Anyone can write anything they want about you on the internet. And, regardless of the actual facts or final outcomes, that narrative can gain traction online. In some scenarios, it can even go as far as hurting your brand and your business in the real world!
Of course, since ANYONE can write ANYTHING, it isn’t always straightforward to correct the facts of the matter, either. That’s crazy and scary!
So, what CAN you do if you’ve become the target of a “hit piece” or nasty article—especially one put out by someone who stands to gain from marring your good name?
Bill Voss—a longtime FWM client, one of the top commercial insurance attorneys in the nation, and the founder of The Voss Law Firm—is someone who has been targeted by these kinds of ill-intentioned strategies before.
His advice to other lawyers in the same situation? We’ll get into more detail below, but it’s simple, really. You just need to do better than the folks that want to knock you down.
What Is a “Hit Piece” and Why Should I Care?
The person shouting the loudest online is often the one who gets to control the narrative. That’s a bit of a mixed blessing because, on one hand, it means that small and medium law firms can crush bigger law firms just by having a tighter online marketing strategy.
On the other hand, though, it means that big law firms with big followings can set out on a smear campaign—with or without any basis in fact—and damage their competitors with low blows.
One of the biggest weapons in the low-blow arsenal is the “hit piece.” A “hit piece” is loosely defined as any kind of published article or post that misrepresents facts or gives false information with the intention of swaying public opinion about a person, company, or other entity. These pieces are typically presented as true, trustworthy, and objective. However, in reality, they misrepresent or omit important facts and present a biased opinion.
Sound a little familiar? Anyone who has ever been online has probably seen this happen. Whether it’s the dirty end of political campaigning or a baseless social-media freak-out, attack ads and hit pieces are part of the norm online.
The sad part is that, even if you have the legal grounds to demand the publisher take it down or issue a correction, that content is already out there—and it’s rarely worth the time and energy to fight it.
What Happened to The Voss Law Firm?
Merlin Law Group, one of Bill Voss’ longtime competitors, chose to post an article that follows the basic recipe for what could be called a “hit piece.” It essentially claims that The Voss Law Firm engaged in litigation misconduct. The article then goes on to decry litigation misconduct in the industry and the negative impact it has on policyholders and policyholder attorneys.
The problem with the article, though, is that it tells half the story before the resolution, and it doesn’t mention the resolution. In actuality, the final result of the issue in question was actually positive for The Voss Law Firm. Merlin failed to reach out to Voss for comment or his side of the story—the first sign of a hit piece. Subsequently, Merlin has yet to take any action to supplement his disparaging article about Voss and refuses to mention the final outcome—I wonder why? Maybe because it doesn’t help his agenda?
In the Merlin article, they make it out like their version of the story contains all the facts you need, and then they get you outraged about abuses in the industry to make you loathe the target more. It’s easy to make someone else look bad, and it’s easy to think that will line your pockets.
Now, here’s the really crazy part. Here’s what at least two other law firms have published about Merlin Law Group:
And here it is on Ripoff Report, too.
You’re reading that right. The guy who wrote about being outraged by the allegations against The Voss Law Firm is the same guy who apparently faced a $400k attorney fee sanction for lying to a court.
Are the articles linked above more hit pieces? Are they the facts? Do you feel differently about Merlin’s apparent outrage over lesser allegations after finding out that he faced sanctions for allegedly lying to the court?
See, this is the problem with playing a dirty game.
It’s not uncommon for lawyers to be attacked by competitors or defendants at some point in their careers. Bill Voss tells us:
“On the first day of law school, they tell you that there are two sides to every story. You have to wait for the final resolution after all the facts are presented and hashed out. Then you can speak up and tell the world. This is a lawyering-101, first-year mistake.
[Chip Merlin] is one of my competitors in the United States. So, you have two top lawyers competing for business. You hit below the belt because you think it will gain you an advantage in the marketplace. But—you know that old saying?—when you point the finger at someone, there are always three pointing back.”
It’s the high road versus the low road—and that knowledge is the key to overcoming it.
How to Ignore the Haters and Succeed Like The Voss Law Firm
It’s tough to look at a nasty, misleading article about you or your law firm, and it’s really tough to move on with your day knowing it’s out there. However, once you’ve exhausted any practical actions you can take, moving on is usually the best option you have. Like we said way back at the beginning, the key is just to be a better person and let your positive actions speak for themselves.
“We’re continuing to represent amazing folks and high-profile clients,” Bill tells us, and the Merlin article has not slowed down or impacted the brisk pace of his practice. In fact, he’s continued to push his success even further, even under current pressures like the pandemic, the uncertain economy, and unrest across the nation.
With the support of the FWM services team, The Voss Law Firm “pivoted” earlier this spring and refocused on commercial insurance claims. They’ve been busy giving out lots of guidance about COVID-19 and business interruption, and they’ve recently been getting lots of calls from small businesses across the nation with questions about looting, vandalism, and business interruption. Of course, The Voss Law Firm has also kept their marketing machine running and remained steadfast in their other core areas of practice.
Bill says, “A lot of lawyers right now are getting calls about COVID-19 and business insurance. There are cases being filed by lawyers that don’t specialize in it, and that can be dangerous, in my opinion. Clients put all the confidence in the world in the lawyers they choose! Contact The Voss Law Firm or another policyholder law firm for guidance in this turbulent area of the law.”
You can also check out Bill’s new book, COVID-19 and Business Interruption Losses, which is available for download through The Voss Law Firm website.
If you’re worried about responding to a negative attack, or if you’re struggling under other pressures, this is the right time to get back to the basics. Work on building your reviews and reputation. Focus on your own website and clients. Use your blog posts and articles to enhance the user experience and inform the people you serve—not to cut down the people in your way.
In short, you can build a better strategy that will drown out that “one weird trick” your competitors tried to use against you.
We really think Bill says it best: “Our North Star is our clients—that’s all we care about. We don’t care about the competition and their name-calling. We are focused on positive outcomes.”
Concerned about your own business in 2020? Use your insurance. Get a lawyer to fight for you, and never stop marketing. You can reach out to Bill Voss and The Voss Law Firm with referrals or questions about business interruption, or you can give Foster Web Marketing a call at 866.497.6199 to give your marketing strategy a boost.