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11th Circuit to Hear Florida Legal Web Marketing Case

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 22, 2010 6:56 AM

It is beginning to seem to the casual observer that the Florida Bar is being a bit slow in adapting to the ways by which attorneys in their state are using the web to market themselves. The Bar's rules of ethics are making it difficult for attorneys in that state to use a website tag line and, in a separate issue, possibly even blogs, to market their legal skills to the wide audience to be found online.

The first issue comes from an on-going case about to be heard before the 11th Circuit. According to a report by News4, in that case, the firm of Harrell and Harrell is suing the Florida Bar Association for the right to continue to use the website tag line "Don't settle for less than you deserve." The firm also uses the line in their TV ads.

The Bar Association had attempted to stop the firm from using the line, saying that it was prohibited under the rules of ethics because it could be potentially misleading. No surprise, the firm sued, saying the line was protected speech under the First Amendment. Although the lower court dismissed the case, the circuit court now says parts of the suit may proceed. 

In the second related online fracas in Florida, according to a report earlier this year by TechDirt, the Florida rules of ethics are so broad as to potentially ban attorney blogs. As many practitioners know, blogging is a very useful tool in introducing visitors to a firm's website to the attorneys at the firm and the work they do. The subject at issue is whether Rule 4-7.2(c)(2) which does not allow attorneys to "describe or characterize the quality of legal services being offered" could nearly ban blogging. The post's author, Lyrissa Lidsky is concerned that such a broad ban prohibits nearly all types of blogging by lawyers especially anything touching on past case results, or client testimonials. 

Lidsky goes on to opine that all such comments (presumably within or without blogs) should be protected speech unless "inherently misleading." Quite a different standard than "potentially misleading." Keep an eye on the 11th Circuit for application of the appropriate standard and its effect on legal blogs, websites and marketing, both online and off.

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