Florida Court Strikes Down Limits on Lawyer Advertising

By October 5, 2011

Looks like we’ll be seeing more lawyer ads on TV.  Were Florida’s restrictions on attorney advertising too fussy, or do you think advertising “cheapens” the profession?
From The Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Read the full story here.
By Nathan Koppel
Florida in the past has had some of the nation’s strictest limits on advertising by lawyers.
The state, for example, prohibits attorneys from running ads that are “manipulative” or that include “any background sound other than instrumental music.”
On Friday, Florida federal judge Marcia Morales Howard ruled that these ad restrictions violate lawyers’ First Amendment rights.
The ruling will please many plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Sunshine State, who long have criticized the state’s ad rules as antiquated and overly fussy. Other attorneys in the state, however, applaud the rules, believing that advertising cheapens the reputation of lawyers. (Click here to see a previous WSJ article on the Florida bar’s restrictive ad rules.)
Howard’s ruling arises in a suit brought by Jacksonville plaintiffs’ lawyer William Harrell Jr. He filed suit in 2008 after the Florida bar concluded that an advertising slogan he wanted to use, “Don’t settle for less than you deserve,” was overly laudatory. The bar later reversed course, allowing Harrell to use the slogan, but he continued to press ahead with his constitutional challenge to the state’s advertising rules.
Judge Howard largely sided with Harrell, including his objection to the state prohibition on “manipulative” ads. “The term ‘manipulative’ is so vague that it fails to adequately put members of the Bar on notice of what types of advertisements are prohibited,” the judge wrote, declaring the standard void. The judge likewise struck down the ban on background sounds, concluding the rule violates Harrell’s free speech rights.
Harrell applauded the ruling. “The bar rules were so vague, you couldn’t understand what they meant,” he told the Law Blog. “An ad can’t be manipulative? What does that mean? By definition, advertising to some degree is designed to persuade and manipulate.”
Barry Richard, a lawyer for the Florida bar, told the Law Blog that the ruling would have a limited impact in Florida, because the bar already had proposed changing its rules to get rid of the bans on background sounds and manipulative ads.
“I recommended to the bar that the ruling not be appealed,” he said. “This is very conscientious, smart judge, and it is a well-reasoned opinion.”