Category Archives: Lawyer advertising and solicitation

Florida Bar Board of Governors agrees with BOG Ethics and Bar Advertising Committees that “Results So Good, You’ll Think It’s Magic!” violates Bar Rules

Hello everyone and welcome to my first Ethics Alert of 2017 which will discuss the recent decision of the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) to uphold the opinion of the Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising (SCA) and the recommendation of the BOG Ethics Committee (BRCPE) that a law firm’s “Results So Good, You’ll Think It’s Magic!” slogan violates the Bar Rules.

According to an article in the January 1, 2017 issue of The Florida Bar News, the SCA had opined that the law firm’s proposed name: “Ticket Wizards”, and a slogan: “Results So Good, You’ll Think It’s Magic!” violated two Florida Bar advertising rules: 1) promising results to potential clients; and 2) characterizing the “skills, experience, reputation, or record” of the firm in a way that the firm could not objectively verify.

After the SCA found against the law firm, it appealed to the BOG.  The BOG considered the matter at its recent meeting in Clearwater and, by a 24-20 vote agreed with the BRCPE and denied the appeal; however, it found the name and the picture of a wizard did not characterize the firm’s experience, skills, reputation, or record.  The BRCPE had recommended that the firm should only be permitted to use the name and image if it could objectively show it is a “master or expert” in that area of practice.  The BOG voted that the law firm could use the name and image if it could objectively verify the implications of the title and picture.

With regard to the slogan “Results So Good, You’ll Think It’s Magic!,” the BOG agreed that the slogan can “reasonably be construed as a prediction of success” and, therefore, it violated the Bar rules. The BOG also found that the slogan violated the rule against characterizing a firm’s “skills, reputation, character, or record “unless it is objectively verifiable.

Bottom line: It appears that the lesson here is that lawyers are prohibited from promising magical results (unless perhaps they are magicians?)…

Happy New Year to you and yours and be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida 2013 comprehensive lawyer advertising rules, Florida Bar, Florida Lawyer advertising rules, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising and solicitation, Lawyer advertising promising results, Lawyer advertising rules, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer puffery

California interim ethics opinion addresses when lawyer blogging is subject to regulation under Bar Rules

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss lawyer blogging and the interim opinion of the State Bar of California which addresses the topic of lawyer blogging and when lawyer blogs may be subject to regulation under the California Bar Rules and advertising statute.  The interim ethics opinion is The State Bar of California Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct Formal Opinion Interim No. 12-0006 and the opinion is here:  Cal Bar Opinion Interim No. 12-006- lawyer blogging.  The comment period on the interim opinion has expired; however, the opinion has not been finalized.

The interim opinion frames the issue: “Under what circumstances is ‘blogging’ by an attorney a ‘communication’ subject to the requirements and restrictions of the Rules of Professional Conduct and related provisions of the State Bar Act regulating attorney advertising?”

The interim opinion’s digest section states:

  1. Blogging by an attorney may be a communication subject to the requirements and restrictions of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the State Bar Act relating to lawyer advertising if the blog expresses the attorney’s availability for professional employment directly through words of invitation or offer to provide legal services, or implicitly through its description of the type and character of legal services offered by the attorney, detailed descriptions of case results, or both. (emphasis supplied)
  1. A blog that is an integrated part of an attorney’s or law firm’s professional website will be a communication subject to the rules and statutes regulating attorney advertising to the same extent as the website of which it is a part.
  1. A stand-alone blog by an attorney, even if discussing legal topics within or outside the authoring attorney’s area of practice, is not a communication subject to the requirements and restrictions of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the State Bar Act relating to lawyer advertising unless the blog directly or implicitly expresses the attorney’s availability for professional employment.
  1. A stand-alone blog by an attorney on a non-legal topic is not a communication subject to the rules and statutes regulating attorney advertising, and will not become subject thereto simply because the blog contains a link to the attorney or law firm’s professional website. However, extensive and/or detailed professional identification information announcing the attorney’s availability for professional employment will itself be a communication subject to the rules and statutes.

