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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Florida Social Media Ethics Rules Challenged by Law Firm

A Florida law firm filed a lawsuit against the Florida Bar challenging the state attorney ethics rules. Specifically, the firm claims that recent amendments to the attorney advertising rules to now include social media sites violate the firm's First Amendment rights and are unconstitutionally vague.
 
In Searcy v. Florida Bar, the law firm of Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley claims that the new rules are overly restrictive as they require all statements on social media to be "objectively verifiable." The new rules became effective in May, after the Florida Supreme Court approved the amendments to the advertising rules that removed a previous website exemption from the advertising rules.
 
The law firm had recently been found in violation of the "objectively verifiable" rule for certain opinions and statements about the firm's services and past cases on its website. The Florida Bar also found the firm's LinkedIn profile in violation because the subjective opinion of a former client was not "objectively verifiable" and because the LinkedIn site automatically described the firm's practice areas as "specialties."
 
The law firm claims that the rules are too vague to apply, and it isn't clear what information is allowed and what information must be removed from its website and social media sites.  The law firm claims that under the new rules, even Abraham Lincoln would have been found in violation:
 
"Indeed, Florida's rules are so broad that they would have subjected Abraham Lincoln to discipline for stating, in an 1852 newspaper advertisement, that his firm handled business with 'promptness and fidelity' — two words that are no more 'objectively verifiable' than those the Bar concludes violate its ethics rules here."
 
Although the case is challenging Florida's attorney ethics rules, it is a case worth watching by lawyers and law firms across the country.  This blog has raised questions about how LinkedIn's specialty and endorsement features might trigger compliance issues with attorney ethics rules, including advertising and certification restrictions, and the New York bar has already weighed in on this issue, finding that law firms could not list specialties on its LinkedIn profile.

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