All 50 states govern lawyer advertising through their Rules of Professional Conduct, often known as “ethics rules.” The rules in each state are unique to that state. Therefore, it is imperative that lawyers familiarize themselves with the rules of the states that govern their conduct.

(a) Type of Media. Unless otherwise indicated, this subchapter applies to all forms of communication in any print or electronic forum, including but not limited to newspapers, magazines, brochures, flyers, television, radio, direct mail, electronic mail, and Internet, including banners, pop-ups, websites, social networking, and video sharing media. The terms “advertising” and “advertisement” as used in chapter 4-7 refer to all forms of communication seeking legal employment, both written and spoken.

(b) Lawyers. This subchapter applies to lawyers, whether or not admitted to practice in Florida or other jurisdictions, who advertise that the lawyer provides legal services in Florida or who target advertisements for legal employment at Florida residents. The term “lawyer” as used in subchapter 4-7 includes 1 or more lawyers or a law firm. This rule does not permit the unlicensed practice of law or advertising that the lawyer provides legal services that the lawyer is not authorized to provide in Florida.

(c) Referral Sources. This subchapter applies to communications made to referral sources about legal services.

Comment

Websites

[1] Websites are subject to the general lawyer advertising requirements in this subchapter and are treated the same as other advertising media. Websites of multistate firms present specific regulatory concerns. Subchapter 4-7 applies to portions of a multistate firm that directly relate to the provision of legal services by a member of the firm who is a member of The Florida Bar. Additionally, subchapter 4-7 applies to portions of a multistate firm’s website that relate to the provision of legal services in Florida, e.g., where a multistate firm has offices in Florida and discusses the provision of legal services in those Florida offices. Subchapter 4-7 does not apply to portions of a multistate firm’s website that relate to the provision of legal services by lawyers who are not admitted to The Florida Bar and who do not provide legal services in Florida. Subchapter 4-7 does not apply to portions of a multistate firm’s website that relate to the provision of legal services in jurisdictions other than Florida.

Lawyers Admitted in Other Jurisdictions

[2] Subchapter 4-7 does not apply to any advertisement broadcast or disseminated in another jurisdiction in which a Florida Bar member is admitted to practice if the advertisement complies with the rules governing lawyer advertising in that jurisdiction and is not broadcast or disseminated within the state of Florida or targeted at Florida residents. Subchapter 4-7 does not apply to such advertisements appearing in national media if the disclaimer “cases not accepted in Florida” is plainly noted in the advertisement. Subchapter 4-7 also does not apply to a website advertisement that does not offer the services of a Florida Bar member, a lawyer located in Florida, or a lawyer offering to provide legal services in Florida.

[3] Subchapter 4-7 applies to advertisements by lawyers admitted to practice law in jurisdictions other than Florida who have established a regular and/or permanent presence in Florida for the practice of law as authorized by other law and who solicit or advertise for legal employment in Florida or who target solicitations or advertisements for legal employment at Florida residents.

[4] For example, in the areas of immigration, patent, and tax, a lawyer from another jurisdiction may establish a regular or permanent presence in Florida to practice only that specific federal practice as authorized by federal law. Such a lawyer must comply with this subchapter for all advertisements disseminated in Florida or that target Florida residents for legal employment. Such a lawyer must include in all advertisements that the lawyer is “Not a Member of The Florida Bar” or “Admitted in [jurisdiction where admitted] Only” or the lawyer’s limited area of practice, such as “practice limited to [area of practice] law.” See Fla. Bar v. Kaiser, 397 So. 2d 1132 (Fla. 1981).

[5] A lawyer from another jurisdiction is not authorized to establish a regular or permanent presence in Florida to practice law in an area in which that lawyer is not authorized to practice or to advertise for legal services the lawyer is not authorized to provide in Florida. For example, although a lawyer from another state may petition a court to permit admission pro hac vice on a specific Florida case, no law authorizes a pro hac vice practice on a general or permanent basis in the state of Florida. A lawyer cannot advertise for Florida cases within the state of Florida or target advertisements to Florida residents, because such an advertisement in and of itself constitutes the unlicensed practice of law.

[6] A lawyer from another jurisdiction may be authorized to provide Florida residents legal services in another jurisdiction. For example, if a class action suit is pending in another state, a lawyer from another jurisdiction may represent Florida residents in the litigation. Any such advertisements disseminated within the state of Florida or targeting Florida residents must comply with this subchapter.

Rule 4-7.12 - Required Content

(a) Name and Office Location. All advertisements for legal employment must include:

(1) the name of at least 1 lawyer, the law firm, the lawyer referral service if the advertisement is for the lawyer referral service, the qualifying provider if the advertisement is for the qualifying provider, or the lawyer directory if the advertisement is for the lawyer directory, responsible for the content of the advertisement; and

(2) the city, town, or county of 1 or more bona fide office locations of the lawyer who will perform the services advertised.

(b) Referrals. If the case or matter will be referred to another lawyer or law firm, the advertisement must include a statement to this effect.

(c) Languages Used in Advertising. Any words or statements required by this subchapter to appear in an advertisement must appear in the same language in which the advertisement appears. If more than 1 language is used in an advertisement, any words or statements required by this subchapter must appear in each language used in the advertisement.

(d) Legibility. Any information required by these rules to appear in an advertisement must be reasonably prominent and clearly legible if written, or intelligible if spoken.

Comment

Name of Lawyer or Lawyer Referral Service

[1] All advertisements are required to contain the name of at least 1 lawyer who is responsible for the content of the advertisement. For purposes of this rule, including the name of the law firm is sufficient. A lawyer referral service, qualifying provider or lawyer directory must include its actual legal name or a registered fictitious name in all advertisements in order to comply with this requirement.

Geographic Location

[2] For the purposes of this rule, a bona fide office is defined as a physical location maintained by the lawyer or law firm where the lawyer or law firm reasonably expects to furnish legal services in a substantial way on a regular and continuing basis.

[3] An office in which there is little or no full-time staff, the lawyer is not present on a regular and continuing basis, and where a substantial portion of the necessary legal services will not be provided, is not a bona fide office for purposes of this rule. An advertisement cannot state or imply that a lawyer has offices in a location where the lawyer has no bona fide office. However, an advertisement may state that a lawyer is “available for consultation” or “available by appointment” or has a “satellite” office at a location where the lawyer does not have a bona fide office, if the statement is true.

Referrals to Other Lawyers

[4] If the advertising lawyer knows at the time the advertisement is disseminated that the lawyer intends to refer some cases generated from an advertisement to another lawyer, the advertisement must state that fact. An example of an appropriate disclaimer is as follows: “Your case may be referred to another lawyer.”

Language of Advertisement

[5] Any information required by these rules to appear in an advertisement must appear in all languages used in the advertisement. If a specific disclaimer is required in order to avoid the advertisement misleading the viewer, the disclaimer must be made in the same language that the statement requiring the disclaimer appears.

Rule 4-7.13 - Deceptive and Inherently Misleading Advertisements

A lawyer may not engage in deceptive or inherently misleading advertising.

(a) Deceptive and Inherently Misleading Advertisements. An advertisement is deceptive or inherently misleading if it:

(1) contains a material statement that is factually or legally inaccurate;

(2) omits information that is necessary to prevent the information supplied from being misleading; or

(3) implies the existence of a material nonexistent fact.

(b) Examples of Deceptive and Inherently Misleading Advertisements. Deceptive or inherently misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to advertisements that contain:

(1) statements or information that can reasonably be interpreted by a prospective client as a prediction or guaranty of success or specific results;

(2) references to past results unless the information is objectively verifiable, subject to rule 4-7.14;

(3) comparisons of lawyers or statements, words or phrases that characterize a lawyer’s or law firm’s skills, experience, reputation or record, unless such characterization is objectively verifiable;

(4) references to areas of practice in which the lawyer or law firm does not practice or intend to practice at the time of the advertisement;

(5) a voice or image that creates the erroneous impression that the person speaking or shown is the advertising lawyer or a lawyer or employee of the advertising firm. The following notice, prominently displayed would resolve the erroneous impression: “Not an employee or member of law firm”;

(6) a dramatization of an actual or fictitious event unless the dramatization contains the following prominently displayed notice: “DRAMATIZATION. NOT AN ACTUAL EVENT.” When an advertisement includes an actor purporting to be engaged in a particular profession or occupation, the advertisement must include the following prominently displayed notice: “ACTOR. NOT ACTUAL [ . . . . ]”;

(7) statements, trade names, telephone numbers, Internet addresses, images, sounds, videos or dramatizations that state or imply that the lawyer will engage in conduct or tactics that are prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct or any law or court rule;

(8) a testimonial:

(A) regarding matters on which the person making the testimonial is unqualified to evaluate;

(B) that is not the actual experience of the person making the testimonial;

(C) that is not representative of what clients of that lawyer or law firm generally experience;

(D) that has been written or drafted by the lawyer;

(E) in exchange for which the person making the testimonial has been given something of value; or

(F) that does not include the disclaimer that the prospective client may not obtain the same or similar results;

(9) a statement or implication that The Florida Bar has approved an advertisement or a lawyer, except a statement that the lawyer is licensed to practice in Florida or has been certified pursuant to chapter 6, Rules Regulating the Florida Bar; or

(10) a judicial, executive, or legislative branch title, unless accompanied by clear modifiers and placed subsequent to the person’s name in reference to a current, former or retired judicial, executive, or legislative branch official currently engaged in the practice of law. For example, a former judge may not state “Judge Doe (retired)” or “Judge Doe, former circuit judge.” She may state “Jane Doe, Florida Bar member, former circuit judge” or “Jane Doe, retired circuit judge….”

