the words of their clients as a testament to the services they provide, to obtain very effective testimonials, the lawyer will have to go at least one step further.
As I indicated in my recent post on Lawyerist, Effective Client Testimonials, the best time to obtain a testimonial is when the client’s goals and desired outcome have been reached, when the client expresses gratitude for the work performed, or when the client asks how he can help the lawyer. Even clients who provide unsolicited testimonials could use a bit of guidance if the testimonial is going to have maximum marketing impact for the lawyer.
Testimonials that make an impression don’t necessarily have to identify the client by name (and some jurisdiction’s ethical rules may prohibit it). While anonymous testimonials may seem to have little value, in actuality, whether the testimonials is attributed specifically or not, it will have the most impact if it tells the story of the client’s experience with the lawyer or law firm. Those stories will have little chance of coming across as made up. Simply put, a testimonial that is substantive and tells a story is more believable.
For example, look at the difference between the following two testimonials:
- "Ellen was wonderful! She was so responsive, and we really felt that she had our best interests at heart."
- "Ellen was invaluable in helping us through a difficult time. After our son was involved in an accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury, we didn't know which end was up. We were dealing with doctors, medical bills, and the overwhelming emotions involved in knowing our son would never grow up to be the person he could have been. On top of all of that, we needed to set up a special needs trust to be sure our son would be well provided for, even when we could no longer do it ourselves. Ellen walked us through the process and made it easy. She answered our questions, no matter how trivial (even on the weekend!), and took time out of her day to come to our home, rather than making us come to her. Now that we know our son will be cared for financially, and we can focus on spending time together."
I think you get the idea. The detail in the second testimonial tells the story of the family’s experience while at the same time highlighting specific elements of the service they received from the lawyer (compassion, availability, responsiveness, etc.) Isn’t the second testimonial much more effective than the first? Isn’t the testimonial – the words of the client – much more effective than if the lawyer had simply stated on her site that she put her clients first, that she was compassionate, that she responded to clients’ needs?
Many marketing consultants will tell you to get results based testimonials, but for lawyers, those testimonials can be difficult or problematic to obtain, in part because clients may not be willing to divulge (even anonymously) the specifics about their case in hard terms, but also because lawyers have to be careful about giving the appearance of guaranteeing clients a specific outcome. Some of that can be remedied by accompanying testimonials with disclaimers, but even then they can be sticky. And a results-based testimonial followed immediately by a disclaimer waters down the testimonial itself.
The fact of the matter is that most lay people do not choose or evaluate their lawyers based upon technical skill. Instead, they rate their lawyer based upon the service they receive: how they are treated and how the lawyer (and the firm as a whole) makes them feel. A testimonial that focuses on service while still letting the reader know that the client was pleased with the outcome packs the most punch.