Recommendations, reviews and changes in the law

As solicitors, we often get asked to recommend other solicitors. This week it has been “do you know any good planning solicitors” and “I have a friend who is getting divorced, do you know any good lawyers?”

We are a niche firm specialising largely in tech law, so we don’t offer these services ourselves but we do know people. As it happens, I was able to provide details of a planning lawyer but for all sorts of reasons could not identify a suitable family solicitor. 

That isn’t to say I didn’t try and it provoked me to think about reviews. Because one family law firm in Covent Garden (I was looking for a solicitor I used to know) had a range of views and then this:

How this firm has 4 stars is seriously beyond me. They were appalling and totally incompetent: missed court deadlines; took us down endless, unjustifiable rabbit holes which led to nothing but wasted time and money and ensured far more discord between the parties than necessary.”

The question I have is do you believe this? And does it make a difference to your view? Would you instruct them? The firm in question responded and asked for the complainant to contact them directly. But the complaint is there. It also reflects an experience we have all had, where one negative review stands out amongst a number of positive reviews and you wonder, what happened there?

A social chat to a partner at a leading accountancy firm made me think about how the review system can be gamed, for want of a better word. An excessive insurance quote on renewal for example. You leave a review saying; “They started out great, but watch out of the sting in the tail on renewal“. And lo and behold, the insurance company is in touch and the quote reduced, with a polite request that you remove the review.

Is this just another form of bargaining or does it really matter? What happens when it’s unjustified (at least in the opinion of the business) and destructive to a business?

Up until now, the law relating to reviews has been covered by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 which makes any unfair commercial practice illegal. There’s a really good note on the Regulations produced by the House of Commons Library (from November 2021) , which actually addresses some of the potential changes to the Regulations.

Then this week, 22 April 2022, comes news that fake reviews will become “illegal” and other associated consumer protection. It’s not happened yet, but basically it looks as if the Competition and Markets Authority will be given the power to police and fine any business which breaks the law, much as the ICO does. More to come on this and in particular its impact on small to medium sized businesses who now need to manage these online reviews in an ever transparent world.

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