Can a lawyer offer a $50 bill credit for any client willing to write an online review on Avvo? In a surprising recent ethics opinion, the New York State Bar says “yes.”
The NYSBA’s nod is not without caveats. The credit cannot be contingent on the content of the review, and it can’t involve coercion or the attorney actually writing the content of the review.
But yet . . . something feels unseemly about this practice.
It’s one thing to get a receipt at Chipotle offering a $2 coupon if you fill out a survey, but quite another to get a $50 “coupon” for doing the same for one’s attorney. That amount of money carries a heavy suggestion that it is the quid offered for the pro quo of a positive review.
It’s also questionable how well-received this incentive actually would be. For many clients, the reason for leaving a review is driven by intrinsic motivation – a desire to pay something back to an attorney who has done a great job – than by any extrinsic motivation that is offered. Offering a reward might well discourage and demotivate these people, by positioning their earnest motive as something callous and mercenary. At the same time, it would likely motivate those who are otherwise indifferent – and will leave middling feedback – but are happy to jump on the fifty bucks.
Ultimately, I don’t disagree with the NYSBA’s analysis. Offering an incentive for clients to leave a review shouldn’t technically violate any of the rules around attorney advertising. But I wouldn’t be surprised if attorneys employing this method find that the quality of their reviews goes down over time.