Florida Bar Association Advertising Rules Limit Social Media Real EstateThe Florida Bar Association continues to encroach on lawyers’ digital real estate.

The Florida Supreme Court just released new advertising rules for Florida lawyers, as well as those who practice law in the State of Florida.

The advertising rules were revisited in an attempt to make them easier to understand, and to clarify what some of them mean.

There are many changes, and many who have written about them, but I want to discuss 1 of them with you today because it is an odd, and not necessarily clear, change.

1) Regarding The Use of Social Media: Rule 4-7.11, Application of Rules, we are told that, regarding Type of Media:

“Unless otherwise indicated, this subchapter applies to all forms of communication in any print or electronic forum, including but not limited to newspapers, magazines, brochures, flyers, television, radio, direct mail, electronic mail, and Internet, including banners, pop-ups, websites, social networking, and video sharing media.”

If we then look to Rule 4-7.12 Required Content, we find out what must be included in all updates on Social Media:

(a) Name and Office Location. All advertisements for legal employment must include:

  1. the name of at least 1 lawyer, the law firm, the lawyer referral service if the advertisement is for the lawyer referral service, or the lawyer directory if the advertisement is for the lawyer directory, responsible for the content of the advertisement; and
  2. the city, town, or county of 1 or more bona fide office locations of the lawyer who will perform the services advertised.


This made me wonder what in heaven’s name are lawyers and law firms supposed to do when it comes to Twitter? As you all know, we only have 140 characters with which to communicate, so our real estate there is extremely valuable.

Pretending I’m a lawyer, which I’m not (but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night), would all of my Tweets have to include the following, thus eating up 44 characters, not to mention a (shortened) URL I might add if I was referring to a post?

  • Nancy Myrland
  • Myrland Marketing
  • Indianapolis

I decided to call the Florida Bar’s helpful hotline to clarify. I was forwarded to Jeff Hazen, a Staff Attorney for the Florida Bar Association.

Jeff confirmed that we are to include the name of the lawyer OR the law firm, as well as the geographic location.  I told him I thought this was taking the Rules backward, and were more restrictive than before. He politely listened as I told him this rule almost defeats the purpose of Tweeting, and perhaps that was their intent.

As I see it, we take care of the attorney name by making sure we use our name as our Twitter handle, right? Jeff said that yes, this made sense. Thus, @NancyMyrland would already be in my Tweet.

There…we’ve taken care of that one, right?

Next, I told him it sounds like I would be in compliance if I Tweeted:

“Holding a webinar on (the sanity of) the Florida Bar advertising rules just released,, Indianapolis”

…and asked him if that would suffice.

He told me that no, that wouldn’t work because it was not clearly understood what “Indianapolis” meant, and that it would have to have an identifier such as :

“Office: Indianapolis”

Well, that sure makes it much clearer to you, the reader, if you see that hanging off the end of my Tweet, right?

You don’t have to answer that.

These rules go into effect May 1, 2013, so we have between now and then to begin modifying our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Vine, FourSquare, Tout, blog posts or any other Social Networking updates in order to comply with the now-clear-as-can-be Florida Advertising Rules.

There is good news about client testimonials, but I’ll deal with that next time, okay?

Your thoughts?

Do you practice law in Florida?

How do you plan on changing your current Social Networking and Content Marketing practices?

I’d love to know what you think of this.

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  • jaynenavarre

    @nancymyrland and how exactly did they say they were going to enforce these draconian rules?

  • billvann

    The only way they could possibly enforce it for Twitter is to try to cross reference the sender account with an actual person and determine if that person is an attorney or represents a law firm.  And that’s after scanning the the millions of tweets flying the internet to identify those that pertain to law firms practicing law in the State of Florida.  Of course this will take an army of staff and/or some very sophisticated software programming, which they could turn around and license becasue others would love to be able to do that too!

  • @jaynenavarre This one change, of course, sure helps this happen: “The proposals are designed to make the advertising rules more cohesive, easier for lawyers who advertise to understand, and less cumbersome for the Bar to apply and enforce.”

  • @billvann Hi  Bill. Yes, and since the Florida Bar considers all Social and Digital Networking “advertising,” technically, all Tweets, updates and comments would fall into this bucket, which is completely unrealistic. 
    (a) Filing Requirements.  Subject to the exemptions stated in rule 4-7.20, any lawyer who advertises services shall file with The Florida Bar a copy of each advertisement at least 20 days prior to the lawyer’s first dissemination of the advertisement.  The advertisement must be filed at The Florida Bar headquarters address in Tallahassee. 
    (b) Evaluation by The Florida Bar.  The Florida Bar will evaluate all advertisements filed with it pursuant to this rule for compliance with the applicable provisions set forth in rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.15 and 4-7.18(b)(2).  
    If The Florida Bar does not send any communication to the filer within 15 days of receipt by The Florida Bar of a complete filing, or within 15 days of receipt by The Florida Bar of additional information when requested within the initial 15 days, the lawyer will not be subject to discipline by The Florida Bar, except if The Florida Bar subsequently notifies the lawyer of noncompliance, the lawyer may be subject to discipline for dissemination of the advertisement after the notice of noncompliance

