Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the September 11, 2013 Florida Bar Advertising Staff Opinion which states that Florida lawyers cannot list areas of practice on Linkedin.com “Skills and Expertise” page unless they are Board Certified (or the equivalent). The staff opinion is here: http://it-lex.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Florida-Bar-Opinion-re-LinkedIn-Redacted.pdf
As you most likely already know if you are a member of Linkedin.com, Linkedin.com lawyers can be endorsed for their “Skills and Expertise” on a separate page. As you might also know, the endorsements can come from anyone and can be for multiple areas of practice. One of the questions that I have been asked is whether a lawyer is permitted to accept an endorsement for “Skills and Expertise” when that lawyer is not Board Certified (or the equivalent under the Bar Rules). I have responded that I believed that the Bar would have an issue with such endorsements and would state that the endorsements would violate the Bar Rules unless the lawyer was certified in the area in which he or she was endorsed.
Cynthia Booth, a staff advertising counsel for The Florida Bar’s Ethics and Advertising Department recently rendered a Staff Opinion stating that such endorsements for “Skills and Expertise” are prohibited unless the lawyer is certified in that area of practice. The opinion states:
“A lawyer can only state or imply that the lawyer is ‘certified’, a ‘specialist’, or an ‘expert’ if the lawyer is certified by The Florida Bar, by a certification program accredited by the American Bar Association, or by a state bar with certification standards comparable to those of The Florida Bar. Rule 4-7-14(a)(4). Certification is specific to individual lawyers; a law firm cannot be certified, and cannot claim specialization or expertise in an area of practice. Rule 6-3.4(c). Based on these rules, it is staff’s position that you may not list your areas of practice under the header “Skills and Expertise” as you are not board certified. While Rule 4-7.14(b) permits an attorney to use language that is potentially misleading if the advertisement contains information or statements that adequately clarify the potentially misleading issue, it is staff’s position that providing language in the Linkedin profile indicating that you are not board certified and not an expert will not remedy this issues. I have included a copy of New York State Bar Association Opinion 972 which reaches a similar conclusion.”
Bottom line: This staff opinion is not binding and is intended to provide guidance to lawyers; however, lawyers must be aware that The Florida Bar has taken this position in the recent staff opinion. This is clearly an important issue that must be addressed by The Florida Bar and the Bar’s Statewide Committee on Advertising will be considering the issue to potentially draft a formal advertising opinion at its next meeting on October 8, 2013. If you would like to provide your comments to the Statewide Committee on Advertising, you can send them to Elizabeth Tarbert, the Ethics and Advertising Counsel for The Florida Bar who oversees the committee, or you can attend the meeting and ask to be heard.
Let’s be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670