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Amendments are debated on advertising rules concerning the use of ‘expertise’ and ‘specialize’

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Amendments are debated on advertising rules concerning the use of ‘expertise’ and ‘specialize’

Board OKs advertising rule pertaining to online chatrooms

Work is continuing on a rule amendment to comply with a federal judge’s ruling overturning Bar rules which prevented non-certified lawyers from saying they have expertise or specialize in an area of law.

Carl Schwait Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics Chair Carl Schwait told the Board of Governors at its Tallahassee meeting that the committee is considering several potential amendments, but has not agreed on the best one. He also presented advertising rule amendments which were approved by the board.

Schwait said the committee expects to make a recommendation on the expertise issue at the board’s March 10 meeting.

The review stemmed from a ruling last September by U.S. Northern District of Florida Judge Robert L. Hinkle in a suit against the Bar brought by the Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley, P.A., law firm. The firm challenged the prohibition in Bar rules that only certified lawyers (and not non-certified lawyers or even law firms containing certified lawyers) could hold themselves out as “experts” or “specialists” in advertising.

The judge said non-certified lawyers and law firms could have expertise in an area even if they were not certified and that the regulation prevented lawyers from claiming expertise in areas for which there is no Bar certification.

The Bar suspended enforcement of the rule following the judge’s ruling and pending Bar and Supreme Court action on any new amendment.

Chatrooms

On the advertising rules, the board approved the committee’s recommendation to allow lawyers to solicit clients via fax and telegrams and in online chatrooms as long as they follow Bar regulations for direct mail solicitation. Bar Ethics and Advertising Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert said any solicitation made by the lawyer, including in a chatroom, must have preapproval from the Bar.

She said lawyers must also comply with any applicable state and federal laws on solicitations via those methods.

Under Bar rules, the solicitations must also be labeled as advertisements and advise the recipient to ignore them if they already have an attorney for the matter that is the subject of the solicitation. The amendments were proposed for uniformity after the board recently decided that text solicitations were permissible under Bar rules.

The board unanimously approved the rule amendments, which now go to the Supreme Court.

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