  • @billvann Okay, hold the scales of justice, we *might* be taken care of here, although taken care of only means exempt from filing those updates we just know we’re going to be making on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook 20 days in advance, not that they are deemed in compliance: 
    The following are exempt from the filing requirements of rule 4-7.19:(a) an advertisement in any of the public media that contains no illustrations and no information other than that set forth in rule 4-7.16;

  • Jpbauer

    @NancyMyrland @billvann

  • Jpbauer

    I agree with you and Nancy that these rules are totally and completely unworkable and unrealistic. Sounds like the persons that came up with the rules don’t have a clue about social media sites such as twitter. Instead of what they stated you had to do, they should have said what you couldn’t do. Sounds to me like the officials will only be dealing with public complaints brought against lawyers /law firms for violating these so-called advertising and promotional guidelines and not be screening the Internet and the social media sites for transgressors.

  • willhornsby

    Nancy, you pick a great example here. How is it an advertisement to post that you are holding a webinar? The problem with the Florida Rules is that they are focused on your intent to get business instead of the content of the message. Compare this to the elegant analysis found in the recent California Ethics Opinion 2012-186, which looks at the content of the message and concludes that the rules apply when that content is “concerning the availability of professional employment.”

  • Hi Will…yes, the intent of the communication would be the logical differentiator in these situations. To call all of them “advertising” is not spending the time on this subject that it deserved.  Thanks for stopping by.

  • NickOrtiz

    I’m wondering about how these  new advertising rules will affect use of video sharing sites like Youtube. I cannot imagine having to submit every Youtube clip to the bar for review before publication (and paying $150 each).

  • Hi @NickOrtiz…good question. Videos would seem to fall into the category of having “illustrations,” but there might be more language that makes that clearer. I know, that’s asking alot. 😉 I will check to see if something clearly says “video.” Thanks for stopping by.

  • kemskiy

    This legal blog is one of my favorite ones. Your posts to Attorney Blog on Attorney Online are welcomed. There is also an Attorney Directory and every US lawyer can submit contacts there for free. I think that many of your friends deserve to bi listed there.

  • carin1

    I practice law in Florida, and I have a very unique perspective on this. I would love to talk to you off line. One of my former Facebook “friends” helped push these new rules into action. Without us knowing it, he was secretly printing our PERSONAL Facebook pages and showing them around. He is an attorney in Pinellas County. He felt that no attorney in Florida should be allowed to express opinions contrary to the Bar or that would reflect negatively on the Bar or lawyers in general. He said to me”You are a lawyer 24/7 and what you say online affects how the public perceives lawyers”. I blocked him. 
    I have never posted anything personal on my professional page, but since this over zealous lawyer, with no family who speaks to him, no personal friends, no children, and no life, spent his time stalking others, he got into the personal pages of other lawyers and basically abused them. He has ruined careers here in Pinellas County. He thought lawyers posting pictures in bikinis on boats drinking a beer, or having a tailgate party at a Bucs game was a direct assault on the legal profession, even when the page was set to Friends Only, and the pictures were shared with family and true friends. No clients have access to my personal page, and most lawyers I know never allow clients access. 
    So, we have the Chair of the Advertising Committee for the Florida Bar accessing lawyer’s personal FB pages and reporting his findings to the Bar. He is on a one-,man mission to stop all lawyers from having a Social Media presence. He did this over a several year period and justified it to me by stating that he ‘was concerned’ when lawyers posted something that made them look ‘unstable’ on FB and he felt a moral obligation to ‘police’ the pages, looking for lawyers who may have substance abuse issues or may be acting ‘out of control’. 
    I am more than happy to discuss all that I know privately, as I am sure this will be printed and used against me. With this lawyer, it always is. He also teaches a class at a local college on Ethics in Lawyer Advertising. 
    Carin Manders Constantine, Esq. 
    [email protected]: 727-488-8272. 
    Thank you for allowing lawyers to comment.

  • Very interesting, Carin!

  • Requirements to disclose information critical to consumer choice are entirely reasonable and are not violations of consumer choice. Federal courts and the FTC have made that clear.  In choosing a lawyer for services which are integrally related to a locality it is relevant to consumer choice, disclosure of the advertising lawyer’s identity and location is important. Otherwise, lawyers across the continent may sign up clients through ads and simply broker them to local lawyers to do all the work. That is not in the interest of consumers of legal services. Tweets can easily contain a link to a website that prominently makes all necessary disclosures/
    Ken Shigley

  • @Ken Shigley Hi Ken, yes, this information is relevant, but all governing bodies need to realize the tools they are regulating, and the restrictions and allowances of each. To expect lawyers to eat up the majority of a message (Tweet in this case) on this information is not realistic, and stifles conversation. If a potential/client looks at a Twitter Profile, or clicks through to a website as you suggest, they can see the location of the attorney.  It is not necessary in the message itself.  Thanks for stopping by.

  • @carin1 Hi Carin…very, very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

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