Comment

Material Omissions

[1] An example of a material omission is stating “over 20 years’ experience” when the experience is the combined experience of all lawyers in the advertising firm. Another example is a lawyer who states “over 20 years’ experience” when the lawyer includes within that experience time spent as a paralegal, investigator, police officer, or other nonlawyer position.

Implied Existence of Nonexistent Fact

[2] An example of the implied existence of a nonexistent fact is an advertisement stating that a lawyer has offices in multiple states if the lawyer is not licensed in those states or is not authorized to practice law. Such a statement implies the nonexistent fact that a lawyer is licensed or is authorized to practice law in the states where offices are located.

[3] Another example of the implied existence of a nonexistent fact is a statement in an advertisement that a lawyer is a founding member of a legal organization when the lawyer has just begun practicing law. Such a statement falsely implies that the lawyer has been practicing law longer than the lawyer actually has.

Predictions of Success

[4] Statements that promise a specific result or predict success in a legal matter are prohibited because they are misleading. Examples of statements that impermissibly predict success include: “I will save your home,” “I can save your home,” “I will get you money for your injuries,” and “Come to me to get acquitted of the charges pending against you.”

[5] Statements regarding the legal process as opposed to a specific result generally will be considered permissible. For example, a statement that the lawyer or law firm will protect the client’s rights, protect the client’s assets, or protect the client’s family do not promise a specific legal result in a particular matter. Similarly, a statement that a lawyer will prepare a client to effectively handle cross-examination is permissible, because it does not promise a specific result, but describes the legal process.

[6] Aspirational statements are generally permissible as such statements describe goals that a lawyer or law firm will try to meet. Examples of aspirational words include “goal,” “strive,” “dedicated,” “mission,” and “philosophy.” For example, the statement, “My goal is to achieve the best possible result in your case,” is permissible. Similarly, the statement, “If you’ve been injured through no fault of your own, I am dedicated to recovering damages on your behalf,” is permissible.

[7] Modifying language can be used to prevent language from running afoul of this rule. For example, the statement, “I will get you acquitted of the pending charges,” would violate the rule as it promises a specific legal result. In contrast, the statement, “I will pursue an acquittal of your pending charges,” does not promise a specific legal result. It merely conveys that the lawyer will try to obtain an acquittal on behalf of the prospective client. The following list is a nonexclusive list of words that generally may be used to modify language to prevent violations of the rule: try, pursue, may, seek, might, could, and designed to.

[8] General statements describing a particular law or area of law are not promises of specific legal results or predictions of success. For example, the following statement is a description of the law and is not a promise of a specific legal result: “When the government takes your property through its eminent domain power, the government must provide you with compensation for your property.”

Past Results

The prohibitions in subdivisions (b)(1) and (b)(2) of this rule preclude advertisements about results obtained on behalf of a client, such as the amount of a damage award or the lawyer’s record in obtaining favorable verdicts, if the results are not objectively verifiable or are misleading, either alone or in the context in which they are used. For example, an advertised result that is atypical of persons under similar circumstances is likely to be misleading. A result that omits pertinent information, such as failing to disclose that a specific judgment was uncontested or obtained by default, or failing to disclose that the judgment is far short of the client’s actual damages, is also misleading. The information may create the unjustified expectation that similar results can be obtained for others without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances. An example of a past result that can be objectively verified is that a lawyer has obtained acquittals in all charges in 4 criminal defense cases. On the other hand, general statements such as, “I have successfully represented clients,” or “I have won numerous appellate cases,” may or may not be sufficiently objectively verifiable. For example, a lawyer may interpret the words “successful” or “won” in a manner different from the average prospective client. In a criminal law context, the lawyer may interpret the word “successful” to mean a conviction to a lesser charge or a lower sentence than recommended by the prosecutor, while the average prospective client likely would interpret the words “successful” or “won” to mean an acquittal.

Rule 4-7.14 - Potentially Misleading Advertisements

A lawyer may not engage in potentially misleading advertising.

(a) Potentially Misleading Advertisements. Potentially misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to:

(1) advertisements that are subject to varying reasonable interpretations, 1 or more of which would be materially misleading when considered in the relevant context;

(2) advertisements that are literally accurate, but could reasonably mislead a prospective client regarding a material fact;

(3) references to a lawyer’s membership in, or recognition by, an entity that purports to base the membership or recognition on a lawyer’s ability or skill, unless the entity conferring the membership or recognition is generally recognized within the legal profession as being a bona fide organization that makes its selections based on objective and uniformly applied criteria, and that includes among its members or those recognized a reasonable cross-section of the legal community the entity purports to cover;

(4) a statement that a lawyer is board certified or other variations of that term unless:

(A) the lawyer has been certified under the Florida Certification Plan as set forth in chapter 6, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and the advertisement includes the area of certification and that The Florida Bar is the certifying organization;

(B) the lawyer has been certified by an organization whose specialty certification program has been accredited by the American Bar Association or The Florida Bar as provided elsewhere in these rules. A lawyer certified by a specialty certification program accredited by the American Bar Association but not The Florida Bar must include the statement “Not Certified as a Specialist by The Florida Bar” in reference to the specialization or certification. All such advertisements must include the area of certification and the name of the certifying organization; or

(C) the lawyer has been certified by another state bar if the state bar program grants certification on the basis of standards reasonably comparable to the standards of the Florida Certification Plan set forth in chapter 6 of these rules and the advertisement includes the area of certification and the name of the certifying organization.

In the absence of the certification, a lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer limits his or her practice to 1 or more fields of law;

(5) a statement that the lawyer is a specialist or an expert in an area of practice, or other variations of those terms, unless the lawyer is certified under the Florida Certification Plan or an American Bar Association or Florida Bar accredited certification plan or the lawyer can objectively verify the claim based on the lawyer’s education, training, experience, or substantial involvement in the area of practice in which specialization or expertise is claimed;

(6) a statement that a law firm specializes or has expertise in an area of practice, or other variations of those terms, unless the law firm can objectively verify the claim as to at least 1 of the lawyers who are members of or employed by the law firm as set forth in subdivision (a)(5) above, but if the law firm cannot objectively verify the claim for every lawyer employed by the firm, the advertisement must contain a reasonably prominent disclaimer that not all lawyers in the firm specialize or have expertise in the area of practice in which the firm claims specialization or expertise; or

(7) information about the lawyer’s fee, including those that indicate no fee will be charged in the absence of a recovery, unless the advertisement discloses all fees and expenses for which the client might be liable and any other material information relating to the fee. A lawyer who advertises a specific fee or range of fees for a particular service must honor the advertised fee or range of fees for at least 90 days unless the advertisement specifies a shorter period; provided that, for advertisements in the yellow pages of telephone directories or other media not published more frequently than annually, the advertised fee or range of fees must be honored for no less than 1 year following publication.

(b) Clarifying Information. A lawyer may use an advertisement that would otherwise be potentially misleading if the advertisement contains information or statements that adequately clarify the potentially misleading issue.

Comment

Awards, honors, and ratings

[1] Awards, honors, and ratings are not subjective statements characterizing a lawyer’s skills, experience, reputation, or record. Instead, they are statements of objectively verifiable facts from which an inference of quality may be drawn. It is therefore permissible under the rule for a lawyer to list bona fide awards, honors, and recognitions using the name or title of the actual award and the date it was given. If the award was given in the same year that the advertisement is disseminated or the advertisement references a rating that is current at the time the advertisement is disseminated, the year of the award or rating is not required.

For example, the following statements are permissible:

“John Doe is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell. This rating is Martindale-Hubbell’s highest rating.”

“Jane Smith was named a 2008 Florida Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine.”

