Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent decisions of the Florida Bar Board of Governors, including approval of guidelines for advertising past results and revoking the staff advisory opinion stating the LinkedIn violates Bar Rules. The Guidelines for Advertising Past Results are attached and are here: http://www.floridabar.org/TFB/TFBResources.nsf/Attachments/FB68CB88389B9FC785257C430053B5F9/$FILE/guidelines%20past%20results.pdf?OpenElement
The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) met on December 13, 2013 and, based upon a recommendation of the BOG Review Committee on Professional Ethics, approved proposed guidelines for advertising past results under the 2013 revised advertising rules. The BOG also voted to revoke the September 2013 staff advisory opinion/letter stating that the use of LinkedIn violates Florida Bar Rules and requested the Standing Committee on Advertising to prepare an advisory opinion on the use of the LinkedIn social and professional networking site by Florida lawyers.
Some of the most significant sections of the guidelines are below:
“When an advertisement includes a dollar amount and language or an illustration that indicates that a client has received the specific amount (“My lawyer got me $X” with a photograph of a person receiving money), the dollar amount must be the net amount received by the client. The net amount is the amount after deductions for attorneys’ fees and litigation-related expenses.”
“An advertisement of past results that does not prominently disclose information necessary to prevent the advertisement from being misleading violates Rule 4-7.13(a)(2).” Examples include failure to disclose that a civil verdict was overturned on appeal or claiming that an acquittal on one or more criminal charges was successfully obtained without disclosing that the client was convicted of other crimes in the same matter.
“Indoor and outdoor display and radio and television media do not lend themselves to effective communication of such information. Consequently, the Bar generally will not approve advertisements in such media that include references to past results.”
“Statements regarding collective or aggregated results about the amount of recovery are impermissible under Rule 4-7.13(a) because they are inherently misleading as there is no way for the viewer to know how many cases, clients, and/or lawyers are involved or the amounts and facts of individual matters that would permit consumers to make informed decisions regarding them.”
Bottom line: This is a significant development in the ongoing evolution of the Bar’s position on the 2013 revised advertising rules and lawyers’ use of social media. All Florida lawyers should carefully review the past results guidelines (which are important but not mandatory or binding). Although the revocation of the informal opinion does not necessarily change the Bar’s position that the terms “Specialist” and Skills and Expertise” cannot be used by lawyers other than those who are Board certified, the fact that the BOG revoked the opinion and requested that the Standing Committee on Advertising prepare an advisory opinion on the implications of Bar members using LinkedIn is very significant. Stay tuned…
…and 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