Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Florida Bar: We'll Tell You Who You Can Be Friends With

With a straight face, The Florida Bar determined at it's December 11th meeting of the Board of Governors, the following in regard to lawyer websites: (AVVO's General Counsel Josh King has his thoughts here).

[1] Lawyers’ use of online social networking sites is subject to the same rules as lawyer Web sites.

[2] Web site visitors (meaning "stupid potential clients that we need to protect from big bad lawyers) must view a disclaimer page that clearly indicates what information will be viewed, including: That page could include whether all results or client testimonials are provided, that the results or testimonials are not necessarily representative of results obtained by the lawyer or all clients’ experience with the lawyer, and that a prospective client’s individual facts and circumstances may differ from the matter(s) in which the results or testimonial are provided.

The disclaimer also has to say that, (this is great) the information behind the disclaimer is not regulated by Bar advertising rules. (As Elmer Fudd would say: be berwey berwey careful).

[3] On the disclaimer page, the viewer has to accept or acknowledge receipt of the information before being given access to pages that follow. (Merry Christmas to web-site designers).

Oh, and lookie here, according to the Florida Bar News Article: The committee acted at the request of Ft. Lauderdale lawyer Peter T. Boyd, who owns PaperStreet Web Design, a company that designs Web sites for other lawyers.

And here's more protection for those idiot potential clients who the Bar wants to protect: The information would be considered “upon request” only if the lawyer sets the Web site up to block (BLOCK!) the area containing past results and testimonials from viewers who have not submitted acknowledgement of viewing the disclaimer page, and the testimonials and/or past results would only be shown upon submission of the agreement after viewing the disclaimer page.

Seriously folks, when will we realize that Bar advertising rules are nothing more than calling potential clients "stupid?"

Now that we're done making sure potential clients are protected from themselves when viewing lawyer websites, lets move to social networking.

Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and all other social networking sites are now subject to Rule 4-7.2, but are not required to be filed for review.

No statements that characterize the quality of legal services being offered; provide information regarding past results; or include testimonials. No, no, no.

Lawyers are not responsible for other party’s postings,(yet), unless the lawyer prompts the posting or uses the other party to circumvent the lawyer advertising rules.

And this is the absolute best:

Invitations to a third party to view or link to the lawyer’s social networking page on an unsolicited basis are considered in-person solicitation and violate Rule 4-7.4(a), unless the third party is the lawyer’s current client, former client, relative, or another lawyer.

Oh, and YouTube postings must comply with Rule 4-7.2, except the requirement they be submitted to the Bar for review.

The Bar did note in asking for a six-month moratorium on enforcement, that "the practical effect is most lawyer Web sites are out of compliance with the new rules.

All of this is utterly ridiculous, and displays a complete lack of understanding of social media. I have no problem with keeping lawyers honest - whether it's in person, or on-line, but the Bar has rules to cover this already:


A lawyer shall not:

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation....

That's pretty clear to me.

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



David Shulman said...

I wonder how many of the people who make the rules still dictate their emails for their secretaries. I'm not sure that anyone who has actually used any of these internet sites could have come to these conclusions.

It reminds me of the Florida Bar on "metadata." Within the past few years, someone introduced the concept of "metadata" to a Florida Bar meeting. None of the greybeards who make the rules had ever heard of it before, but they decided that it had to be unethical to look at if you are sent a document.

Anyway, I'm still not sure whether or not I have to put any disclaimers at all on my blog/website, as I don't have any client testimonials or representations that I'm actually a good attorney that provides quality legal work.

A. Russell Smith said...

So, Brian:

If I understand the Bar, lawyer websites now have to be set up like those porn websites you told me about, where you have to click "enter" before you can see anything of value whatsoever?

Josh King said...

Brian, great post. I think the silver lining here is that this is going to be so onerous that numerous Florida lawyers will feel compelled to challenge these rules in federal court - where none of these restrictions stand a chance of surviving.

South Florida Lawyers said...

Agreed, just ridiculous. Has anyone asked the two candidates running for the Florida Bar Presidency what they think of these rules?