Amendments to Attorney Advertising Rules – What Next?

By February 5, 2013

By Todd A. Levine
On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court approved amendments to the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar that relate to attorney advertising.  The new rules require that all statements made in attorney advertisements be “objectively verifiable.”  This rule extends to attorney websites.
The term “objectively verifiable” raises many questions in the context of firms that handle sophisticated business disputes.  The purpose of the rules are to protect consumers from misleading advertising such as “we will get you money for your injury” or “we will get your DUI dismissed.” But what about law firms that practice complex commercial litigation?

A review of the websites of many high profile law firms in South Florida include a myriad of descriptive terms that are arguably not “objectively verifiable:”  Adjectives such as “dedicated,” “high quality,” “sophisticated,” “effective advocates,” and the like are commonplace on websites of law firms who handle complex business disputes for sophisticated clients.  But are they “objectively verifiable” under the revised rules?
This new test itself may not be clearly “objective” or unambiguous.  And if they are ultimately found not to pass muster, how will sophisticated law firms distinguish themselves from the thousands of other lawyers in South Florida that claim to practice in the “commercial litigation” space?
I find Justice Pariente’s dissent, which provides distinctions between websites and TV, radio and print advertisements, to be on point:

“A lawyer or law firm’s use of a website allows for the conveyance of complete and meaningful information to potential clients, unlike the shorthand versions seen in the other media. Exempting websites from the attorney advertising regulations, similar to how information upon request was treated prior to these amendments, is far more in keeping with exactly what the websites provide.”

The Supreme Court attempted to clarify the attorney advertising rules as they relate to websites and employed a term that it believed was “objective.”  However, the new rules may be subject to various interpretations and may unfairly restrict the information available to consumers of sophisticated legal services.  The legal environment, and legal services consumers’ methods of obtaining information, are constantly evolving.  Given this latest restrictive ruling, what’s next?  Will consumers ultimately be given access to more, or less, information before making the critical decision of retaining the appropriate law firm for the case?   Sometimes less is more, but in this case, I think less is less.