In the discussion section, the opinion recognizes that “(b)y its nature, blogging raises First Amendment free speech issues. Prohibited for most of the 20th Century, advertising by attorneys was found to be protected commercial speech by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona (1977) 433 U.S. 350 [97 S.Ct. 2691].  Bates provides that truthful attorney advertising cannot be absolutely prohibited, but may be subject to reasonable restrictions.”

The opinion then provides four examples of attorney blogs and analyzes each of the hypothetical blogs regarding the application of the California Bar Rules and the California advertising statute and concludes that:

“A blog by an attorney will not be considered a ‘communication’ subject to rule 1-400 or an “advertisement” subject to Business and Professions Code sections 6157, et seq., unless the blog expresses the attorney’s availability for professional employment directly through words of invitation or offer to provide legal services, or implicitly, for example, through a detailed description of the attorney’s legal practice and successes in such a manner that the attorney’s availability for professional employment is evident.

A blog included on an attorney’s or law firm’s professional website is part of a ‘communication’ subject to the rules regulating attorney advertising to the same extent as the website of which it is a part.

A stand‐alone blog by an attorney on law‐related issues or developments within his or her practice area is not a ‘communication’ subject to the rules regulating attorney advertising unless it invites the reader to contact the attorney regarding the reader’s personal legal case, or otherwise expresses the attorney’s availability for professional employment.

A stand-alone blog on law-related issues maintained by an attorney that is not part of the attorney’s professional website is not ‘communication’ subject to attorney advertising regulations unless the blog indicates the attorney’s availability for professional employment.

A non-legal blog by an attorney is not a ‘communication’ subject to the rules or statutes regulating attorney advertising, even if it includes a hyperlink to the attorney’s professional web page or contains biographical or contact information. However, the biographical or contact information itself may be subject to the rules and statutes.”

The general consensus among the jurisdictions (including Florida) would appear to be that, if the lawyer’s blog is primarily educational and/or informational in nature and not primarily for obtaining employment, it is not subject to advertising regulation (see NYSBA Ethics Op. 967 (6/5/13) here: NYSBA Ethics Op. 967).

This California interim opinion states that: “”(b)logging by an attorney may be a communication subject to the requirements and restrictions of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the State Bar Act relating to lawyer advertising if the blog expresses the attorney’s availability for professional employment directly through words of invitation or offer to provide legal services, or implicitly through a description of the attorney’s legal practices and successes in such a manner that the attorney’s availability for professional employment is evident.” (emphasis supplied).  The opinion does not address whether blogs which are primarily for educational and informational purposes are subject to regulation even if it also expresses the attorney’s availability for professional employment.

Bottom line:  Lawyer blogs are subject to state Bar regulations only to the extent that the regulations do not violate the lawyer’s federal constitutional First Amendment free (commercial) speech rights; however, lawyers who blog must research the requirements of their state advertising rules, ethics opinions, and other sources to insure compliance with those state regulations.  To the extent that those rules may violate the lawyer’s First Amendment free (commercial) speech rights, the lawyer could consider a constitutional challenge.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising and solicitation, Lawyer Advertising opinion, Lawyer advertising rules, lawyer blogs, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer ethics opinions

The Florida Bar will file petition with advertising rule amendment regarding lawyer’s use of “expert” and “specialist” on October 15, 2016

Hello and welcome to this update of the May 25, 2016 Ethics Alert regarding the proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.14 with new subsection 4-1.14(a)(5) related to claims of “specialization” and “expertise” in advertisements.  The BOG approved the rule amendment and the Bar will file an Omnibus Rules Petition with the proposed rule amendment with the Florida Supreme Court on October 15, 2016 (along with other proposed rule amendments).  The proposed rule revisions are here:  2016 Annual Florida Bar Rules Proposals and the new Rule 4-7.14(a)(5) language is below:

RULE 4-7.14 POTENTIALLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS

A lawyer may not engage in potentially misleading advertising.

