RULE 4-7.14 POTENTIALLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS
4 RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
4-7 INFORMATION ABOUT LEGAL SERVICES
RULE 4-7.14 POTENTIALLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS
A lawyer may not engage in potentially misleading advertising.
(a) Potentially Misleading Advertisements. Potentially misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to:
(1) advertisements that are subject to varying reasonable interpretations, 1 or more of which would be materially misleading when considered in the relevant context;
(2) advertisements that are literally accurate, but could reasonably mislead a prospective client regarding a material fact;
(3) references to a lawyer's membership in, or recognition by, an entity that purports to base such membership or recognition on a lawyer's ability or skill, unless the entity conferring such membership or recognition is generally recognized within the legal profession as being a bona fide organization that makes its selections based upon objective and uniformly applied criteria, and that includes among its members or those recognized a reasonable cross-section of the legal community the entity purports to cover;
(4) a statement that a lawyer is board certified, a specialist, an expert, or other variations of those terms unless:
(A) the lawyer has been certified under the Florida Certification Plan as set forth in chapter 6, Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and the advertisement includes the area of certification and that The Florida Bar is the certifying organization;
(B) the lawyer has been certified by an organization whose specialty certification program has been accredited by the American Bar Association or The Florida Bar as provided elsewhere in these rules. A lawyer certified by a specialty certification program accredited by the American Bar Association but not The Florida Bar must include the statement "Not Certified as a Specialist by The Florida Bar" in reference to the specialization or certification. All such advertisements must include the area of certification and the name of the certifying organization; or
(C) the lawyer has been certified by another state bar if the state bar program grants certification on the basis of standards reasonably comparable to the standards of the Florida Certification Plan set forth in chapter 6 of these rules and the advertisement includes the area of certification and the name of the certifying organization.
In the absence of such certification, a lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer limits his or her practice to 1 or more fields of law; or
(5) information about the lawyer's fee, including those that indicate no fee will be charged in the absence of a recovery, unless the advertisement discloses all fees and expenses for which the client might be liable and any other material information relating to the fee. A lawyer who advertises a specific fee or range of fees for a particular service must honor the advertised fee or range of fees for at least 90 days unless the advertisement specifies a shorter period; provided that, for advertisements in the yellow pages of telephone directories or other media not published more frequently than annually, the advertised fee or range of fees must be honored for no less than 1 year following publication.
(b) Clarifying Information. A lawyer may use an advertisement that would otherwise be potentially misleading if the advertisement contains information or statements that adequately clarify the potentially misleading issue.
Awards, Honors, and Ratings
Awards, honors and ratings are not subjective statements characterizing a lawyer's skills, experience, reputation or record. Instead, they are statements of objectively verifiable facts from which an inference of quality may be drawn. It is therefore permissible under the rule for a lawyer to list bona fide awards, honors and recognitions using the name or title of the actual award and the date it was given. If the award was given in the same year that the advertisement is disseminated or the advertisement references a rating that is current at the time the advertisement is disseminated, the year of the award or rating is not required.
For example, the following statements are permissible:
- "John Doe is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell. This rating is Martindale-Hubbell's highest rating."
"Jane Smith was named a 2008 Florida Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine."
This rule permits a lawyer or law firm to indicate areas of practice in communications about the lawyer's or law firm's services, provided the advertising lawyer or law firm actually practices in those areas of law at the time the advertisement is disseminated. If a lawyer practices only in certain fields, or will not accept matters except in such fields, the lawyer is permitted to indicate that. A lawyer who is not certified by The Florida Bar, by another state bar with comparable standards, or an organization accredited by the American Bar Association or The Florida Bar may not be described to the public as a "specialist," "specializing," "certified," "board certified," being an "expert," having "expertise," or any variation of similar import. A lawyer may indicate that the lawyer concentrates in, focuses on, or limits the lawyer's practice to particular areas of practice as long as the statements are true.
Certification is specific to individual lawyers; a law firm cannot be certified, and cannot claim specialization or expertise in an area of practice per subdivision (c) of rule 6-3.4. Therefore, an advertisement may not state that a law firm is certified, has expertise in, or specializes in any area of practice.
A lawyer can only state or imply that the lawyer is "certified," a "specialist," or an "expert" in the actual area(s) of practice in which the lawyer is certified. A lawyer who is board certified in civil trial law, may so state that, but may not state that the lawyer is certified, an expert in, or specializes in personal injury. Similarly, a lawyer who is board certified in marital and family law may not state that the lawyer specializes in divorce.
Fee and Cost Information
Every advertisement that contains information about the lawyer's fee, including a contingent fee, must disclose all fees and costs that the client will be liable for. If the client is, in fact, not responsible for any costs in addition to the fee, then no disclosure is necessary. For example, if a lawyer charges a flat fee to create and execute a will and there are no costs associated with the services, the lawyer's advertisement may state only the flat fee for that service.
However, if there are costs for which the client is responsible, the advertisement must disclose this fact. For example, if fees are contingent on the outcome of the matter, but the client is responsible for costs regardless of the matter's outcome, the following statements are permissible: "No Fee if No Recovery, but Client is Responsible for Costs," "No Fee if No Recovery, Excludes Costs," "No Recovery, No Fee, but Client is Responsible for Costs" and other similar statements.
On the other hand, if both fees and costs are contingent on the outcome of a personal injury case, the statements "No Fees or Costs If No Recovery" and "No Recovery - No Fees or Costs" are permissible.