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Florida Suit Challenges Lawyer Advertising Rules

Jacksonville, Fla., lawyer Bill Harrell of the firm Harrell & Harrell did what state ethics rules required him to do. In 2002, he sought and received state bar approval to use the advertising slogan, "Don't settle for less than you deserve." On the strength of that, he used the slogan in extensive television and phone book advertising. His firm is reported to be one of the largest personal injury practices in Northeast Florida. Last year, he made "minor design changes" to his advertising campaign but stuck with the same slogan. When he submitted the redesigned ads to the bar for approval, the bar rejected them. Twice more he submitted the ads and twice more the bar said no.

Earlier this week, Harrell's firm joined with the consumer rights group Public Citizen to sue the Florida bar, as reported by The Florida Times-Union. The suit claims that the state's rules governing lawyer advertising violate free speech by preventing lawyers from presenting factual information about their services. "Before people should be able to tell you what you can and cannot say, there should be a reason for it and the reason should be clear," Harrell told the Times-Union. "None of that has occurred here." A statement issued by Public Citizen described Florida's rules as "among the most restrictive in the country, prohibiting slogans, descriptions of quality, background noises, and other common advertising techniques." Public Citizen has set up a Web page to house pleadings in the case, which has a copy of the complaint filed Monday in Florida's Middle District federal court.

Elizabeth Tarbert, ethics counsel for the Bar, declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, according to the Times-Union, but said that the rule under which Harrell's phrase was rejected was designed to prevent subjective statements that cannot be factually substantiated. "The example I like to give is that you can't say that you offer high quality legal services or that you're great or the best lawyer," she said.

[Hat tip to ABA Journal.]

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 10, 2008 at 02:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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