(a) Potentially Misleading Advertisements. Potentially misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to:

(5) a statement that a lawyer is a specialist, an expert, or other variations of those terms unless:

(A) the lawyer has been certified under the Florida Certification Plan as set forth in chapter 6, Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and the advertisement includes the area of certification and that The Florida Bar is the certifying organization;

(B) the lawyer has been certified by an organization whose specialty certification program has been accredited by the American Bar Association or The Florida Bar as provided elsewhere in these rules. A lawyer certified by a specialty certification program accredited by the American Bar Association but not The Florida Bar must include the statement “Not Certified as a Specialist by The Florida Bar” in reference to the specialization or certification. All such advertisements must include the area of certification and the name of the certifying organization;

(C) the lawyer has been certified by another state bar if the state bar program grants certification on the basis of standards reasonably comparable to the standards of the Florida Certification Plan set forth in chapter 6 of these rules and the advertisement includes the area of certification and the name of the certifying organization; or

(D) 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 set forth in chapter 6 of these rules and, if the area of claimed specialization or expertise is or falls within an area of practice under the Florida Certification Plan, the advertisement includes a reasonably prominent disclaimer that the lawyer is not board certified in that area of practice by The Florida Bar or another certification program if the lawyer is not board certified in that area of practice.

The new subsection in Rule 4-7.14(5)(a)(D) states that a lawyer is prohibited 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.”  In addition, 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.”

According to the Bar’s filing notice: “Members who desire to comment on these proposed amendments may do so within 30 days of the filing of the Bar’s petition(s). Comments must be filed directly with the clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida, and a copy must be served on the executive director of The Florida Bar. Rule 1-12.1, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, governs these proceedings.”

Bottom line:  As I previously said, it remains to be seen whether the Florida Supreme Court will approve the amendment as drafted and, if it does, whether the restrictions in the amended Bar rule on their face and as applied are in compliance with the federal district judge’s 9/30/15 order finding that the previous rule violated the United States Constitution.  The Order here: 9/30/15 J. Hinkle Order and Injunction.

Stay tuned…and be careful out there.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida 2013 advertising rules federal lawsuit, Florida 2013 comprehensive lawyer advertising rules, Florida Bar, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising and solicitation, Lawyer advertising rules, Lawyer advertising specialties and certification, Lawyer advertising testimonials, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer use of expertise and specialist in advertising and certification, Lawyers use of specialization and expertise ethics

Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL) issues report recommending substantial revisions to advertising and solicitation rules

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent report of the Advertising Committee of Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL) recommending revisions to the lawyer solicitation rules.  The April 26, 2016 report of the APRL Regulation of Lawyer Advertising Committee is here:  https://www.aprl.net/publications/downloads/APRL_2016_Lawyer-Advertising-Supplemental-Report_04-26-16_w-Attach.pdf

The APRL Advertising Committee’s previous report dated June 22, 2015, discussed concerns about overly restrictive and inconsistent state regulation of lawyer advertising, particularly related to electronic media advertising. That APRL report recommended substantial revisions to the lawyer advertising rules “to achieve greater rationality and uniformity in regulatory enforcement of lawyer advertising and marketing and proposed a new Model Rule 7.1 to replace ABA Model Rules 7.1, 7.2, 7.4 and 7.5 and by the use of non-disciplinary means to address most complaints about lawyer advertising.” The June 22, 2015 APRL report is here: https://www.aprl.net/publications/downloads/APRL_2015_Lawyer-Advertising-Report_06-22-15.pdf

The June 22, 2015 report further states: “It is long past time for rationality and uniformity to be brought to the regulation of lawyer advertising.  The Committee recommends that the ABA Model Rules governing communications about legal services be consolidated into a single disciplinary rule that simply prohibits false or misleading statements.  Adopting this approach to advertising regulation, combined with reasonable uniform enforcement policies and protocols by state disciplinary authorities, is in the Committee’s view the best way to ensure honest communication by lawyers while at the same time promoting the widest possible access by the public to legal services.”

