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Got questions about advertising?

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The Bar's Ethics and Advertising Department has the Answers

The Bar’s Ethics and Advertising Department regularly receives calls from lawyers who want to advertise but are at a loss regarding how to comply with the Bar’s advertising rules.

Here are a few frequently asked questions:

Question: What must the advertisement contain?

Answer: There are only two things that every advertisement must contain: the name of a lawyer or law firm and the city or county where at least one of the advertising lawyer’s bona fide offices is located. Rule 4-7.12(a).

Question: Am I required to include my entire address?

Answer: Lawyers may but are not required to list a complete address in an advertisement. The city or county alone is sufficient.

Question: Can I advertise my rates?

Answer: A lawyer may advertise information about fees but must also disclose any additional fees or costs associated with the advertised fee. Rule 4-7.14(a)(5). For example, an advertisement stating that a lawyer will handle a certain type of case for $500 would also have to disclose that court costs or any other expenses are additional if the advertised rate does not include those costs. This rule applies even in contingent fee cases when an advertisement states that a lawyer would not receive a fee unless there is a recovery. If the client would still be liable for costs regardless of whether there is a recovery, the advertisement must disclose that. Also, specific fees advertised must be honored for at least 90 days unless the advertisement specifies a shorter period. If the advertised fee appears in a telephone book or some other media that is not reprinted more than once a year, the fee must be honored for at least a year.

Question: Do I have to file my advertisement for review?

Answer: With a few exceptions listed in Rule 4-7.20, lawyer advertisements must be filed for review by The Florida Bar at least 20 days prior to dissemination. Rule 4-7.19(a).

Question: When I file my ad for review, is there any way to get an expedited opinion?

Answer: The Ethics and Advertising Department tries to respond to all advertising filings as quickly as possible. Advertisements are required to be reviewed within 15 days of receipt of a complete filing. The department, therefore, is unable to expedite particular submissions. The best way to receive a quick response is to make sure the filing is complete and using the coversheets available online that include many of the questions the department frequently asks filers regarding their advertisements.

Question: What is a complete filing?

Answer: A complete filing includes:

• the advertisement in the form it will be used (e.g., a copy of a print advertisement or a recording of a television or radio advertisement);

• a filing fee of $150 for each advertisement being filed (the fee is $250 for each advertisement that is not filed at least 20 days before its first use);

• a transcript if the advertisement is a television or radio advertisement that includes both spoken words AND all on-screen text;

• a sample envelope if the advertisement is a direct mail piece that will be sent in an envelope;

• an accurate English translation of any part of an advertisement that is in any other language;

• and the name of at least one lawyer who is responsible for the content of the advertisement.

Question: Are there different rules for TV and radio ads as opposed to print ads?

Answer: A few years ago, the advertising rules underwent an overhaul resulting in the current rules, numbered 4-7.11 through 4-7.23. These rules, with a few exceptions, now apply to all advertisements regardless of the form of media. Rule 4-7.11(a). That means that whether an advertisement appears on television or radio, the internet, or in print, whether it is the lawyer’s website or a billboard, the same substantive rules will apply.

Question: Do I have to send in my website for review?

Answer: A lawyer’s website is exempt from the filing requirement although it must still comply with the substantive rules. Rule 4-7.20(g). A lawyer may voluntarily send in portions of a website to obtain an opinion on compliance but may not file an entire website. Rule 4-7.19(d).

Question: I remember something about a disclaimer that said something like, “The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision.…” Is that still required?

Answer: No, although lawyers may keep that language in their advertisements if they choose to.

Question: Can I send letters to people in my community letting them know what I do?

Answer: Lawyers may send written communications to prospective clients as long as the communications comply with Rule 4-7.18(b). While there are several requirements that the communications must adhere to, one basic rule is that each page of the communication as well as the envelope must be marked “advertisement” in a color that contrasts with both the paper and the ink used for other text on the same page. If the advertisement is being sent in the form of a self-mailing brochure, the “advertisement” mark must appear on the address panel and every panel on the inside. If it is sent electronically, the subject line must begin with the word “advertisement.”

Question: Can I send postcards to prospective clients?

Answer: The answer depends on the intended recipients of the postcards. If the lawyer is targeting recipients who the lawyer knows have specific legal matters, then postcards cannot be used unless they are sealed inside an envelope, as postcards reveal the nature of the legal matter on the outside of the mailing, in violation of Rule 4-7.18(b)(2)(I). Postcards may be used if the lawyer is not targeting recipients the lawyer knows have a specific legal problem.

Question: When is a direct-mail solicitation, such as a letter, postcard, or self-mailer considered targeted?

Answer: If the direct-mail piece is “prompted by a specific occurrence affecting the intended recipient,” then the direct-mail piece is targeted. Examples are direct-mail pieces sent after an arrest, an accident, a foreclosure filing, a divorce filing.

Question: Is there any limitation on when I can send a direct mail advertisement?

Answer: If the direct mail advertisement is being sent to a person involved in some kind of accident, the direct mail cannot be sent within the first 30 days after that accident.

The rules regulating lawyer advertising as well as the Handbook on Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation and other resources can be found on The Florida Bar’s website.

Also, members of the Bar may ask questions regarding advertising by contacting the Ethics Hotline at 800-235-8619.

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