Florida Bar Ad Rules Violate Free Speech, Hurt Consumers

Jan. 8, 2008

Florida Bar Ad Rules Violate Free Speech, Hurt Consumers

Public Citizen Sues in Federal Court to Have Rules Declared Unconstitutional

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Florida Bar’s rules governing lawyer advertising violate free speech and impose arbitrary and unfair restrictions on how lawyers can communicate with consumers, according to a suit filed Monday in federal court by Public Citizen and a Jacksonville attorney.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, argues that the Florida Bar’s advertising rules, while aimed at preventing false and misleading ads, go too far by preventing lawyers from providing the public with factual, important information about their services. Florida’s rules are among the most restrictive in the country, prohibiting slogans, descriptions of quality, background noises, and other common advertising techniques. The suit contends that it is nearly impossible to design an interesting or effective ad that complies with the rules.

“Allowing lawyers to engage in truthful legal advertising enhances the public’s access to the legal system by helping consumers learn about their rights and informing them when they may have a legal claim,” said Greg Beck, an attorney for Public Citizen Litigation Group. “It also encourages beneficial competition in the marketplace for legal services.”

Joining Public Citizen in the suit is Jacksonville lawyer William H. Harrell, whose dealings with the Florida Bar underscore how inconsistent and arbitrary the rules on lawyer advertising are applied.

The Florida Bar told Harrell in September that his ad containing the phrase, “Don’t settle for less than you deserve,” violated its rules. However, the Florida Bar not only approved the same phrase in 2002 but had suggested it to Harrell as a compromise to something Harrell had proposed. Harrell’s ads have used the phrase repeatedly since then.

Public Citizen’s suit asks the court to declare the rules unconstitutional as applied to communications that are not false or misleading.

READ documents related to the case.