Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 which would prohibit a Florida lawyer from using the name of another lawyer or law firm to trigger a search result that includes an Internet advertisement of the first lawyer. The Florida Bar Board of Governors Agenda Item Summary of the proposed rule amendment is here: file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/Board_Agenda_Item_20c_Board_Numbering_March_2018.pdf
The Board Review Committee of the Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) is considering the amendment to Bar Rule 4-7.13 which would prohibit the unauthorized use of a lawyer’s name in metadata or Google AdWords to drive search results to a different lawyer’s website. The BOG previously rejected a Bar Standing Committee on Advertising (SAC) opinion that reached the same conclusion, voting 23-19 to withdraw the opinion on December 13, 2013.
According to the Bar summary, the BOG voted to withdraw the SCA opinion “because the purchase of ad words (such as Google ad words or other search engines such as Yahoo or Bing) is permissible as long as the resulting advertisements or sponsored links clearly are advertising based on their placement and wording, and because meta tags and hidden text are outdated forms of web optimization that are penalized by search engines and can be dealt with via existing rules prohibiting misleading forms of advertising.”
The proposed amendment to Rule 4-7.13 and proposed comment are below:
(c) Using Names of Other Lawyers or Law Firms in Internet Advertising. It is inherently misleading or deceptive for a lawyer to intentionally use, or arrange for the use of, the name of a lawyer not in the same firm or the name of another law firm as words or phrases that trigger the display of the lawyer’s advertising on the Internet or other media. This prohibition applies regardless of whether the lawyer directly uses the other’s name or does so indirectly, such as through participation in a group advertising program.
Use of Other Lawyers’ Names
The reputation of a lawyer or law firm is valuable and is personal to that lawyer or law firm. A lawyer’s name and reputation may be the lawyer’s greatest professional asset. Principles of professionalism, as well as the bar’s interest in protecting the public by preventing deceptive advertising, dictate that a lawyer’s name should not intentionally be used by another lawyer in an Internet advertising scheme or campaign. A lawyer’s intentional use of another’s name as keywords or search terms in order to attract prospective clients to the lawyer’s advertising is a misuse of the other’s name and reputation and is inherently misleading or deceptive.
Bottom line: The proposed amendment will again be on the BOG agenda at its next meeting in May 2018. If approved by the BOG and implemented by the Florida Supreme Court, this Bar rule amendment would prohibit a lawyer from purchasing internet search engine or other key words which misdirect (or redirect) users who search for one lawyer’s name to another lawyer’s website.
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