Claims of board certification, specialization or expertise

[2] This rule permits a lawyer or law firm to indicate areas of practice in communications about the lawyer’s or law firm’s services, provided the advertising lawyer or law firm actually practices in those areas of law at the time the advertisement is disseminated. If a lawyer practices only in certain fields, or will not accept matters except in those fields, the lawyer is permitted to indicate that. A lawyer also may indicate that the lawyer concentrates in, focuses on, or limits the lawyer’s practice to particular areas of practice as long as the statements are true. A lawyer who is not certified by The Florida Bar, by another state bar with comparable standards, or an organization accredited by the American Bar Association or The Florida Bar may not be described to the public as “certified” or “board certified” or any variation of similar import. A lawyer may indicate that the lawyer concentrates in, focuses on, or limits the lawyer’s practice to particular areas of practice as long as the statements are true.

[3] Certification is specific to individual lawyers; a law firm cannot be certified in an area of practice per subdivision (c) of rule 6-3.4. Therefore, an advertisement may not state that a law firm is certified in any area of practice. A lawyer can only state or imply that the lawyer is “certified” in the actual area(s) of practice in which the lawyer is certified.

[4] A lawyer who is board certified in civil trial law, may state that, but may not state that the lawyer is certified in personal injury.

[5] The criteria set forth in the Florida Certification Plan is designed to establish a reasonable degree of objectivity and uniformity so that the use of the terms “specialization,” “expertise,” or other variations of those terms, conveys some meaningful information to the public and is not misleading. A lawyer who meets the criteria for certification in a particular field automatically qualifies to state that the lawyer is a specialist or expert in the area of certification. However, a lawyer making a claim of specialization or expertise is not required to be certified in the claimed field of specialization or expertise or to have met the specific criterion for certification if the lawyer can demonstrate that the lawyer has the education, training, experience, or substantial involvement in the area of practice commensurate with specialization or expertise.

[6] A law firm claim of specialization or expertise may be based on 1 lawyer who is a member of or employed by the law firm either having the requisite board certification or being able to objectively verify the requisite qualifications enumerated in this rule. For purposes of this rule, a lawyer’s “of counsel” relationship with a law firm is a sufficiently close relationship to permit a law firm to claim specialization or expertise based on the “of counsel” lawyer’s board certification or qualifications only if the “of counsel” practices law solely through the law firm claiming specialization or expertise and provides substantial legal services through the firm as to allow the firm to reasonably rely on the “of counsel” qualifications in making the claim.

Fee and cost information

[7] Every advertisement that contains information about the lawyer’s fee, including a contingent fee, must disclose all fees and costs that the client will be liable for. If the client is, in fact, not responsible for any costs in addition to the fee, then no disclosure is necessary. For example, if a lawyer charges a flat fee to create and execute a will and there are no costs associated with the services, the lawyer’s advertisement may state only the flat fee for that service.

[8] However, if there are costs for which the client is responsible, the advertisement must disclose this fact. For example, if fees are contingent on the outcome of the matter, but the client is responsible for costs regardless of the matter’s outcome, the following statements are permissible: “No Fee if No Recovery, but Client is Responsible for Costs,” “No Fee if No Recovery, Excludes Costs,” “No Recovery, No Fee, but Client is Responsible for Costs” and other similar statements.

[9] On the other hand, if both fees and costs are contingent on the outcome of a personal injury case, the statements “No Fees or Costs If No Recovery” and “No Recovery - No Fees or Costs” are permissible.

Rule 4-7.15 - Unduly Manipulative or Intrusive Advertisements

A lawyer may not engage in unduly manipulative or intrusive advertisements. An advertisement is unduly manipulative if it:

(a) uses an image, sound, video or dramatization in a manner that is designed to solicit legal employment by appealing to a prospective client’s emotions rather than to a rational evaluation of a lawyer’s suitability to represent the prospective client;

(b) uses an authority figure such as a judge or law enforcement officer, or an actor portraying an authority figure, to endorse or recommend the lawyer or act as a spokesperson for the lawyer;

(c) contains the voice or image of a celebrity, except that a lawyer may use the voice or image of a local announcer, disc jockey or radio personality who regularly records advertisements so long as the person recording the announcement does not endorse or offer a testimonial on behalf of the advertising lawyer or law firm; or

(d) offers consumers an economic incentive to employ the lawyer or review the lawyer’s advertising; provided that this rule does not prohibit a lawyer from offering a discounted fee or special fee or cost structure as otherwise permitted by these rules and does not prohibit the lawyer from offering free legal advice or information that might indirectly benefit a consumer economically.

Comment

Unduly Manipulative Sounds and Images

[1] Illustrations that are informational and not misleading are permissible. As examples, a graphic rendering of the scales of justice to indicate that the advertising lawyer practices law, a picture of the lawyer, or a map of the office location are permissible illustrations.

[2] An illustration that provides specific information that is directly related to a particular type of legal claim is permissible. For example, a photograph of an actual medication to illustrate that the medication has been linked to adverse side effects is permissible. An x-ray of a lung that has been damaged by asbestos would also be permissible. A picture or video that illustrates the nature of a particular claim or practice, such as a person on crutches or in jail, is permissible.

[3] An illustration or photograph of a car that has been in an accident would be permissible to indicate that the lawyer handles car accident cases. Similarly, an illustration or photograph of a construction site would be permissible to show either that the lawyer handles construction law matters or workers’ compensation matters. An illustration or photograph of a house with a foreclosure sale sign is permissible to indicate that the lawyer handles foreclosure matters. An illustration or photograph of a person with a stack of bills to indicate that the lawyer handles bankruptcy is also permissible. An illustration or photograph of a person being arrested, a person in jail, or an accurate rendering of a traffic stop also is permissible. An illustration, photograph, or portrayal of a bulldozer to indicate that the lawyer handles eminent domain matters is permissible. Illustrations, photographs, or scenes of doctors examining x-rays are permissible to show that a lawyer handles medical malpractice or medical products liability cases. An image, dramatization, or sound of a car accident actually occurring would also be permissible, as long as it is not unduly manipulative.

[4] Although some illustrations are permissible, an advertisement that contains an image, sound or dramatization that is unduly manipulative is not. For example, a dramatization or illustration of a car accident occurring in which graphic injuries are displayed is not permissible. A depiction of a child being taken from a crying mother is not permissible because it seeks to evoke an emotional response and is unrelated to conveying useful information to the prospective client regarding hiring a lawyer. Likewise, a dramatization of an insurance adjuster persuading an accident victim to sign a settlement is unduly manipulative, because it is likely to convince a viewer to hire the advertiser solely on the basis of the manipulative advertisement.

[5] Some illustrations are used to seek attention so that viewers will receive the advertiser’s message. So long as those illustrations, images, or dramatizations are not unduly manipulative, they are permissible, even if they do not directly relate to the selection of a particular lawyer.

Use of Celebrities

[6] A lawyer or law firm advertisement may not contain the voice or image of a celebrity. A celebrity is an individual who is known to the target audience and whose voice or image is recognizable to the intended audience. A person can be a celebrity on a regional or local level, not just a national level. Local announcers or disc jockeys and radio personalities are regularly used to record advertisements. Use of a local announcer or disc jockey or a radio personality to record an advertisement is permissible under this rule as long as the person recording the announcement does not endorse or offer a testimonial on behalf of the advertising lawyer or law firm.

Rule 4-7.16 - Presumptively Valid Content

The following information in advertisements is presumed not to violate the provisions of rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.15:

(a) Lawyers and Law Firms. A lawyer or law firm may include the following information in advertisements and unsolicited written communications:

(1) the name of the lawyer or law firm subject to the requirements of this rule and rule 4-7.21, a listing of lawyers associated with the firm, office locations and parking arrangements, disability accommodations, telephone numbers, website addresses, and electronic mail addresses, office and telephone service hours, and a designation such as “attorney” or “law firm”;

(2) date of admission to The Florida Bar and any other bars, current membership or positions held in The Florida Bar or its sections or committees or those of other state bars, former membership or positions held in The Florida Bar or its sections or committees with dates of membership or those of other state bars, former positions of employment held in the legal profession with dates the positions were held, years of experience practicing law, number of lawyers in the advertising law firm, and a listing of federal courts and jurisdictions other than Florida where the lawyer is licensed to practice;

(3) technical and professional licenses granted by the state or other recognized licensing authorities and educational degrees received, including dates and institutions;

(4) military service, including branch and dates of service;

(5) foreign language ability;

(6) fields of law in which the lawyer practices, including official certification logos, subject to the requirements of subdivision (a)(4) of rule 4-7.14 regarding use of terms such as certified, specialist, and expert;

(7) prepaid or group legal service plans in which the lawyer participates;

(8) acceptance of credit cards;

(9) fee for initial consultation and fee schedule, subject to the requirements of subdivisions (a)(5) of rule 4-7.14 regarding cost disclosures and honoring advertised fees;

(10) common salutary language such as “best wishes,” “good luck,” “happy holidays,” “pleased to announce,” or “proudly serving your community”;

(11) punctuation marks and common typographical marks;

(12) an illustration of the scales of justice not deceptively similar to official certification logos or The Florida Bar logo, a gavel, traditional renditions of Lady Justice, the Statue of Liberty, the American flag, the American eagle, the State of Florida flag, an unadorned set of law books, the inside or outside of a courthouse, column(s), diploma(s), or a photograph of the lawyer or lawyers who are members of, or employed by, the firm against a plain background such as a plain unadorned office or a plain unadorned set of law books.

(b) Lawyer Referral Services and Qualifying Providers. A lawyer referral service or qualifying provider may advertise its name, location, telephone number, the fee charged, its hours of operation, the process by which referrals or matches are made, the areas of law in which referrals or matches are offered, the geographic area in which the lawyers practice to whom those responding to the advertisement will be referred or matched. The Florida Bar’s lawyer referral service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar under chapter 8 of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar also may advertise the logo of its sponsoring bar association and its nonprofit status.

Comment

[1] The presumptively valid content creates a safe harbor for lawyers. A lawyer desiring a safe harbor from discipline may choose to limit the content of an advertisement to the information listed in this rule and, if the information is true, the advertisement complies with these rules. However, a lawyer is not required to limit the information in an advertisement to the presumptively valid content, as long as all information in the advertisement complies with these rules.

Rule 4-7.17 - Payment for Advertising and Promotion

(a) Payment by Other Lawyers. No lawyer may, directly or indirectly, pay all or a part of the cost of an advertisement by a lawyer not in the same firm. Rule 4-1.5(f)(4)(D) (regarding the division of contingency fees) is not affected by this provision even though the lawyer covered by subdivision (f)(4)(D)(ii) of rule 4-1.5 advertises.

(b) Payment for Referrals. A lawyer may not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services, except that a lawyer may pay the reasonable cost of advertising permitted by these rules, may pay the usual charges of a lawyer referral service, lawyer directory, qualifying provider or other legal service organization, and may purchase a law practice in accordance with rule 4-1.17.

(c) Payment by Nonlawyers. A lawyer may not permit a nonlawyer to pay all or a part of the cost of an advertisement by that lawyer.

Comment

Paying for the Advertisements of Another Lawyer

[1] A lawyer is not permitted to pay for the advertisements of another lawyer not in the same firm. This rule is not intended to prohibit more than 1 law firm from advertising jointly, but the advertisement must contain all required information as to each advertising law firm.

Paying Others for Recommendations

[2] A lawyer is allowed to pay for advertising permitted by this rule and for the purchase of a law practice in accordance with the provisions of rule 4-1.17, but otherwise is not permitted to pay or provide other tangible benefits to another person for procuring professional work. However, a legal aid agency or prepaid legal services plan may pay to advertise legal services provided under its auspices. Likewise, a lawyer may participate in lawyer referral programs, qualifying providers, or lawyer directories and pay the usual fees charged by such programs, subject, however, to the limitations imposed by rule 4-7.22. This rule does not prohibit paying regular compensation to an assistant, such as a secretary or advertising consultant, to prepare communications permitted by this rule.

Rule 4-7.18 - Direct Contact with Prospective Clients

(a) Solicitation. Except as provided in subdivision (b) of this rule, a lawyer may not:

(1) solicit in person, or permit employees or agents of the lawyer to solicit in person on the lawyer’s behalf, professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. The term “solicit” includes contact in person, by telephone, by electronic means that include real-time communication face-to-face such as video telephone or video conference, or by other communication directed to a specific recipient that does not meet the requirements of subdivision (b) of this rule and rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.17 of these rules.

(2) enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect a fee for professional employment obtained in violation of this rule.

(b) Written Communication.

(1) A lawyer may not send, or knowingly permit to be sent, on the lawyer’s behalf or on behalf of the lawyer’s firm or partner, an associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm, a written communication directly or indirectly to a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment if:

(A) the written communication concerns an action for personal injury or wrongful death or otherwise relates to an accident or disaster involving the person to whom the communication is addressed or a relative of that person, unless the accident or disaster occurred more than 30 days prior to the mailing of the communication;

(B) the written communication concerns a specific matter and the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the person to whom the communication is directed is represented by a lawyer in the matter;

(C) it has been made known to the lawyer that the person does not want to receive such communications from the lawyer;

(D) the communication involves coercion, duress, fraud, overreaching, harassment, intimidation, or undue influence;

(E) the communication violates rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.17 of these rules;

(F) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, emotional, or mental state of the person makes it unlikely that the person would exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer; or

(G) the communication concerns a request for an injunction for protection against any form of physical violence and is addressed to the respondent in the injunction petition, if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the respondent named in the injunction petition has not yet been served with notice of process in the matter.

(2) Written communications to prospective clients for the purpose of obtaining professional employment that are not prohibited by subdivision (b)(1) are subject to the following requirements:

(A) Such communications are subject to the requirements of 4-7.11 through 4-7.17 of these rules.

(B) Each separate enclosure of the communication and the face of an envelope containing the communication must be reasonably prominently marked “advertisement” in ink that contrasts with both the background it is printed on and other text appearing on the same page. If the written communication is in the form of a self-mailing brochure or pamphlet, the “advertisement” mark must be reasonably prominently marked on the address panel of the brochure or pamphlet, on the inside of the brochure or pamphlet, and on each separate enclosure. If the written communication is sent via electronic mail, the subject line must begin with the word “Advertisement.”

(C) Every written communication must be accompanied by a written statement detailing the background, training and experience of the lawyer or law firm. This statement must include information about the specific experience of the advertising lawyer or law firm in the area or areas of law for which professional employment is sought. Every written communication disseminated by a lawyer referral service must be accompanied by a written statement detailing the background, training, and experience of each lawyer to whom the recipient may be referred.

(D) If a contract for representation is mailed with the written communication, the top of each page of the contract must be marked “SAMPLE” in red ink in a type size one size larger than the largest type used in the contract and the words “DO NOT SIGN” must appear on the client signature line.

(E) The first sentence of any written communication prompted by a specific occurrence involving or affecting the intended recipient of the communication or a family member must be: “If you have already retained a lawyer for this matter, please disregard this letter.”

(F) Written communications must not be made to resemble legal pleadings or other legal documents.

(G) If a lawyer other than the lawyer whose name or signature appears on the communication will actually handle the case or matter, or if the case or matter will be referred to another lawyer or law firm, any written communication concerning a specific matter must include a statement so advising the client.

(H) Any written communication prompted by a specific occurrence involving or affecting the intended recipient of the communication or a family member must disclose how the lawyer obtained the information prompting the communication. The disclosure required by this rule must be specific enough to enable the recipient to understand the extent of the lawyer’s knowledge regarding the recipient’s particular situation.

(I) A written communication seeking employment by a specific prospective client in a specific matter must not reveal on the envelope, or on the outside of a self-mailing brochure or pamphlet, the nature of the client’s legal problem.

(3) The requirements in subdivision (b)(2) of this rule do not apply to communications between lawyers, between lawyers and their own current and former clients, or between lawyers and their own family members, or to communications by the lawyer at a prospective client’s request.

Comment

Prior Professional Relationship

[1] Persons with whom the lawyer has a prior professional relationship are exempted from the general prohibition against direct, in-person solicitation. A prior professional relationship requires that the lawyer personally had a direct and continuing relationship with the person in the lawyer’s capacity as a professional. Thus, a lawyer with a continuing relationship as the patient of a doctor, for example, does not have the professional relationship contemplated by the rule because the lawyer is not involved in the relationship in the lawyer’s professional capacity. Similarly, a lawyer who is a member of a charitable organization totally unrelated to the practice of law and who has a direct personal relationship with another member of that organization does not fall within the definition.

[2] On the other hand, a lawyer who is the legal advisor to a charitable board and who has direct, continuing relationships with members of that board does have prior professional relationships with those board members as contemplated by the rule. Additionally, a lawyer who has a direct, continuing relationship with another professional where both are members of a trade organization related to both the lawyer’s and the nonlawyer’s practices would also fall within the definition. A lawyer’s relationship with a doctor because of the doctor’s role as an expert witness is another example of a prior professional relationship as provided in the rule.

[3] A lawyer who merely shared a membership in an organization in common with another person without any direct, personal contact would not have a prior professional relationship for purposes of this rule. Similarly, a lawyer who speaks at a seminar does not develop a professional relationship within the meaning of the rule with seminar attendees merely by virtue of being a speaker.

Disclosing Where the Lawyer Obtained Information

[4] In addition, the lawyer or law firm should reveal the source of information used to determine that the recipient has a potential legal problem. Disclosure of the information source will help the recipient to understand the extent of knowledge the lawyer or law firm has regarding the recipient’s particular situation and will avoid misleading the recipient into believing that the lawyer has particularized knowledge about the recipient’s matter if the lawyer does not. The lawyer or law firm must disclose sufficient information or explanation to allow the recipient to locate the information that prompted the communication from the lawyer.

[5] Alternatively, the direct mail advertisement would comply with this rule if the advertisement discloses how much information the lawyer has about the matter.

[6] For example, a direct mail advertisement for criminal defense matters would comply if it stated that the lawyer’s only knowledge about the prospective client’s matter is the client’s name, contact information, date of arrest and charge. In the context of securities arbitration, a direct mail advertisement would comply with this requirement by stating, if true, that the lawyer obtained information from a list of investors, and the only information on that list is the prospective client’s name, address, and the fact that the prospective client invested in a specific company.

Group or Prepaid Legal Services Plans

[7] This rule would not prohibit a lawyer from contacting representatives of organizations or groups that may be interested in establishing a group or prepaid legal plan for its members, insureds, beneficiaries, or other third parties for the purpose of informing such entities of the availability of, and details concerning, the plan or arrangement that the lawyer or the lawyer’s law firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to a specific prospective client known to need legal services related to a particular matter. Rather, it is usually addressed to an individual acting in a fiduciary capacity seeking a supplier of legal services for others who may, if they choose, become clients of the lawyer. Under these circumstances, the activity that the lawyer undertakes in communicating with such representatives and the type of information transmitted to the individual are functionally similar to and serve the same purpose as advertising permitted under other rules in this subchapter.

Rule 4-7.19 - Evaluation of Advertisements

(a) Filing Requirements. Subject to the exemptions stated in rule 4-7.20, any lawyer who advertises services shall file with The Florida Bar a copy of each advertisement at least 20 days prior to the lawyer’s first dissemination of the advertisement. The advertisement must be filed at The Florida Bar headquarters address in Tallahassee.

(b) Evaluation by The Florida Bar. The Florida Bar will evaluate all advertisements filed with it pursuant to this rule for compliance with the applicable provisions set forth in rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.15 and 4-7.18(b)(2). If The Florida Bar does not send any communication to the filer within 15 days of receipt by The Florida Bar of a complete filing, or within 15 days of receipt by The Florida Bar of additional information when requested within the initial 15 days, the lawyer will not be subject to discipline by The Florida Bar, except if The Florida Bar subsequently notifies the lawyer of noncompliance, the lawyer may be subject to discipline for dissemination of the advertisement after the notice of noncompliance.

(c) Preliminary Opinions. A lawyer may obtain an advisory opinion concerning the compliance of a contemplated advertisement prior to production of the advertisement by submitting to The Florida Bar a draft or script that includes all spoken or printed words appearing in the advertisement, a description of any visual images to be used in the advertisement, and the fee specified in this rule. The voluntary prior submission does not satisfy the filing and evaluation requirements of these rules, but once completed, The Florida Bar will not charge an additional fee for evaluation of the completed advertisement.

(d) Opinions on Exempt Advertisements. A lawyer may obtain an advisory opinion concerning the compliance of an existing or contemplated advertisement intended to be used by the lawyer seeking the advisory opinion that is not required to be filed for review by submitting the material and fee specified in subdivision (h) of this rule to The Florida Bar, except that a lawyer may not file an entire website for review. Instead, a lawyer may obtain an advisory opinion concerning the compliance of a specific page, provision, statement, illustration, or photograph on a website.

(e) Facial Compliance. Evaluation of advertisements is limited to determination of facial compliance with rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.15 and 4-7.18(b)(2), and notice of compliance does not relieve the lawyer of responsibility for the accuracy of factual statements.

(f) Notice of Compliance and Disciplinary Action. A finding of compliance by The Florida Bar will be binding on The Florida Bar in a grievance proceeding unless the advertisement contains a misrepresentation that is not apparent from the face of the advertisement. The Florida Bar has a right to change its finding of compliance and in such circumstances must notify the lawyer of the finding of noncompliance, after which the lawyer may be subject to discipline for continuing to disseminate the advertisement. A lawyer will be subject to discipline as provided in these rules for:

(1) failure to timely file the advertisement with The Florida Bar;

(2) dissemination of a noncompliant advertisement in the absence of a finding of compliance by The Florida Bar;

(3) filing of an advertisement that contains a misrepresentation that is not apparent from the face of the advertisement;

(4) dissemination of an advertisement for which the lawyer has a finding of compliance by The Florida Bar more than 30 days after the lawyer has been notified that The Florida Bar has determined that the advertisement does not comply with this subchapter; or

(5) dissemination of portions of a lawyer’s Internet website(s) that are not in compliance with rules 4-7.14 and 4-7.15 only after 15 days have elapsed since the date of The Florida Bar’s notice of noncompliance sent to the lawyer’s official bar address.

(g) Notice of Noncompliance. If The Florida Bar determines that an advertisement is not in compliance with the applicable rules, The Florida Bar will advise the lawyer that dissemination or continued dissemination of the advertisement may result in professional discipline.

(h) Contents of Filing. A filing with The Florida Bar as required or permitted by subdivision (a) must include:

(1) a copy of the advertisement in the form or forms in which it is to be disseminated, which is readily capable of duplication by The Florida Bar (e.g., video, audio, print media, photographs of outdoor advertising);

(2) a transcript, if the advertisement is in electronic format;

(3) a printed copy of all text used in the advertisement, including both spoken language and on-screen text;

(4) an accurate English translation of any portion of the advertisement that is in a language other than English;

(5) a sample envelope in which the written advertisement will be enclosed, if the advertisement is to be mailed;

(6) a statement listing all media in which the advertisement will appear, the anticipated frequency of use of the advertisement in each medium in which it will appear, and the anticipated time period during which the advertisement will be used;

(7) the name of at least 1 lawyer who is responsible for the content of the advertisement;

(8) a fee paid to The Florida Bar, in an amount of $150 for each advertisement timely filed as provided in subdivision (a), or $250 for each advertisement not timely filed. This fee will be used to offset the cost of evaluation and review of advertisements submitted under these rules and the cost of enforcing these rules; and

(9) additional information as necessary to substantiate representations made or implied in an advertisement if requested by The Florida Bar.

(i) Change of Circumstances; Refiling Requirement. If a change of circumstances occurs subsequent to The Florida Bar’s evaluation of an advertisement that raises a substantial possibility that the advertisement has become false or misleading as a result of the change in circumstances, the lawyer must promptly re-file the advertisement or a modified advertisement with The Florida Bar at its headquarters address in Tallahassee along with an explanation of the change in circumstances and an additional fee set by the Board of Governors, which will not exceed $100.

(j) Maintaining Copies of Advertisements. A copy or recording of an advertisement must be submitted to The Florida Bar in accordance with the requirements of this rule, and the lawyer must retain a copy or recording for 3 years after its last dissemination along with a record of when and where it was used. If identical advertisements are sent to 2 or more prospective clients, the lawyer may comply with this requirement by filing 1 of the identical advertisements and retaining for 3 years a single copy together with a list of the names and addresses of persons to whom the advertisement was sent.

Comment

[1] All advertisements must be filed for review pursuant to this rule, unless the advertisement is exempt from filing under rule 4-7.20. Even where an advertisement is exempt from filing under rule 4-7.20, a lawyer who wishes to obtain a safe harbor from discipline can submit the lawyer’s advertisement that is exempt from the filing requirement and obtain The Florida Bar’s opinion prior to disseminating the advertisement. A lawyer who files an advertisement and obtains a notice of compliance is therefore immune from grievance liability unless the advertisement contains a misrepresentation that is not apparent from the face of the advertisement. Subdivision (d) of this rule precludes a lawyer from filing an entire website as an advertising submission, but a lawyer may submit a specific page, provision, statement, illustration, or photograph on a website. A lawyer who wishes to be able to rely on The Florida Bar’s opinion as demonstrating the lawyer’s good faith effort to comply with these rules has the responsibility of supplying The Florida Bar with all information material to a determination of whether an advertisement is false or misleading.

(a) an advertisement in any of the public media that contains no illustrations and no information other than that set forth in rule 4-7.16;

(b) a brief announcement that identifies a lawyer or law firm as a contributor to a specified charity or as a sponsor of a public service announcement or a specified charitable, community, or public interest program, activity, or event, provided that the announcement contains no information about the lawyer or law firm other than the permissible content of advertisements listed in rule 4-7.16, and the fact of the sponsorship or contribution. In determining whether an announcement is a public service announcement, the following criteria may be considered:

(1) whether the content of the announcement appears to serve the particular interests of the lawyer or law firm as much as or more than the interests of the public;

(2) whether the announcement concerns a legal subject;

(3) whether the announcement contains legal advice; and (4) whether the lawyer or law firm paid to have the announcement published;

(c) a listing or entry in a law list or bar publication;

(d) a communication mailed only to existing clients, former clients, or other lawyers;

(e) a written or recorded communication requested by a prospective client;

(f) professional announcement cards stating new or changed associations, new offices, and similar changes relating to a lawyer or law firm, and that are mailed only to other lawyers, relatives, close personal friends, and existing or former clients; and

(g) information contained on the lawyer’s Internet website(s).

Rule 4-7.21 - Firm Names and Letterhead

(a) False, Misleading, or Deceptive Firm Names. A lawyer may not use a firm name, letterhead, or other professional designation that violates rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.15.

(b) Trade Names. A lawyer may practice under a trade name if the name is not deceptive and does not imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization, does not imply that the firm is something other than a private law firm, and is not otherwise in violation of rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.15. A lawyer in private practice may use the term “legal clinic” or “legal services” in conjunction with the lawyer’s own name if the lawyer’s practice is devoted to providing routine legal services for fees that are lower than the prevailing rate in the community for those services.

(c) Advertising Under Trade Names. A lawyer may not advertise under a trade or fictitious name, except that a lawyer who actually practices under a trade name as authorized by subdivision (b) may use that name in advertisements. A lawyer who advertises under a trade or fictitious name is in violation of this rule unless the same name is the law firm name that appears on the lawyer’s letterhead, business cards, office sign, and fee contracts, and appears with the lawyer’s signature on pleadings and other legal documents.

(d) Law Firm with Offices in Multiple Jurisdictions. A law firm with offices in more than 1 jurisdiction may use the same name in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an office of the firm must indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.

(e) Name of Public Officer in Firm Name. The name of a lawyer holding a public office may not be used in the name of a law firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.

(f) Partnerships and Business Entities. A name, letterhead, business card or advertisement may not imply that lawyers practice in a partnership or authorized business entity when they do not.

(g) Insurance Staff Attorneys. Where otherwise consistent with these rules, lawyers who practice law as employees within a separate unit of a liability insurer representing others pursuant to policies of liability insurance may practice under a name that does not constitute a material misrepresentation. In order for the use of a name other than the name of the insurer not to constitute a material misrepresentation, all lawyers in the unit must comply with all of the following:

(1) the firm name must include the name of a lawyer who has supervisory responsibility for all lawyers in the unit;

(2) the office entry signs, letterhead, business cards, websites, announcements, advertising, and listings or entries in a law list or bar publication bearing the name must disclose that the lawyers in the unit are employees of the insurer;

(3) the name of the insurer and the employment relationship must be disclosed to all insured clients and prospective clients of the lawyers, and must be disclosed in the official file at the lawyers’ first appearance in the tribunal in which the lawyers appear under such name;

(4) the offices, personnel, and records of the unit must be functionally and physically separate from other operations of the insurer to the extent that would be required by these rules if the lawyers were private practitioners sharing space with the insurer; and

(5) additional disclosure should occur whenever the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the lawyer’s role is misunderstood by the insured client or prospective clients.

Comment

Misleading Firm Name

[1] A firm may be designated by the names of all or some of its members, by the names of deceased members where there has been a continuing succession in the firm’s identity, or by a trade name such as “Family Legal Clinic.” Although the United States Supreme Court has held that legislation may prohibit the use of trade names in professional practice, use of such names in a law practice is acceptable so long as it is not misleading. If a private firm uses a trade name that includes a geographical name such as “Springfield Legal Clinic,” an express disclaimer that it is not a public legal aid agency may be required to avoid a misleading implication. It may be observed that any firm name including the name of a deceased partner is, strictly speaking, a trade name. The use of such names to designate law firms has proven a useful means of identification. However, it is misleading to use the name of a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm.

[2] A sole practitioner may not use the term “and Associates” as part of the firm name, because it is misleading where the law firm employs no associates in violation of rule 4-7.13. See Fla. Bar v. Fetterman, 439 So. 2d 835 (Fla. 1983). Similarly, a sole practitioner’s use of “group” or “team” implies that more than one lawyer is employed in the advertised firm and is therefore misleading.

[3] Subdivision (a) precludes use in a law firm name of terms that imply that the firm is something other than a private law firm. Three examples of such terms are “academy,” “institute” and “center.” Subdivision (b) precludes use of a trade or fictitious name suggesting that the firm is named for a person when in fact such a person does not exist or is not associated with the firm. An example of such an improper name is “A. Aaron Able.” Although not prohibited per se, the terms “legal clinic” and “legal services” would be misleading if used by a law firm that did not devote its practice to providing routine legal services at prices below those prevailing in the community for like services.

Trade Names

[4] Subdivision (c) of this rule precludes a lawyer from advertising under a nonsense name designed to obtain an advantageous position for the lawyer in alphabetical directory listings unless the lawyer actually practices under that nonsense name. Advertising under a law firm name that differs from the firm name under which the lawyer actually practices violates both this rule and the prohibition against false, misleading, or deceptive communications as set forth in these rules.

[5] With regard to subdivision (f), lawyers sharing office facilities, but who are not in fact partners, may not denominate themselves as, for example, “Smith and Jones,” for that title suggests partnership in the practice of law.

[6] All lawyers who practice under trade or firm names are required to observe and comply with the requirements of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, including but not limited to, rules regarding conflicts of interest, imputation of conflicts, firm names and letterhead, and candor toward tribunals and third parties.

Insurance Staff Lawyers

[7] Some liability insurers employ lawyers on a full-time basis to represent their insured clients in defense of claims covered by the contract of insurance. Use of a name to identify these lawyers is permissible if there is such physical and functional separation as to constitute a separate law firm. In the absence of such separation, it would be a misrepresentation to use a name implying that a firm exists. Practicing under the name of a lawyer inherently represents that the identified person has supervisory responsibility. Practicing under a name prohibited by subdivision (f) is not permitted. Candor requires disclosure of the employment relationship on letterhead, business cards, and in certain other communications that are not presented to a jury. The legislature of the State of Florida has enacted, as public policy, laws prohibiting the joinder of a liability insurer in most such litigation, and Florida courts have recognized the public policy of not disclosing the existence of insurance coverage to juries. Requiring lawyers who are so employed to disclose to juries the employment relationship would negate Florida public policy. For this reason, the rule does not require the disclosure of the employment relationship on all pleadings and papers filed in court proceedings. The general duty of candor of all lawyers may be implicated in other circumstances, but does not require disclosure on all pleadings.

Rule 4-7.22 - Referrals, Directories and Pooled Advertising

(a) Applicability of Rule. A lawyer is prohibited from participation with any qualifying provider that does not meet the requirements of this rule and any other applicable Rule Regulating the Florida Bar.

(b) Qualifying Providers. A qualifying provider is any person, group of persons, association, organization, or entity that receives any benefit or consideration, monetary or otherwise, for the direct or indirect referral of prospective clients to lawyers or law firms, including but not limited to:

(1) matching or other connecting of a prospective client to a lawyer drawn from a specific group or panel of lawyers or who matches a prospective client with lawyers or law firms;

(2) a group or pooled advertising program, offering to refer, match or otherwise connect prospective legal clients with lawyers or law firms, in which the advertisements for the program use a common telephone number or website address and prospective clients are then matched or referred only to lawyers or law firms participating in the group or pooled advertising program;

(3) publishing in any media a listing of lawyers or law firms together in one place; or

(4) providing tips or leads for prospective clients to lawyers or law firms.

(c) Entities that are not Qualifying Providers. The following are not qualifying providers under this rule:

(1) a pro bono referral program, in which the participating lawyers do not pay a fee or charge of any kind to receive referrals or to belong to the referral panel, and are undertaking the referred matters without expectation of remuneration; and

(2) a local or voluntary bar association solely for listing its members on its website or in its publications.

