Although today is April Fool’s Day, the latest ruling on lawyer advertising handed down by the Florida Supreme Court is no joke.
Well, actually, it kinda is. But not in the way you’re thinking.
Florida has long held the crown for some of the most convoluted and outdated advertising regulations for attorneys. So convoluted and outdated that even the FTC – hardly a bastion of liberal thinking – has stated that Florida’s attorney advertising regulations work against consumers getting good information about available legal services and don’t necessarily comply with the constitutional sniff test when it comes to free speech.
In a divided opinion, the Florida Supreme Court issued its own marching orders last week to the Florida Bar concerning lawyer advertising rules. In its order, the Court says that all advertising (including websites) that contains information about past results or testimonials must be “objectively verifiable.”
Which means if you want to tout your successes, I suppose you will need to cite each case you won (but you’ll have to get the client’s permission first). Oh, and then there is this clear-as-mud instruction from the Court:
“…general statements such as, "I have successfully represented clients," or "I have won numerous appellate cases," may or may not be sufficiently objectively verifiable. For example, a lawyer may interpret the words "successful" or "won" in a manner different from the average prospective client. In a criminal law context, the lawyer may interpret the word "successful" to mean a conviction to a lesser charge or a lower sentence than recommended by the prosecutor, while the average prospective client likely would interpret the words "successful" or "won" to mean an acquittal.”
If this makes you emotional, then you need to simmer down, because emotion by attorneys engaged in marketing their practices will not be tolerated in Florida:
“A lawyer may not engage in unduly manipulative or intrusive advertisements. An advertisement is unduly manipulative if it: (a) uses an image, sound, video or dramatization in a manner that is designed to solicit legal employment by appealing to a prospective client’s emotions rather than to a rational evaluation of a lawyer’s suitability to represent the prospective client.”
And, as if to prove it is ruling via rear-view mirror, the Court even precludes lawyers from soliciting clients via telegraph…yet says nothing about social media.
So there goes all those job opportunities for telegraph operators in Florida!
If you’d like another take on this, read Josh King’s weekend post on Avvo: Florida Whiffs (Again) on Attorney Advertising Regulation.
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