Florida Lawyer Web Site Requirements – Making the World Safer

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

As the Florida Bar News reports, this past Fall, the “Special” Committee on Website Advertising proposed requiring all lawyer web sites to comply with all Bar substantive advertising rules. What does this mean for Florida lawyers?

A Rule is Born . . .
The original rule change stated that web sites should be treated as normal advertising. This meant that lawyers could not put testimonials and past results on their web site. In addition, they would have to file a copy of each web site with the Florida Bar (including, presumably, each update of the site). Yikes! As you imagine that was a drastic change and caused a stir.

The Rule is Modified . . . Sorta
So at a January meeting an alternative was proposed: That a home page should comply with all bar rules, but that a visitor could take a specific action to reach the inside pages (usually known as sub pages) of their web site and find more information. A specific action? What does that mean?

I like Action . . . Jackson
To a web designer, a specific action usually means that a user clicks on a menu item. Unless you are a monkey just clicking randomly on a site, a mouse click typically indicates that you want more information. Well, to the Florida Bar it seems that not all mouse clicks are created equal. The “Special” Committee would want visitors to do one of the following to indicate a specific action:

1. Register and request a password;
2. Sign-up online; or
3. Click a button specifically requesting more information.

Well, those are certainly special actions. I would consider them almost e-special, or especially bad.

A Compromise is Reached
At the same meeting, the Dade County board delegation offered another suggestion. They offered the compromise that home pages would be required to comply with all general Florida Bar advertising rules, except the filing requirements. On subpages, lawyers can now post all the verifiable information they want. This compromise passed and is now up for comment.We’ll here are my comments as a Florida lawyer and web designer.

Lawyers Need an Education
Seriously, who is making these decisions and recommendations? Have they ever designed a web site? Do they know the difference between html, css, php, asp, email, seo, ppc or ftp? Do they have a web site? Do they even use the Internet?

Oh No, There are Search Engines!
The Florida Bar fails to realize that there is a web site called Google. Google indexes not only the home page, but all sub pages on the web site. When Google returns its results, it points the user to the most relevant results, whether it is a home page, sub page, or that 1994 High School graduation picture that you have tried to destroy for all these years. So if the user is searching for “Florida Estate Planning Lawyer,” it may take the user to any number of pages on a lawyer’s web site, not just the home page. So this means that new visitors could reach those pesky testimonials or verdict pages first, thereby bypassing the home page. Oh No! I guess they did not think about that.

Oh No, There are Different Types of Web Sites!
What about blogs? What about legal portal sites? What about information only sites? If a law firm is simply reporting facts about cases, a subject matter, or a topic, do they have to comply? What if they are currently using a web site service such as blogger.com, typepad.com, or a do-it-yourself web site builder program that does not allow them to modify the home page substantially? What if they are simply trying to communicate about a legal topic? Should all these types of web sites be treated the same as an online brochure-style site? I doubt that the committee thought about all these types of web sites and how information is communicated on the web.

Let’s Make Everything Difficult
Why does the Florida Bar want to make it hard for clients to access good information? Is filling out a registration form really going to increase public confidence in that lawyer’s web site? Is clicking on a button that says “Request for Information” going to increase the quality of the lawyer’s web site or practice?
I guess from a marketing standpoint requiring a registration form is a great way to increase your marketing list. It would also help web designers, as we would need to recode 99% of all lawyer web sites, thereby earning more fees. However, this is just a waste. This does not help the public at all.

All it does is make it difficult. All it does is annoy. All it does is waste time. All it does is provide a band-aid to a broken system. Instead of focusing on raising the quality of law and the quality of our practice, we focus on making rules to things we do not understand.

Conclusion
We plan to keep you advised on the updates to Florida rules and where possibly hopefully guide the committee. My idea for changing this rule is the following:

1. All web sites should be treated as request for information and be exempted from advertising rules.

It is simple: Just ban lawyers from putting false, misleading or manipulative information on their web sites.On a more theoretical note, my idea for overall advertising rules is the following:

1. Any Advertising: Allow for all lawyers to advertise in any manner. Let the bottom feeders sink to the bottom. Let the creative and professional firms shine in their marketing with no mundane restrictions.

2. Bring back public shame: All lawyers who create ANY false, misleading or manipulative ads must create a 60-second Internet video of themselves apologizing for their misconduct. Consider it a public video mugshot. This video will be posted on their own web site, YouTube, and the Florida Bar’s web site — made searchable, of course, by their name and firm name. Shame can be a great disincentive and would do more for public confidence then these band-aid patches that we are discussing.

More ideas and news to come.

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