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Florida Bar’s Rules on Lawyer Advertising Were Overly Vague, Stifled Free Speech

Oct. 3, 2011

Florida Bar’s Rules on Lawyer Advertising Were Overly Vague, Stifled Free Speech

Florida District Court Agrees With Public Citizen’s Arguments, Finds Bar’s Standards Unconstitutional

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Florida Bar’s rules governing attorney advertising restrict attorneys’ speech in violation of the First Amendment, a Florida district court has ruled, agreeing with Public Citizen’s arguments.

Florida’s rules are among the strictest in the country, prohibiting attorneys from using a wide range of common advertising techniques, including slogans, jingles, background noises and descriptions of the quality of a lawyer’s services.

The Bar prohibited William Harrell, a Florida lawyer, from running advertisements containing the slogan, “Don’t settle for less than you deserve,” because, the Bar said, the ads characterized the quality of Harrell’s services, which violated the rules.

Public Citizen represented Harrell in court, arguing that the Bar’s requirements were overly vague and unconstitutionally stifled his right to speak.

The court found that all but one of the challenged rules were unconstitutional because they were either too vague or too restrictive. The court held that prohibiting Harrell’s slogan was an unconstitutional restriction of his First Amendment rights.

“The Florida Bar arbitrarily and unpredictably applied a set of overly vague rules governing lawyer advertising and assessed the rules on a case-by-case basis,” said Greg Beck, the Public Citizen attorney representing Harrell. “The rules have made it extremely difficult for lawyers in Florida to effectively reach injured consumers in need of representation.”

To learn more about this case, visit: https://www.citizen.org/our-work/litigation/cases/harrell-v-florida-bar.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.