New Florida Bar Anti-Advertising Rule Threatens Legal Bloggers?

At Prawfsblog Lyrissa B. Lidsky has a good question for members of the Florida Bar who blog: Will this post get me disbarred?

Here's the setup:

The Florida Bar has a new attorney advertising rule that aggressively regulates attorney speech on the Internet.  Florida Bar Rule 4-7.6  Indeed, the new rule regulates attorney speech so aggressively that it might even apply to this blog post.  Until recently, the Florida Bar considered all attorney websites and web communications as information provided upon the request of a prospective client and did not apply its attorney advertising rules to them.  But now the Florida Bar has extended its substantive advertising rules except for its filing requirement to all “Computer-Accessed Communications” by Florida attorneys. 

The first problem with the new Bar rule is its exceeding broad definition of “computer-accessed communications” as “information regarding a lawyer’s or law firm’s services that is read, viewed, or heard directly through the use of a computer.”  The definition includes “but [is] not limited to, websites, unsolicited electronic mail communications, and information concerning a lawyer’s or law firms’ services that appears on Internet search engine screens and elsewhere.”  Under that definition, if I write in this post that I’m a defamation expert, I’m giving you information regarding my services, and I could be subject to reprimand, suspension, or disbarment if I don’t meet the substantive requirements of the Florida Bar’s advertising rules.  Rule 4-7.6(d).  What are those substantive requirements? 

The substantive rules provide, among other things, that an attorney website can’t “describe or characterize the quality of legal services being offered.”  Rule 4-7.2(c)(2) 

As Prof. Lidsky goes on to discuss, there are some serious First Amendment problems with this rule.

There are times when I wish I'd gone ahead and taken the Florida bar exam when I moved here. This is not one of them.

(In order to discourage retirees from trying to keep a hand in when the move here, the state of Florida has zero reciprocity with other states, and makes it quite difficult for those of us who have practiced elsewhere to actually apply to take the exam — we need to list every client we ever represented, and try to get a letter from them, something that would be very hard for a former associate in a large firm, who touched many files, mostly with foreign clients. For more as to why I never got around to it, see If You Don't Ask, You Don't Get. But Some Things You Shouldn't Ask.)

I imagine this new Florida rule will not be a problem for pseudonymous Rumpole so long as no unmasks him. But will it in any way stifle David O. Markus?

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One Response to New Florida Bar Anti-Advertising Rule Threatens Legal Bloggers?

  1. I think you and Ms. Lidsky are overreacting.

    What exactly is it that you or another lawyer would like to say that is prohibited by the new rule?

    What do you think the punishment is for an unintentional infraction of the rule?

    The purpose of the rules governing advertising is to try to curtail the lawyers whose advertisements contain content that is harmful to the image of lawyers generally.

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