Monday, September 09, 2013

Law Firm Twitter Posts Must Comply with Advertising Rules, Says Florida Bar

A law firm name and location must now be included in the 140 character limit of a tweet posted on Twitter, says The Florida Bar.

Speaking at an August meeting hosted by the South Florida Group of the Legal Marketing Association, the Ethics and Advertising Counsel for The Florida Bar emphasized that the recently revised attorney advertising guidelines clarify requirements in regard to law firm social media marketing.

All forms of lawyer advertising in Florida must now include the name of one lawyer, law firm, referral service, or lawyer directory responsible for the content. The location of the advertiser must also be disclosed. A county name may now serve as a geographic identifier, in addition to a city or town.

Law firms with long names have a dilemma and will need to determine if the first few of several partner names will suffice (as is customary in other forms of usage), or if a URL might satisfy the rules.

The following is an excerpt from The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Advertising Guidelines for Networking Sites (page 117):

Pages appearing on networking sites that are used to promote the lawyer or law firm’s practice are subject to the lawyer advertising rules. These pages must therefore comply with all of the general regulations set forth in Rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.18 and 4-7.21. Regulations include prohibitions against any misleading information, which includes references to past results that are not objectively verifiable, predictions or guaranties of results, and testimonials that fail to comply with the requirements listed in Rule 4-7.13(b)(8). Regulations also include prohibitions against statements characterizing skills, experience, reputation or record unless they are objectively verifiable.

How to Make Twitter Comply with Attorney Advertising

Twitter posts are already short at only 140 characters. If you plan to add a link to your Tweet, subtract a few more characters for the abbreviated URL.

This @RainmakingLady suggests that Florida law firms review their Twitter publication procedures and start to incorporate the new rules now. While tweets and other forms of social media need to comply with Bar rules, they are not required to be filed for review.

Many law firms automate the distribution of a blog feed through Twitter as one of several ways to increase social media visibility. If your law firm publishes a blog, post authors will need to limit article titles to a pre-determined character count that allows for the inclusion of the firm name and location in the tweet. Alternatively, law firms may wish to de-automate the blog distribution in favor of manual Twitter posts announcing a new blog item.

Why Law Firms Outside of Florida Should Take Notice

There are two primary reasons why the Florida rules have some national interest.

First, the Florida State Bar maintains relatively strict attorney advertising standards when judged on a national perspective. While rules vary widely from state to state, the Florida rules can stand as a proxy for “reasonable and customary” industry practices in regard to advertising rules. Firms that comply with Florida rules are likely to be in compliance with the advertising restrictions imposed by other states as well.

Second, attorneys who advertise for business within the state of Florida are subject to the attorney advertising guidelines of The Florida Bar. However, Rule 4-7.11(b) restricts the right by out-of-state lawyers to practice and advertise within the state to those who are authorized by federal law to provide legal services in Florida (immigration, patents, etc.).

Florida Now Regulates All Forms of Lawyer Advertising

The Florida Bar’s Handbook on Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation, now in its 10th edition, was issued in the spring of 2013 after years of debate about what should and should not be regulated in terms of lawyer advertising. The answer in short is: Everything.

The Handbook now consists of 127 pages of highly detailed rules, guidelines and checklists. Rule 4-7.11(a), the opening paragraph of the new rules, sets the stage:

Florida’s lawyer advertising rules apply to all forms of communication seeking legal employment 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.

Click on the link to access Florida’s Handbook on Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation, 10th edition, 2013.

Author Margaret Grisdela is available at 1-866-417-7025 or via email to answer your questions about legal marketing in Florida or other states. Let's connect on LinkedIn.