The Florida Supreme Court held a hearing on January 6 to discuss proposed changes to Florida’s advertising rule amendments, particularly as they apply to law firm websites.  The Florida Bar, through its speakers, were basically arguing that pages be on the “homepage” of a website could follow more relaxed rules for information provided by a law firm at the request of a prospective client.  (Florida, wisely makes a distinction between “public advertising” and information provided by a law firm “at the request of a prospective client.”  Information being provided to a proposed client does not need to be vetted in advance by the Florida Bar.)

    At least several justices of the Florida Supreme Court seemed opposed to the whole notion and seemed to be arguing that the Bar should be previewing everything a lawyer does before it is made available in any media.  Chief Justice Peggy Quince was quoted in the February 1, 2009 Florida Bar News as saying “why in a situation where the potential client is getting even more information (i.e. verdicts and settlements, testimonials) why do you believe there should be no submittal to the Bar and we’re letting even more information in?”

    Think about this. The question presupposes that the Bar has some legal, constitutional right to review and perhaps censor lawyer advertising before it is shown to the public.  The question presumes this “right” without any showing whatsoever that submittal and preview in advance of publication actually protects the public from a harm significant enough to require pre-approval.

    Florida Bar Advertising Committee Board Member, Chobee Ebbetts pointed out to the court that this would likely require pre submission by 30,000 to 40,000 lawyers of sometimes hundreds of pages of website per lawyer.  Astonishingly but not really surprisingly Florida Justice Fred Lewis responded by saying “to say the reason for it is we can’t do it, to me that is not a sound, thoughtful reason.”  That’s simply incredible that Justice Lewis would consider imposing such a requirement as a precondition to lawyers adding pages to their websites knowing that the requirement itself would likely be impossible to carry out.

    Justice Lewis, that’s the kind of irrational logic that continues to come down from on high all across the country in some misbegotten effort to stem the free flow of information between lawyers who desire to build profitable sound businesses and consumers who desire to obtain as much information about a lawyer before making what is generally considered to be one of the most significant purchases in their life.
Ben Glass
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Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.