Kevin Quinlan, President of Cepaclaw, a law firm web design company, provides insight to law firms on how the Florida Bar advertising rules that have been applied to all attorney advertising will now be applied to lawyer websites along with tips for compliance.
Originally, the Florida Bar petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to consider proposed changes to the rules regulating Computer-Accessed Communications, or web-based communications, such as websites, banner ads and email blasts for law firms in Florida. In an opinion in early 2009, the Court chose not to adopt the recommended amendments.After hearing a motion for rehearing, the Court, on November 19, 2009, withdrew its prior opinion and replaced it with the current ruling. The goal of the proposed amendment is to clarify changes in both terminology and technology while being mindful of how consumers access computer based information and to create new mechanisms to regulate web-based attorney advertising.
In the past it was generally assumed that since a consumer had to deliberately access an attorney’s website, there was a distinction made between general advertising and the type of research that the public would undertake to find the appropriate law firm for their needs. This new ruling no longer views web access in the same light and means that the advertising rules (Rule 4-7.2) that apply to all other advertising media also apply to lawyer websites, except for the filing requirement. As with all other forms of advertising, websites must not contain any misrepresentations of fact or law, characterize the quality of the firm’s services, promise results or claim specialization in any area of law unless an attorney has board certification in that specific area. All of the smaller details that apply to other advertising media also hold true for websites.
This development has caused an uproar in the legal community over certain elements common to many attorney websites. These include testimonials, verdicts & settlements pages, and statements that characterize the quality of work. One of the elements that has caused concern is that websites are not only exempt from submission; they will not be reviewed even if submitted voluntarily. Guidance will be given by the ethics in advertising staff to attorneys with narrowly specific questions about compliance.
While at first glance, the new rules seem intimidating given the large size of the average website and prohibitive in terms of marketing a firm, the Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising has approved guidelines to help attorneys meet the new regulations. These guidelines represent a significant accommodation that will allow certain pages to be exempted from compliance with Rule 4-7.2.
The guidelines will allow law firms to designate certain pages of their firm’s website to be “information upon request” sections that can only be accessed after a website visitor views a disclaimer page that clearly outlines what information is available for viewing and that the information is not regulated by Bar advertising rules. Access to these sections of the website must be blocked from visitors who have not submitted a confirmation that they viewed the disclaimer page and have also been provided with sufficient information to evaluate the content they will be viewing.
The best way to make sense of the new advertising rules and to be certain that your law firm’s website complies is to partner with an attorney web design firm that has an extensive history of working with the Florida Bar on a broad array of advertising media and a successful track record of designing compelling web sites for law firms. The new requirements will also have impact on search engine optimization for lawyers, as these pages may not be accessed directly through a search engine bypassing the disclaimer pages.
For more information on law firm website design or SEO for attorneys or an evaluation of your current website, contact Kevin Quinlan
Press Release Contact Information:
Kevin Quinlan Phone: 561.313.7410 http://www.cepaclaw.com