Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert update on the Bar’s proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.14 on lawyers’ of “specialization” and “expertise” in advertisements which was filed in response to the federal court opinion which found the rule unconstitutional. The Bar filed an Omnibus Rules Petition with, inter alia, the proposed rule amendment with the Florida Supreme Court and the court issued an opinion on November 9, 2017 rejecting the proposed rule revisions. The SC opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2017/sc16-1961.pdf#search=Bar
The proposed amendment would have prohibited a lawyer from stating that he or she is “a specialist, an expert, or other variations of those terms” unless “the lawyer’s experience and training demonstrate specialized competence in the advertised area of practice that is reasonably comparable to that demonstrated by the standards of the Florida Certification Plan.” If the lawyer’s area of expertise is an area in which the Bar approves certifications, the lawyer would be required to include “a reasonably prominent disclaimer that the lawyer is not board certified in that area of practice by The Florida Bar or another certification program.” The court’s opinion states:
We decline to adopt the Bar’s proposal to amend Bar Rule 4-7.14 (Potentially Misleading Advertisements). The Bar proposes amendments to this rule in response to a decision from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, which held, in relevant part, that provisions in Bar Rule 4-7.14(a) broadly prohibiting lawyers who were not board certified from making truthful statements that they “specialize in” or “have expertise in” a particular field of practice were unconstitutional.
In response to this decision, the Bar recommended amending the rule in subdivision (a) (Potentially Misleading Advertisements) to add a new subdivision (a)(5), which would prohibit lawyers from using in their advertisements the terms “specialist,” “expert,” or other variations of those terms unless the lawyer meets one of the four criteria established in subdivisions (a)(5)(A)-(a)(5)(D). The criteria in subdivisions (a)(5)(A), (a)(5)(B), and (a)(5)(C) are similar to those in other parts of rule 4-7.14. However, subdivision (a)(5)(D) would provide that a lawyer may identify as a “specialist” or “expert” if the lawyer’s “experience and training demonstrate specialized competence in an area of practice that is reasonably comparable to that demonstrated by the standards of the Florida Certification Plan set forth in chapter 6 of these rules”; if the area of claimed specialization or expertise is or falls within an area of practice under the Florida Certification Plan, the advertisement must include a reasonably prominent disclaimer that the lawyer is not board certified in that area of practice by the Bar or another certification program.
We are concerned that the Bar’s proposal here does not sufficiently address the district court’s decision, and that the language requiring that a lawyer’s experience be “reasonably comparable” to the Florida Certification Plan will prove to be problematic because it could lead to differing and inconsistent applications. Because we believe that this important issue requires further study, we decline to adopt the Bar’s proposed amendments to rule 4-7.14, and we refer this matter to The Florida Bar for additional consideration.
Bottom line: I previously said that the proposed Bar rule amendment was problematic and may not comply with the federal district judge’s opinion finding that the rule violates the U.S. Constitution. The Florida Supreme Court has declined to implement the revised rule and the Bar will now go back to the drawing board.
Stay tuned…and be careful out there.
If you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement and 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