Current ABA Model Rule 7.3 (solicitation) states:

(a)  A lawyer shall not by in‑person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain…

According to the April 26, 2016 report, “(t)he Committee has now considered the solicitation rules and has concluded that the legitimate regulatory objectives of preventing overreaching and coercion by lawyers who use in-person solicitation and targeted communications with the primary motivation of pecuniary gain can best be achieved by combining provisions of Model Rules 7.2 and 7.3 in a single rule. The Committee’s proposed revisions of Model Rules 7.2 and 7.3 in the form of new Rule 7.2 is set forth in Attachment A. The Committee’s revised rule both defines solicitation and distinguishes solicitations that are prohibited from those that are permitted with appropriate protections.”

The proposed rule is below:

Rule 7.2 Solicitation of Clients Solicitation

(b) Except as provided in paragraphs (c) and (e), a lawyer shall not solicit in person by face to-face contact or live telephone, or permit employees or agents of the lawyer to solicit in person or by live telephone on the lawyer’s behalf, professional employment from a prospective client when a significant motive for doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted: (1) is a lawyer; (2) is a sophisticated user of legal services; (3) is pursuant to a court-ordered class action notification; or (4) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.

The proposed rule revision would still prohibit “in person” solicitation by a lawyer or the lawyer’s agent “face-to-face” or via “live telephone”, “when a significant motive for doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain.” The proposed rule would permit solicitation if the person:

(1) is a lawyer;

(2) is a sophisticated user of legal services;

(3) is pursuant to a court-ordered class action notification; or

(4) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.

The proposed rule would remove the provision in the current model rule which applies the solicitation rule to chat-room communications and would expressly allow a lawyer to solicit a “sophisticated” user of legal services, which it defines as “an individual who has had significant dealings with the legal profession or who regularly retains legal services for business purposes.”  The committee stated that it believes that such a sophisticated user does not need the protection of the lawyer-conduct anti-solicitation standards because of his or her sophistication.   APRL is attempting to present these proposals to the ABA House of Delegates in 2017.

Florida’s current direct contact/solicitation rule is below:

RULE 4-7.18 DIRECT CONTACT WITH PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS

(a)        Solicitation. Except as provided in subdivision (b) of this rule, a lawyer may not:

(1)        solicit, or permit employees or agents of the lawyer to solicit on the lawyer’s behalf, professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship, in person or otherwise, when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. The term “solicit” includes contact in person, by telephone, telegraph, or facsimile, or by other communication directed to a specific recipient and includes any written form of communication, including any electronic mail communication, directed to a specific recipient and not meeting the requirements of subdivision (b) of this rule and rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.17 of these rules.

As I reported in my August 20, 2015 Ethics Alert, The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors reversed a Bar Advertising Committee opinion that text messages were direct contact/solicitations and found that a law firm can send texts to prospective clients as long as the messages comply with the Bar rules on written and e-mail communications.  The Florida Bar rules also require that the first line of the text state that the communication is “advertising” and, if the text is a communication about a specific matter, it must have language stating that, if the recipient already has an attorney, he or she should disregard the text.  The text must also disclose how the law firm got the recipient’s name.  The August 20, 2015 Ethics Alert is here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/florida-bar-board-of-governors-finds-that-unrequested-texts-to-prospective-clients-on-specific-matters-are-not-prohibited-solicitations/

Bottom line:  The APRL’s proposed solicitation rule is a long way from implementation.  Even if the provision is approved by the ABA, the Model Rule is non-binding and each individual state Bar and Supreme Court would have to approve it for it to be implemented and become binding in those states.

Be careful out there!

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

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 2013 Florida comprehensive advertising rule revisions, Attorney Ethics, Florida 2013 comprehensive lawyer advertising rules, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising and solicitation, Lawyer advertising and solicitation APRL report, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism