TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Lawyers will have to get Florida Bar approval for radio and television commercials before airing them under new advertising rules passed Nov. 2 by the state Supreme Court.
Lawyers already were required to submit broadcast advertising to the bar but could begin airing them at their own risk before the reviews were completed. The bar has 15 days to complete each review to determine if ads meet content rules.
“Over half of the ads do not comply,” said bar ethics counsel Elizabeth Tarbert. “We’ve had attorneys who wanted a shark to be their logo.”
The Supreme Court cited “sharks, wolves, crocodiles and piranhas” as inappropriate images for lawyers in a ruling that last year muzzled a pair of attorneys who had used the image of a pit bull in a television commercial.
The new rules expand the list of permissible images to include the American eagle, U.S. and state flags, the Statue of Liberty, “unadorned” law books, the inside or outside of a courthouse, columns and diplomas.
The previously permitted images included the Florida Bar logo, a gavel and traditional renditions of Lady Justice.
The prior-approval requirement applies only to broadcast advertisements. All types, including those in newspaper and on Internet Web sites, must conform to the content rules.
“Television and radio advertisements are a special form of media requiring special regulation,” according to a commentary accompanying the new rules.
It says electronic ads easily can be abused, have short life span and reach thousands of viewers or listeners with a single showing. It’s difficult to enforce content regulations without a review because the bar is unable “to patrol the airwaves.”
Tarbert said the bar received only one objection to the prior-approval rule. It came from Tim Chinaris, a former bar ethics director and now associate dean for information resources at Falkner University’s law school in Montgomery, Ala.
“A lot of lawyers find TV advertising particularly offensive and single it out although the data doesn’t support doing that,” Chinaris said in a telephone interview.
The data shows 70% of direct mail advertising violates content rules compared to about half for print and broadcast ads, Chinaris said. He also said prior approval may violate the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and press guarantees.
The Supreme Court rejected proposed changes in existing regulations on Web sites and e-mail advertising pending a study by a special bar committee. The bar’s Advertising Task Force had recommended deregulating Web sites, but its Board of Governors disagreed with that proposal.
Web sites now must meet the same content requirements as other advertising with a couple exceptions.
Lawyers can make claims about the quality of their services and cite past results, both prohibited in other forms of advertising, Tarbert said. Web sites also are not subject to bar review.
The justices also asked the bar to conduct yet another study of lawyer advertising including public evaluation and comments.
The high court approved the bar’s recommendations except for the Web site issue and a couple other modifications on a 5-2 vote. Justices Kenneth Bell and Harry Lee Anstead dissented, writing they would have adopted the bar’s recommendations without exception.
The majority also rejected a proposal that would loosen a requirement for non-lawyer spokesmen to disclose they are not attorneys. The bar wanted to lift the disclosure requirement if it was apparent from the ad’s context the speaker was a non-lawyer.