Although I will fight for the rights of my clients who are charged with advertising violations, I am not a fan of lawyer advertising. I'm not talking about the listing in the directory or the ad in the charity dinner program or business journal. I'm talking about the cheesy inaccurate puffing that goes on in the yellow pages, on billboards, and on TV.
I have said, and strongly believe, that The Florida Bar has gone over the top in advertising regulation. I think they've gone so far into regulating every aspect of advertising that they don't know how to get out of it. The premise is clear: The public is stupid and must be protected. They cannot see through ads that proclaim the lawyer is the "best," and may find themselves disappointed if they hire one who talks about "past success." Thus, the Bar must protect the consumer from themselves. It amazes me that the public doesn't even realize that the Bar rules are aimed at their stupidity.
As reported on Public Citizen, as of yesterday, The Florida Bar has agreed to exempt online lawyer directories such as Avvo.com and Linkedin.com from its rules prohibiting client testimonials, statements of past results and comments on quality of services, settling a case brought by Public Citizen on behalf of a Boca Raton, Fla. attorney.
That attorney is Joel Rothman.
According to Public Citizen the settlement is an agreement by the Florida Bar to treat lawyer profiles on directory sites as information requested by the client, which is not subject to the same restrictions as unsolicited ads. The Bar will also review its lawyer advertising rules regarding Web sites maintained by lawyers and recommend changes to the Florida Supreme Court.
Public Citizen attorney Greg Beck, who represented Joel Rothman, states correctly that “this settlement is a victory for the free speech rights of attorneys and makes it far easier for consumers to make a decision on legal representation.”
This truly, is a victory. How anyone could think that a client, a real client, would put a lawyer in jeopardy by writing online that they were happy with the lawyer's services is beyond the pale. We complain that the profession has lost it's luster, that lawyers are no longer looked up to in society. Yet when a client of a lawyer wants to say something good about the lawyer, there's the Bar to run in and say, "no, can't do that."
I commend the Bar for settling this case in a manner that allows the consumer to speak, and exempts the lawyer from discipline for that speech (I can't even believe I'm writing that sentence. To think that the Bar would discipline a lawyer for the words of a client is shameful.)
I do hope the Bar takes a look at all the advertising rules, and takes a few more good steps back.
Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com