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Bar reviewing more lawyer ads

Senior Editor Top Stories

Print ads declining; TV, radio, and internet ads on the rise

Total ads reviewed by The Florida Bar

Unless it’s posted on a billboard, lawyers appear to be losing interest in printed types of advertising, while showing an accelerating interest in internet ads and a continuing preference for TV and radio spots.

That’s demonstrated by advertisements reviewed by Bar staff over the past five years.

Ads submitted for Bar review jumped about 10 percent for the 2018-19 Bar year over the previous 12 months, with TV and radio, internet, and billboard ads showing strong increases.

By contrast newspaper and print ads dropped markedly and there were only three requests to review Yellow Page ads. Requests for reviews of direct mail advertising ticked up slightly, bucking a trend over the past five years showing an overall decrease in that type of solicitation.

“We have had a couple of filers who have had a large number of filings at once that could account for the [year-to-year] increase,” said Bar Ethics and Advertising Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert. “In addition, more law firms are becoming involved in social media and filing those ads.”

Reviewed ads may not reflect overall levels of lawyer advertising because many ads — including firm websites and social media accounts — are not required to be reviewed by the Bar. All direct mail ads, though, are required to be submitted, as are ads in the public media that are not specifically exempt under Bar Rule 4-7.16.

Firm websites and lawyer social media pages are exempt, as are ads that contain a lawyer or law firm’s name, address, phone, other contact information, areas of practice, military service, former legal positions, membership in other bars, membership in Bar sections and committees, and basic art such as a head shot or illustration of the scales of justice.

In addition, information sent to other law firms, existing or former clients, or at the request of a potential client does not have to be reviewed.

The rule also requires lawyers seeking review to retain their ads for three years from the last date the ad airs, is printed, or otherwise published.

According to information compiled by the Bar’s Ethics and Advertising Department, 4,467 ads were reviewed from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019 (400 more than the previous year and the highest of any year except 1992, when the ad review program began). That includes ads by for-profit lawyer referral services. Of those ads, 2,087 were television and radio spots, 818 were direct mail ads, 645 were internet ads (which are up sharply in recent years), 476 were newspaper and print ads and three were Yellow Pages ads. Another 438 were classified as “other,” with most of those being billboard ads with the remainder mainly other types of signs, such as on buses or bus benches.

Lawyer advertising trends by type

Figures from five years earlier show general trends for reviewed ads. In 2013-14, a total of 3,715 ads were submitted to the Bar: 1,575 television and radio, 740 newspaper and print, 1,040 direct mail, 118 internet ads, 41 Yellow Pages ads, and 201 others, again primarily billboards.

The about-fivefold increase in internet advertising reflects life in the digital age, Tarbert said.

“Like everywhere else in the world, people are turning to the internet for information, whether it’s social media or search engines,” she said.

Common types of ads there include banners on other people’s or businesses’ websites and popup or link ads on social media sites.

The 4,467 reviewed ads last year do not include cases where ads are revised and reconsidered, primarily because Bar staff raised questions about whether an ad complied with Bar rules. Last year, 1,216 ads were revised and reviewed again. In the past five years, that number has fluctuated between 1,000 and 1,872 annually.

Hundreds of firms filed ads for review and most tended to file several over the course of the year. Only rarely did a lawyer or law firm file only one ad. Firms filing one or two dozen ads are common; at least three firms filed more than 200 ads each, together accounting for about 15 percent of all ads reviewed.

(Statistics for this story were compiled by Donna Hostutler of the Bar’s Ethics and Advertising Department.)