Online and Digital Marketing Ethics for Florida Lawyers – 2022 Update

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Online & Digital Marketing Ethics for Attorneys Updated for 2022

In May of 2022, The Florida Bar published a Q&A regarding their rules for online & digital marketing ethics that included some updates that attorneys in our state should take the time to learn about. After all, lawyer advertisements are subject to stricter requirements when compared to most professions, and a misstep here — no matter how unintentional — can come with major consequences for all involved. The best way to avoid problems, then, is to familiarize yourself with the Florida Bar’s advertising rules (Subchapter 4-7 of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar) and to hire a marketing firm — such as our own — with experience in that particular field of advertising. 

Recent Changes: Exchange of Information

One of the major changes made to the Advertising Rules in May of 2022 lifts certain restrictions on how lawyers can exchange contact information with potential clients. Now, attorneys are free to swap contact information at business meetings or at business-related social gatherings so long as the attorney doesn’t initiate further discussion on a specific legal matter. Social media exchanges on business and professional networking platforms are fair game, too, so long as the prohibition on initiating further discussion mentioned above is also followed. If the non-attorney party initiates the discussion, then be sure to move communications to a secure platform to protect confidentiality.

This update does not give attorneys permission to follow a possible lead to a business meeting or gathering with the intention of exchanging contact information regarding a specific legal matter. Also, exchanges taking place at accident scenes, hospital rooms occupied by injured individuals, and doctor’s offices are explicitly excluded under this rule. 

Recent Changes: Attorney Affiliation

The other major change to know about comes under Rule 4-7.13(b)(12). Lawyers are now forbidden from stating or otherwise suggesting in their advertisements and marketing materials that they are affiliated with another lawyer or law firm that they are not, in fact, affiliated with. This also applies to advertisements that appear in search results, especially those for other lawyers or law firms. In this situation, the advertisement must clearly state that it is for a party separate from the lawyer or firm mentioned in the search term. 

General Information for Online and Digital Attorney Advertisements

In addition to the above updates, here’s some general information regarding attorney advertising that you should familiarize yourself with. 

Digital Advertisement Requirements

Digital and online marketing advertisements used by attorneys and law firms are largely subject to the same standards as more traditional advertisements. This means that, at a minimum, your digital advertisements need to include the name of the advertising lawyer or firm along with a city, town, or county containing the lawyer or firm’s office. All required information must be prominently displayed, easy to read, and must be in the same language, and if another language appears in the advertisement, then the required information must be reproduced in its entirety in that language as well. Disclaimers and disclosures might also be necessary depending on the advertisement. 

Digital Advertisement Review

Digital advertisements must be submitted for review unless they contain nothing other than presumptively valid content as defined by Rule 4-7.16, or unless they are only sent to exiting clients, former clients, or other lawyers. An advertisement only containing presumptively valid content would have nothing more than the lawyer’s name, office location, website, phone number, and field of law. It would also be restricted to certain images, and no slogans or tag lines could be used, either. 

Social Media Posts

The good news is that your personal social media account probably isn’t bound by the Florida Bar’s advertising rules as long as you only use it for socializing. Accounts used for promoting lawyers, law firms, or their associated services, however, must maintain compliance. 

Promotions and sponsorships meant to expand an advertisement’s audience beyond those who are already following the attorney or law firm must be submitted for review. However, posts that are only visible to followers are free from this requirement. 

Ad Words

Ad words fall under Rules 4-7.16 and 4-7.20. They must be submitted for review, along with a $150 filing fee made payable to The Florida Bar, unless they contain nothing other than “presumptively valid content.”  

Submitting Attorney Advertisements for Review

A physical copy of nonexempt proposed advertisements must be submitted by mail to the Florida Bar for review. The filing should be sent to The Florida Bar, Ethics and Advertising, 651 East Jefferson Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399. It should contain a copy of the ad words, social media posts, or print advertisement. Video and audio materials can be sent on a DVD or USB drive. Video and audio content must also include a transcript of both spoken words and on-screen text.

A sample envelope must be included for advertisements sent via mail in envelopes. If using languages other than English, you must provide an accurate English translation of the non-English content. Finally, be sure to include the name of at least one attorney who will be responsible for the advertisement’s contents.

Youtube Personality & Influencer Endorsements 

Lawyers are forbidden under Rule 4-7.15 from using voices or images of celebrities in their advertisements, unless that celebrity is a local announcer, disc jockey, or radio personality who does not endorse the attorney or their firm. Because this rule defines celebrities as anyone “known to the target audience,” it also applies to YouTube personalities and online influencers — not just A-list movie stars. While an exception for this rule exists, it states that the personality can only appear in the advertisements if the individual already records advertisements on a regular basis, does not endorse either the attorney or their firm, and appears with a disclaimer stating that they are not an employee or member of the firm. 

Other Advice for Attorneys Advertising Online

  • Avoid False or Misleading Claims – All information in attorney advertisements, whether they’re printed or digital, must be factually accurate and objectively true. “Technically” true statements aren’t allowed, either. Be upfront and provide a comprehensive, honest picture to your audience.
  • Set Realistic Expectations – Don’t leave any room for your audience to make false or incorrect assumptions about your attorney advertisements. Avoid superlatives or hyperbolic language when discussing potential outcomes, and only include testimonials that can be objectively verified. Disclaimers go a long way here, too.
  • Don’t Solicit Services  – While it’s legal for lawyers to advertise their services, solicitation is explicitly not allowed. Advertisements are communications made by or for a lawyer or law firm regarding their legal services. Solicitation, on the other hand, involves targeting specific individuals or groups.
  • Don’t Claim to Be an Expert – It is imperative that lawyers avoid claims of expertise or specialization. This is considered to be misleading information in many jurisdictions. 

Growthpaths has experience in digital and online marketing for attorney legal services. Don’t hire a firm that doesn’t know how to stay on the right side of The Florida Bar’s ethical standards. Contact us for more today.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels.

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