May 4, 2010 – Every law firm should be familiar with their state Bar regulations regarding the appropriate guidelines for advertising. As technology has advanced over the years and more electronic-based communications are becoming the norm for advertising, changes to these regulations become necessary.
Such has been the case recently for the Florida Bar, which made updates to its rules for computer accessed communications. Last November, the court ruled that websites are subject to the general advertising rules contained in pre-existing legislation governing advertising in general.
The current legislation prevents lawyers from making statements characterizing the quality of legal services, past results, and testimonials. Extending this ruling to cover websites as well not only caused nearly all legal websites to then be in violation of Bar rule, but also left little time for law firms to correct their sites before the new ruling took effect at the start of the new year.
After a successful petition to extend the effective date to July 1st, the Bar also asked the Committee on Advertising to provide guidelines regarding the appropriate use of case results and testimonials. In the original rule, these kinds of advertising were prohibited due to their sometimes misleading nature. Now the committee is suggesting the use of disclaimers to allow for lawyers to still provide interested clients with this information.
Under the newly proposed guidelines, lawyers were encouraged to include a disclaimer stating that not all case results are typical and testimonials are not representative of all cases. After the client acknowledges the disclaimer, they would be taken to a separate page to view the materials. This would allow the website to be in compliance with the Bar rule without having to change too much existing content.
As of March 31st, the Bar is urging that these suggestions be put into concrete guidelines within the rule, rather than lingering out as a ‘suggestion’ or policy as to how to interpret the rule. This has caused a fast-track procedure to be implemented with a proposed rule to be filed with the court around June 1st.
Lawyers in all states should be mindful of their local Bar rules for advertising, especially with conduct on the Internet. Digital communications are often overlooked as advertising media, but they are just as susceptible to Bar governance as any traditional advertising.
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