Florida Bar Rules for Attorney Advertising
Under the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, any violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct is a cause for discipline. The Rules of Professional Conduct set out an extensive maze of restrictions concerning attorney advertising.
Those restrictions prohibit attorneys from making certain claims in lawyer advertisements. The bar rules in Florida for attorney advertising have long been recognized as the most restrictive in the country.
Any violation of the bar rules subjects the attorney to discipline, including public reprimand, suspension, or disbarment. For this reason, attorneys should read each of the bar rules concerning advertising, along with the comments, and opinions interpreting those rules. The attorney should expressly approve any content used on the firm's website.
Any companies choosen by the attorney to implement their marketing strategy, design their website, or add content should understand these rules as well.
The Florida Bar does not require that the attorney's websites is filed. Although it is not required for the website to be filed with The Florida Bar, the website must comply with the substantive lawyer advertising rules in Rules 4-7.12 through 4-7.17 and 4-7.21.
The attorney is permitted to, but not requried to, file a specific aspect of a website for review on a voluntary basis including a specific page, provision, statement, illustration, or photograph. That information must be filed under Rule 4-7.19(d) with a filing fee of $150. The Florida Bar will not, however, accept the filing of an entire website.
What Claims are"Objectively Verifiable"?
The new Florida Bar Rules have been criticized as fundamentally restraining lawyers' speech in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. For example, under the Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-7.13, attorneys are prohibited from making any claim about the attorney's services that are not "objectively verifiable."
This rule applies to all forms of advertisements, even the interior pages on the attorney's websites. The term "objectively verifiable" is not defined under the rules. Although the rules expressly allow "past case results" to be included, many attorneys fear that the description of past case result could be considered "inherently misleading" because the statement might not include all facts deemed to be "pertinent."
One of the most commonly violated rule is Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-7.14 which prohibits an attorney from stating or implying that a lawyer specializes in an area of law. Terms such as "expert" or "specialist" or "specialize" have long been reserved for attorneys that have earned board certification by The Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization & Education or national organizations accredited by the American Bar Association to award specialty certification.
To avoid a violation of that rule it is better to say that the attorney is "focused on" instead of "specializes in" a particular type of law. The attorney should avoid using the term specialist, specializes, or expert in an inappropriate way when refering to the attorneys in the firm or services offered by the firm.
Who Enforces the Florida Bar Rules on Attorney Advertising?
The Florida Bar is an extension of the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Bar approves lawyer advertising, issues advisory opinions interpreting the rules, and investigates and prosecutes attorneys for alleged violations.
When the ads are submitted to the Legal Division of The Florida Bar, the ad will be reviewed to determine whether it complies with the advertising rules. The legal division will then issue opinions either approving or disapproving of the advertisement. The Disciplinary Counsel of the Florida Bar investigates and prosecutes attorneys for alleged violations of the restrictions.
When do the lawyer advertising rules apply?
According to Rule 4-7.11(a), the lawyer advertising rules in Florida apply to all forms of communication seeking legal employment in any print or electronic forum, including but not limited to newspapers, magazines, brochures, flyers, television, radio, direct mail, electronic mail, and Internet, including banners, pop-ups, websites, social networking, and video sharing media.
Under Rule 4-7.11(b), the lawyer advertising rules in Florida apply to lawyers admitted to practice in Florida advertising to provide legal services in Florida.
As explained in Rule 4-8.4(c), even though the lawyer advertising rules do not apply to some types of communications, the rule prohibiting conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation applies to all communications of a lawyer.
What must be included in the advertisement?
The Florida bar rules for attorney advertising require some types of content to be included in the ad in a prominent way including:
- Rule 4-7.12(a)(1) – the name of the lawyer or law firm - all forms of lawyer advertising, including advertisements that are exempt from the filing requirement, must include the name of at least one lawyer, law firm, or qualifying provider (lawyer referral service, matching service, group or pooled advertising program, directory, or tips or leads generator) responsible for the advertising content. The name must be reasonably prominent in the advertisement.
