Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Florida Bar Takes on Lawyer Web Advertising

The Florida Bar News for July 1, reports that the Board of Governors is reconsidering the regulation of attorney web sites following a June 3, meeting where a special committee, created to review attorney web site practices, presented its findings. Although the committee recommended that attorney web sites should continue to be exempted from advertising regulations, the Board of Governors rejected that notion in favor of creating a new committee to examine to study the issue. In the meantime, the Board approved a motion requiring web sites to be subject to the regulations, except the one requiring pre-approval by the Florida Bar.

The article stated, "Currently, Bar rules treat Web sites as information provided at the request of a potential client, and exempts the sites from the prohibition about discussing results of past cases or making statements characterizing the firm’s quality of legal services. Firms are also exempted from the requirement of filing the Web sites with the Bar for review."

"The task force had recommended exempting Web sites from all ad regulations, although they would still fall under rules requiring that communications not be false, misleading, or deceitful. Board members in April, however, rejected that, saying in an increasingly technological world Web sites are likely to be the Yellow Pages of the future."

The committee was formed by a special Advertising Task Force headed by Florida Bar Member, Manny Morales :“We decided that what we ought to do is maintain the status quo, which is Web sites are subject to the advertising rules with two exceptions, which allows . . . references to past results and statements that characterize the quality of a lawyer’s services."

Board member Mike Glazer, who also served on the special committee, agreed the effect of the April vote went further than anyone intended.“You can list the cases that you’ve won [under the current rule] which you wouldn’t be able to do under the vote we took last time,” he said. “You can say, ‘We’ll do a nice job for you,’ and you couldn’t do that under what we did last time."

The Florida Bar is probably not alone in its effort to increase the regulation of attorney web sites. If regulators in other states begin to restrict the types of statements that can be made on attorney web sites to the extent that the Florida Board of Governors suggests is its ultimate intent, how will that impact the small & solo practitioner community?

Are web sites that indispensible to small firms?

How would further restrictions placed on your ability to advertise on the web impact your marketing plan?


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