(d) When Lawyers May Participate with Qualifying Providers. A lawyer may participate with a qualifying provider as defined in this rule only if the qualifying provider:

(1) engages in no communication with the public and in no direct contact with prospective clients in a manner that would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct if the communication or contact were made by the lawyer;

(2) receives no fee or charge that is a division or sharing of fees, unless the qualifying provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar pursuant to chapter 8 of these rules;

(3) refers, matches or otherwise connects prospective clients only to persons lawfully permitted to practice law in Florida when the services to be rendered constitute the practice of law in Florida;

(4) does not directly or indirectly require the lawyer to refer, match or otherwise connect prospective clients to any other person or entity for other services or does not place any economic pressure or incentive on the lawyer to make such referrals, matches or other connections;

(5) provides The Florida Bar, on no less than an annual basis, with the names and Florida bar membership numbers of all lawyers participating in the service unless the qualifying provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar pursuant to chapter 8 of these rules;

(6) provides the participating lawyer with documentation that the qualifying provider is in compliance with this rule unless the qualifying provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar pursuant to chapter 8 of these rules;

(7) responds in writing, within 15 days, to any official inquiry by bar counsel when bar counsel is seeking information described in this subdivision or conducting an investigation into the conduct of the qualifying provider or a lawyer who participates with the qualifying provider;

(8) neither represents nor implies to the public that the qualifying provider is endorsed or approved by The Florida Bar, unless the qualifying provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar pursuant to chapter 8 of these rules;

(9) uses its actual legal name or a registered fictitious name in all communications with the public;

(10) affirmatively discloses to the prospective client at the time a referral, match or other connection is made of the location of a bona fide office by city, town or county of the lawyer to whom the referral, match or other connection is being made; and

(11) does not use a name or engage in any communication with the public that could lead prospective clients to reasonably conclude that the qualifying provider is a law firm or directly provides legal services to the public.

(e) Responsibility of Lawyer. A lawyer who participates with a qualifying provider:

(1) must report to The Florida Bar within 15 days of agreeing to participate or ceasing participation with a qualifying provider unless the qualifying provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar pursuant to chapter 8 of these rules; and

(2) is responsible for the qualifying provider’s compliance with this rule if:

(A) the lawyer does not engage in due diligence in determining the qualifying provider’s compliance with this rule before beginning participation with the qualifying provider; or

(B) The Florida Bar notifies the lawyer that the qualifying provider is not in compliance and the lawyer does not cease participation with the qualifying provider and provide documentation to The Florida Bar that the lawyer has ceased participation with the qualifying provider within 30 days of The Florida Bar’s notice.

Comment

[1] Every citizen of the state should have access to the legal system. A person’s access to the legal system is enhanced by the assistance of a qualified lawyer. Citizens often encounter difficulty in identifying and locating lawyers who are willing and qualified to consult with them about their legal needs. It is the policy of The Florida Bar to encourage qualifying providers to: (a) make legal services readily available to the general public through a referral method that considers the client’s financial circumstances, spoken language, geographical convenience, and the type and complexity of the client’s legal problem; (b) provide information about lawyers and the availability of legal services that will aid in the selection of a lawyer; and (c) inform the public where to seek legal services.

[2] Subdivision (b)(3) addresses the publication of a listing of lawyers or law firms together in any media. Any media includes but is not limited to print, Internet, or other electronic media.

[3] A lawyer may not participate with a qualifying provider that receives any fee that constitutes a division of legal fees with the lawyer, unless the qualifying provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar pursuant to chapter 8 of these rules. A fee calculated as a percentage of the fee received by a lawyer, or based on the success or perceived value of the case, would be an improper division of fees. Additionally, a fee that constitutes an improper division of fees occurs when the qualifying provider directs, regulates, or influences the lawyer’s professional judgment in rendering legal services to the client. See e.g. rules 4-5.4 and 4-1.7(a)(2). Examples of direction, regulation or influence include when the qualifying provider places limits on a lawyer’s representation of a client, requires or prohibits the performance of particular legal services or tasks, or requires the use of particular forms or the use of particular third party providers, whether participation with a particular qualifying provider would violate this rule requires a case-by-case determination.

[4] Division of fees between lawyers in different firms, as opposed to any monetary or other consideration or benefit to a qualifying provider, is governed by rule 4-1.5(g) and 4-1.5(f)(4)(D).

[5] If a qualifying provider has more than 1 advertising or other program that the lawyer may participate in, the lawyer is responsible for the qualifying provider’s compliance with this rule solely for the program or programs that the lawyer agrees to participate in. For example, there are qualifying providers that provide a directory service and a matching service. If the lawyer agrees to participate in only one of those programs, the lawyer is responsible for the qualifying provider’s compliance with this rule solely for that program.

[6] A lawyer who participates with a qualifying provider should engage in due diligence regarding compliance with this rule before beginning participation. For example, the lawyer should ask The Florida Bar whether the qualifying provider has filed any annual reports of participating lawyers, whether the qualifying provider has filed any advertisements for evaluation, and whether The Florida Bar has ever made inquiry of the qualifying provider to which the qualifying provider has failed to respond. If the qualifying provider has filed advertisements, the lawyer should ask either The Florida Bar or the qualifying provider for copies of the advertisement(s) and The Florida Bar’s written opinion(s). The lawyer should ask the qualifying provider to provide documentation that the provider is in full compliance with this rule, including copies of filings with the state in which the qualifying provider is incorporated to establish that the provider is using either its actual legal name or a registered fictitious name. The lawyer should also have a written agreement with the qualifying provider that includes a clause allowing immediate termination of the agreement if the qualifying provider does not comply with this rule.

[7] A lawyer participating with a qualifying provider continues to be responsible for the lawyer’s compliance with all Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. For example, a lawyer may not make an agreement with a qualifying provider that the lawyer must refer clients to the qualifying provider or another person or entity designated by the qualifying provider in order to receive referrals or leads from the qualifying provider. See rule 4-7.17(b). A lawyer may not accept referrals or leads from a qualifying provider if the provider interferes with the lawyer’s professional judgment in representing clients, for example, by requiring the referral of the lawyer’s clients to the qualifying provider, a beneficial owner of the qualifying provider, or an entity owned by the qualifying provider or a beneficial owner of the qualifying provider. See rule 4-1.7(a)(2). A lawyer also may not refer clients to the qualifying provider, a beneficial owner of the qualifying provider, or an entity owned by the qualifying provider or a beneficial owner of the qualifying provider, unless the requirements of rules 4-1.7 and 4-1.8 are met and the lawyer provides written disclosure of the relationship to the client and obtains the client’s informed consent confirmed in writing. A lawyer participating with a qualifying provider may not pass on to the client the lawyer’s costs of doing business with the qualifying provider. See rules 4-1.7(a)(2) and 4-1.5(a).

Rule 4-1.6 - Confidentiality of Information

(a) Consent Required to Reveal Information. A lawyer must not reveal information relating to representation of a client except as stated in subdivisions (b), (c), and (d), unless the client gives informed consent.

(b) When Lawyer Must Reveal Information. A lawyer must reveal confidential information to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

(1) to prevent a client from committing a crime; or

(2) to prevent a death or substantial bodily harm to another.

(c) When Lawyer May Reveal Information. A lawyer may reveal confidential information to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

(1) to serve the client’s interest unless it is information the client specifically requires not to be disclosed;

(2) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and client;

(3) to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based on conduct in which the client was involved;

(4) to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client;

(5) to comply with the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar; or

(6) to detect and resolve conflicts of interest between lawyers in different firms arising from the lawyer’s change of employment or from changes in the composition or ownership of a firm, but only if the revealed information would not compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client.

(d) Exhaustion of Appellate Remedies. When required by a tribunal to reveal confidential information, a lawyer may first exhaust all appellate remedies.

(e) Inadvertent Disclosure of Information. A lawyer must make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.

(f) Limitation on Amount of Disclosure. When disclosure is mandated or permitted, the lawyer must disclose no more information than is required to meet the requirements or accomplish the purposes of this rule.

Comment

[1] The lawyer is part of a judicial system charged with upholding the law. One of the lawyer’s functions is to advise clients so that they avoid any violation of the law in the proper exercise of their rights.

[2] This rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client during the lawyer’s representation of the client. See rule 4-1.18 for the lawyer’s duties with respect to information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, rule 4-1.9(c) for the lawyer’s duty not to reveal information relating to the lawyer’s prior representation of a former client, and rules 4-1.8(b) and 4-1.9(b) for the lawyer’s duties with respect to the use of confidential information to the disadvantage of clients and former clients.

[3] A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation. See terminology for the definition of informed consent. This contributes to the trust that is the hallmark of the client-lawyer relationship. The client is thereby encouraged to seek legal assistance and to communicate fully and frankly with the lawyer even as to embarrassing or legally damaging subject matter. The lawyer needs this information to represent the client effectively and, if necessary, to advise the client to refrain from wrongful conduct. Almost without exception, clients come to lawyers in order to determine their rights and what is, in the complex of laws and regulations, deemed to be legal and correct. Based on experience, lawyers know that almost all clients follow the advice given, and the law is upheld.

[4] The principle of confidentiality is given effect in 2 related bodies of law, the attorney-client privilege (which includes the work product doctrine) in the law of evidence and the rule of confidentiality established in professional ethics. The attorney-client privilege applies in judicial and other proceedings in which a lawyer may be called as a witness or otherwise required to produce evidence concerning a client. The rule of client-lawyer confidentiality applies in situations other than those where evidence is sought from the lawyer through compulsion of law. The confidentiality rule applies not merely to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information relating to the representation, whatever its source. A lawyer may not disclose confidential information except as authorized or required by the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar or by law. However, none of the foregoing limits the requirement of disclosure in subdivision (b). This disclosure is required to prevent a lawyer from becoming an unwitting accomplice in the fraudulent acts of a client. See also Scope.