- Lawyers must advertise and practice under their official bar names.
- Each member of The Florida Bar is required to designate an official bar name, which must be used in the course of the member’s practice of law. Rule 1-3.3(a) and (b).
- Location of Practice - Rule 4-7.12(a)(2)
- All forms of lawyer advertising must disclose the city, town or county of 1 or more bona fide office locations of the lawyer or lawyers who will perform the services advertised. The geographic location disclosure must be reasonably prominent. The SCA has found that an advertisement is misleading if it lists law firm offices in several cities when, in fact, there are no bona fide firm offices in those cities.
- As required in Rule 4-7.12(d), the information must be legibility. All required information in an advertisement must be reasonably prominent and clearly legible if written and clearly audible if spoken aloud.
- Examples of information required to appear in advertisements are:
- Name of lawyer, law firm, or qualifying provider (lawyer referral service, matching service, group or pooled advertising program, directory, or tips or leads generator) for the advertisement - Rule 4-7.12(a)(1)
- Geographic disclosure of bona fide office by city, town, or county - Rule 4-7.12(a)(2)
- Disclosure that cases will be referred to another lawyer - Rule 4-7.12(b)
- Disclosure “Not an employee or member of law firm” - Rule 4-7.13(b)(5)
- Disclosure “DRAMATIZATION. NOT AN ACTUAL EVENT” when applicable - Rule 4-7.13(b)(6)
- Disclosure that a prospective client may not obtain the same or similar results when specific results are advertised - Rule 4-7.13(b)(8)
- Name of certifying organization and area of practice for which a lawyer is board certified if the advertisement states that the lawyer is certified - Rule 4-7.14(a)(4)
- Cost disclosure, if the advertisement provides fee information - Rule 4-7.14(a)(5)
- Time a price will be honored, if the advertisement lists a price that is valid for a period of less than 90 days [or 1 year for annual publications such as the yellow pages] - Rule 4-7.14(a)(5)
Forms of Solicitation Prohibited under Florida Law
Florida Statutes have various provisions that prohibit solicitation including:
- 49 U.S.C. §1136(g)(2) – prohibits unsolicited communications offering personal injury representation within 45 days after an interstate or international air carrier accident;
- Section 119.105, Fla. Stat. – forbids the use of information from non-confidential police reports to solicit accident or crime victims or their relatives;
- Section 316.066(3)(c), Fla. Stat. – forbids the use of information from accident reports prepared by law enforcement officers for commercial solicitation; and
- Section 877.02, Fla. Stat. - making it a misdemeanor for employees of hospitals, sanitariums, police departments, wrecker services, garages, prisons or courts, or for bail bondsmen, investigators, photographers, insurance or public adjustors to assist a lawyer in soliciting legal business.
The Florida Bar - Find information about restrictions on attorney advertising on the Florida Bar website. The Florida Bar is located at:
The Florida Bar
651 East Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300
Phone: (850) 561-5600
Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and Requirements for Lawyers - Read the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar including the Rules of Professional Conduct and other rules that govern the practice of law in Florida.
The Florida Bar Advertising Regulation - The Florida Bar's advertising rules, including rules regarding lawyer and law firm computer accessed communications, such as websites.
Florida Ethics Opinions - Find information on ethics opinions, articles on ethics issues, The Florida Bar Ethics Hotline, frequently asked ethics questions, and miscellaneous other information on legal ethics in Florida.
Checklist for Attorney Website Advertising Rules - Find a list of questions that you can ask to determine whether your website violates the lawyer advertising rules, subchapter 4-7, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Although, even if you answer each question correctly, it does not necessarily mean that the advertisement complies with the lawyer advertising rules.
Handbook on Attorney Adverting in Florida – The Ethics and Advertising Department of The Florida Bar developed this handbook to help attorneys understand the rules that apply to lawyer advertising. The handbook includes a breakdown of the rules for each type of advertisement, answer frequently asked questions about lawyer advertising regulations, checklists for each type of advertising, examples of complying and non-complying advertisements.
This article was last updated on Friday, November 9, 2018.