On August 29, 2013, the webinar “Overview of the New Florida Bar Rules with Florida Bar Ethics Counsel Elizabeth Clark Tarbert” was presented to the Legal Marketing Association Southeast Chapter members.

A fellow Coolerite wrote the following recap of one very important point of the presentation, asking that his/her name not be used:

As we all have read over the past few months, Florida Bar Rules of Advertising are quite challenging.  There are two rules discussed today that stood out from today’s presentation:

  • Seminars. Florida law firms are not permitted to pass out firm brochures or any other information at a firm hosted seminar. Instead, the Bar suggests firms just leave the information on a table in the back of the room and have the attendees pick it up, if they choose to do so.  But wait, there’s more. Remember our training and plain ole “good manners” to send a post-seminar thank you letter to attendees?  Not in Florida, the Bar prohibits such letters. Firms can only send a post seminar letter if the attendee asks for additional information. If a firm chooses to send a letter, they must follow the direct mail rule – for ease of reference, see the Bar’s five-page checklist for direct mail.
  • Social media.  Twitter and LinkedIn was discussed. The Bar is still discussing LinkedIn endorsements and will update their website once a ruling comes down.  The Bar rules state that:
    • Any communications that a lawyer makes on an unsolicited basis to prospective clients to obtain “followers” is subject to the lawyer advertising rules, as with any other social media as noted above. Because of Twitter’s 140 character limitation, lawyers may use commonly recognized abbreviations for the required geographic disclosure of a bona fide office location by city, town or county as required by Rule 4-7.12(a).

What does this mean? The lawyer or firm should carefully capture firm (or lawyer) name and geographic location in Twitter handle as all that information needs to appear in 140 characters in every tweet. The guidelines for law firm social networking sites can be found here.

You may also want to read a previous post by our LMA friend, Nancy Myrland, “Legal Advertising Rules – How About That Florida Bar.”

Bottom line:  While we understand the Bar is trying to protect consumers from the “bad guys,” some of these rules are quite challenging and make us scratch our heads and wonder.

My hat is off to all of my colleagues who take on the challenge of marketing in Florida.

My question to those in Florida would be from the first point:

If we host a client seminar in Florida, we cannot hand out our own brochures to the attendees upon arrival. They need to pick them up from a table in the back of the room. What happens when we are sponsoring a program via DRI or ACI, which host numerous legal programs in Florida. Can our brochures be placed in the conference bags? What about a squish ball? Or flash drive with materials?

  • What a catastrophe. The irony is that the FL Bar admits they are not proactive, only reactive. They expect self-regulation. They only prosecute reported infractions. Who gives a flying rats ass about whether or not the brochures are on the table in the back of the room or in the seats. No one, except maybe petty competitors. Frivolous. Like ALL things in Florida, the Bar is no exception – though it is sad – bureaucrats need to justify their salary and the lawyers who sit on these committees need to justify their pseudo power. It is so irrelevant in the big picture. Unfortunately they have to look at the little picture -which is what your source references – it doesn’t impact the reality for corporate law firms. It’s a fact, there are consumer lawyers who host seminars for the general public; i.e. traffic clinics, immigration clinics and the dubious estate planning clinics for seniors. These seminars are the ones they are targeting – and probably need to because we have so many gullible residents (and illegals), but still they need to throw blanket rules down. How it impacts corporate practices that have educated constituencies is limited – reference above, no body gives a rats ass. As a consultant to a number of corporate FL law firms, I’d advise you to stop scratching your heads, it’s not the drama you think it is. A corporate practice can market responsibly in Florida. Unless you have a rogue competitor that wants to beat you down because they have issues, sophisticated audiences aren’t going to complain. What these drama queens need to focus on and worry about is alligator attacks, canals (people drive into them at least once a week), and elderly drivers who don’t use turn signals.

  • More silliness from people who probably mean well but are over-engineering the solution. I’ll draw an analogy from politics to illustrate the point, though my intention is not to take a political stance: We see a lot of energy devoted to tightening voter registrations and identity confirmation in order to prevent election fraud by unregistered or repeat voters, a situation for which there are ample anecdotes. And of course, no reasonable person would object to the notion of preventing voter fraud. However, no valid study reflects voter fraud in statistically significant numbers to support the level of time and energy required for the proposed solutions. Again, my intent isn’t to take a political stance but to suggest that sometimes solutions are based on anecdotal evidence. I would be very interested to learn the root causes for the consistent approach the Florida Bar has taken over the years to protect consumers from what are presumably extremely aggressive, if not outright fraudulent, marketing and solicitation activities by lawyers in Florida. I’m confident there are anecdotes of aggressive solicitation. The question is, is aggressive solicitation deemed somehow integral to lawyering in Florida, or do the juicy details of certain anecdotes crowd out the statistical evidence that most lawyers practicing in Florida are rule-abiding? Only the Florida Bar officials know. These are undoubtedly smart people who have access to public opinion, the vast majority of which — from my perspective — deems the Florida rules as onerous, but they are evidently unswayed because the stringent rules continue. So while my initial reaction is to believe the Bar officials are misguided once again, I would like to better understand the catalyst(s). Perhaps if there is a pattern of bad behavior by some lawyers in Florida, the solution lies further upstream with the offending lawyers. To draw another analogy, in business we can employ significant remedies after the fact to address bad employee behavior, but nothing works better than hiring the right people in the first place.

  • jaynenavarre

    Timothy, thanks for bailing me out there on my RANT! A much less emotional response.I would like to hear from the bar about those statistics. Seriously, I’ve been in Florida for nearly 10 years and have yet to encounter anything offensive. Most seminars, events, and marketing materials I’ve seen or attended have been either duly noted as advertising material or handled with respect to the profession. To you last point, passing the FL Bar is not easy. It may be one of the toughest to pass from the feedback I get from attorneys holding multiple licenses. Stop it at the point of entry, not after the fact.

  • Seems like the Florida Bar folks have too much time on their hands. Just ridiculous. Any references to actual ethics violations or enforcement? And if an esteemed legal counsel fails to include the cumbersome and unhelpful information in a Tweet, what are the sanctions? Jayne (and our anonymous friend), kudos for sticking with legal marketing in a state in the Dark Ages.

  • I think they are just trying to reduce the size of the docket from civil suits arising from paper cuts and toes that get stepped on by lawyers aggressively handing out brochures. BTW I provide media strategies for lawyers who do not want to be disbarred for handing out brochures. I can give you a lot of better ways to develop your business without brochures. Got PR?

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