Florida Bar Approves Stricker Advertising Rules For Web Sites

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Update:  The Florida Bar has released new advertising rules.  Please visit our blog posts on the subject here:

Lawyer Web sites, radio, and television ads would face greater Bar oversight

On lawyer Web sites, Morales said the task force recommended that those be treated as communications made at the request of a potential client. That would mean they would be exempt from advertising rules, but still governed by other Bar rules that would prohibit them from being deceptive, misleading, or dishonest.

He warned that making Web sites subject to the ad rules would create an enforcement problem because the Bar doesn’t have the staff to review them. A Web site, printed out, can involve hundreds of pages of documents.

Tarbert, in response to a question, also said making Web sites subject to the rules would change the status quo. Currently Web sites are covered by most existing Bar ad rules except that law firms can talk about past results and make statements characterizing their quality of legal services. Those would be prohibited under the proposed new rules. Web sites would continue to be
exempt from filing requirements.

Board members, though, said it would be inconsistent not to include Web sites under the ad rules. Board member Gary Leppla noted that the Disciplinary Procedure Committee reviewed the issue and voted 5-2 that Web sites should be covered.

“We could not see the difference between the initiative of clicking or Googling and the initiative of picking up Yellow Pages [to find a lawyer],” he said. “You’re right, it [enforcement] is a practical problem; it’s a horrible practical problem. But we’re talking about supporting a recommendation [from the task force] that is an affirmative statement that says a Web site is not an advertisement and is not subject to the rules. We can’t do that.”

“It is not logical to exempt this area of communications,” board member Scott Hawkins added. “It is not logical to say just because we have difficulty enforcing it, you should not regulate it.”

The board voted that Web sites are subject to all ad rules, except the requirement that they be filed with the Bar for review. Bar President Kelly Overstreet Johnson said the enforcement issue will have to be studied further.

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