Lawyers and Advertisements

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There are few Americans who would not recognize the advertisement by the class action lawyers involving Mesothelioma. In fact, at this point it is very likely that while reading over the word Mesothelioma, we instinctively pronounce it like the commercial we have all probably seen at least a half dozen times. The Supreme Court in Florida recently reached a decision that loosened the regulations on lawyers’ advertising rules.

One of the primary reasons the court decided to make such changes was motivated by the desire to balance the lawyer’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech with the interest in protecting and maintaining public belief in the judicial system. Another one of the major reasons given for the court’s ruling was designed to make the rules easier for all lawyers to understand while also making the system easier to enforce for the state bar.

Four of the seven Florida Supreme Court justices agreed to permit previously denied legal ads that characterized the quality of legal services being offered as well as information about past legal results. In order to ensure these new rules were as easy as possible to enforce, the court identified that these legal advertisements must be “objectively verifiable.” (PDF)

This concept of objectively verifiable means that a lawyer may use an ad saying something specific, such as they have won eight cases in the past month, but they may not say something as simple as them being an “excellent” or “successful” trial attorney. If the fact can be proven as true, the lawyer may put in their ad but if it is only subjective, the Florida Supreme Court will not permit it.

These rules appear to be providing lawyers in Florida with more wiggle room in which to advertise their legal services. It was very important in the court’s decision to make sure the public trust in the legal system was not jeopardized by the loosening of these rules.

However, there is some issue with these now loosened rules and their application to the Internet. The Internet has become a beacon for many lawyers and law firms alike and many people today go to the Internet to find legal representation. In her dissent, Justice Pariente noted that this objectively verifiable standard may inhibit some communications via the Internet and seemed to be strongly suggesting that each medium be addressed differently by the court.

Regardless, it does appear that the Florida Supreme Court has taken steps to provide an extended First Amendment right to lawyers in how they may communicate with the general public. They must represent the truth, but not the whole truth. It requires lawyers to provide a level of honesty that may in fact be a good thing. If the only ads people are seeing about lawyers are facts and not mere speculation, it may help build a confidence between the legal profession and the general public.

Even though the law does not allow any lawyer to make the bold claim that they are the best lawyer in the state, it gives them the opportunity to fairly communicate with the public through advertisements what qualifications they have that make them a good lawyer. Although this may still act to limit some speech the lawyer may supply in their advertisement, it balances the public’s right to know the truth with the lawyer’s right to draw in clients.

Posted by Daniel N. Mullins on Sun. February 17, 2013 8:10 AM
Categories: Freedom of Speech

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