[5] The requirement of maintaining confidentiality of information relating to representation applies to government lawyers who may disagree with the policy goals that their representation is designed to advance.

Authorized disclosure

[6] A lawyer is impliedly authorized to make disclosures about a client when appropriate in carrying out the representation, except to the extent that the client’s instructions or special circumstances limit that authority. In litigation, for example, a lawyer may disclose information by admitting a fact that cannot properly be disputed or in negotiation by making a disclosure that facilitates a satisfactory conclusion.

[7] Lawyers in a firm may, in the course of the firm’s practice, disclose to each other information relating to a client of the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular information be confined to specified lawyers.

Disclosure adverse to client

[8] The confidentiality rule is subject to limited exceptions. In becoming privy to information about a client, a lawyer may foresee that the client intends serious harm to another person. However, to the extent a lawyer is required or permitted to disclose a client’s purposes, the client will be inhibited from revealing facts that would enable the lawyer to counsel against a wrongful course of action. While the public may be protected if full and open communication by the client is encouraged, several situations must be distinguished.

[9] First, the lawyer may not counsel or assist a client in conduct that is criminal or fraudulent. See rule 4-1.2(d). Similarly, a lawyer has a duty under rule 4-3.3(a)(4) not to use false evidence. This duty is essentially a special instance of the duty prescribed in rule 4-1.2(d) to avoid assisting a client in criminal or fraudulent conduct.

[10] Second, the lawyer may have been innocently involved in past conduct by the client that was criminal or fraudulent. In this situation the lawyer has not violated rule 4-1.2(d), because to “counsel or assist” criminal or fraudulent conduct requires knowing that the conduct is of that character.

[11] Third, the lawyer may learn that a client intends prospective conduct that is criminal. As stated in subdivision (b)(1), the lawyer must reveal information in order to prevent these consequences. It is admittedly difficult for a lawyer to “know” when the criminal intent will actually be carried out, for the client may have a change of mind.

[12] Subdivision (b)(2) contemplates past acts on the part of a client that may result in present or future consequences that may be avoided by disclosure of otherwise confidential communications. Rule 4-1.6(b)(2) would now require the lawyer to disclose information reasonably necessary to prevent the future death or substantial bodily harm to another, even though the act of the client has been completed.

[13] The lawyer’s exercise of discretion requires consideration of such factors as the nature of the lawyer’s relationship with the client and with those who might be injured by the client, the lawyer’s own involvement in the transaction, and factors that may extenuate the conduct in question. Where practical the lawyer should seek to persuade the client to take suitable action. In any case, a disclosure adverse to the client’s interest should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to the purpose.

Withdrawal

[14] If the lawyer’s services will be used by the client in materially furthering a course of criminal or fraudulent conduct, the lawyer must withdraw, as stated in rule 4-1.16(a)(1).

[15] After withdrawal the lawyer is required to refrain from making disclosure of the client’s confidences, except as otherwise provided in rule 4-1.6. Neither this rule nor rule 4-1.8(b) nor rule 4-1.16(d) prevents the lawyer from giving notice of the fact of withdrawal, and the lawyer may also withdraw or disaffirm any opinion, document, affirmation, or the like.

[16] Where the client is an organization, the lawyer may be in doubt whether contemplated conduct will actually be carried out by the organization. Where necessary to guide conduct in connection with the rule, the lawyer may make inquiry within the organization as indicated in rule 4-1.13(b).

Dispute concerning lawyer’s conduct

[17] A lawyer’s confidentiality obligations do not preclude a lawyer from securing confidential legal advice about the lawyer’s personal responsibility to comply with these rules. In most situations, disclosing information to secure this advice will be impliedly authorized for the lawyer to carry out the representation. Even when the disclosure is not impliedly authorized, subdivision (c)(5) permits this disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

[18] Where a legal claim or disciplinary charge alleges complicity of the lawyer in a client’s conduct or other misconduct of the lawyer involving representation of the client, the lawyer may respond to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to establish a defense. The same is true with respect to a claim involving the conduct or representation of a former client. The lawyer’s right to respond arises when an assertion of complicity has been made. Subdivision (c) does not require the lawyer to await the commencement of an action or proceeding that charges complicity, so that the defense may be established by responding directly to a third party who has made the assertion. The right to defend, of course, applies where a proceeding has been commenced. Where practicable and not prejudicial to the lawyer’s ability to establish the defense, the lawyer should advise the client of the third party’s assertion and request that the client respond appropriately. In any event, disclosure should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes is necessary to vindicate innocence, the disclosure should be made in a manner that limits access to the information to the tribunal or other persons having a need to know it, and appropriate protective orders or other arrangements should be sought by the lawyer to the fullest extent practicable.

[19] If the lawyer is charged with wrongdoing in which the client’s conduct is implicated, the rule of confidentiality should not prevent the lawyer from defending against the charge. A charge can arise in a civil, criminal, or professional disciplinary proceeding and can be based on a wrong allegedly committed by the lawyer against the client or on a wrong alleged by a third person; for example, a person claiming to have been defrauded by the lawyer and client acting together. A lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by subdivision (c) to prove the services rendered in an action to collect it. This aspect of the rule expresses the principle that the beneficiary of a fiduciary relationship may not exploit it to the detriment of the fiduciary. As stated above, the lawyer must make every effort practicable to avoid unnecessary disclosure of information relating to a representation, to limit disclosure to those having the need to know it, and to obtain protective orders or make other arrangements minimizing the risk of disclosure.

Disclosures otherwise required or authorized

[20] The attorney-client privilege is differently defined in various jurisdictions. If a lawyer is called as a witness to give testimony concerning a client, absent waiver by the client, rule 41.6(a) requires the lawyer to invoke the privilege when it is applicable. The lawyer must comply with the final orders of a court or other tribunal of competent jurisdiction requiring the lawyer to give information about the client.

[21] The Rules of Professional Conduct in various circumstances permit or require a lawyer to disclose information relating to the representation. See rules 4-2.3, 4-3.3, and 4-4.1. In addition to these provisions, a lawyer may be obligated or permitted by other provisions of law to give information about a client. Whether another provision of law supersedes rule 4-1.6 is a matter of interpretation beyond the scope of these rules, but a presumption should exist against a supersession.

Detection of Conflicts of Interest

[22] Subdivision (c)(6) recognizes that lawyers in different firms may need to disclose limited information to each other to detect and resolve conflicts of interest, for example, when a lawyer is considering an association with another firm, two or more firms are considering a merger, or a lawyer is considering the purchase of a law practice. See comment to rule 4-1.17. Under these circumstances, lawyers and law firms are permitted to disclose limited information, but only once substantive discussions regarding the new relationship have occurred. Any disclosure should ordinarily include no more than the identity of the persons and entities involved in a matter, a brief summary of the general issues involved, and information about whether the matter has terminated. Even this limited information, however, should be disclosed only to the extent reasonably necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest that might arise from the possible new relationship. The disclosure of any information is prohibited if it would compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client (e.g., the fact that a corporate client is seeking advice on a corporate takeover that has not been publicly announced; that a person has consulted a lawyer about the possibility of divorce before the person’s intentions are known to the person’s spouse; or that a person has consulted a lawyer about a criminal investigation that has not led to a public charge). Under those circumstances, subdivision (a) prohibits disclosure unless the client or former client gives informed consent. A lawyer’s fiduciary duty to the lawyer’s firm may also govern a lawyer’s conduct when exploring an association with another firm and is beyond the scope of these rules.

[23] Any information disclosed under this subdivision may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. This subdivision does not restrict the use of information acquired by means independent of any disclosure under this subdivision. This subdivision also does not affect the disclosure of information within a law firm when the disclosure is otherwise authorized, for example, when a lawyer in a firm discloses information to another lawyer in the same firm to detect and resolve conflicts of interest that could arise in connection with undertaking a new representation.

Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

[24] Paragraph (e) requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard information relating to the representation of a client against unauthorized access by third parties and against inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure by the lawyer or other persons who are participating in the representation of the client or who are subject to the lawyer’s supervision. See rules 4-1.1, 4-5.1 and 4-5.3. The unauthorized access to, or the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, information relating to the representation of a client does not constitute a violation of paragraph (e) if the lawyer has made reasonable efforts to prevent the access or disclosure. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s efforts include, but are not limited to, the sensitivity of the information, the likelihood of disclosure if additional safeguards are not employed, the cost of employing additional safeguards, the difficulty of implementing the safeguards, and the extent to which the safeguards adversely affect the lawyer’s ability to represent clients (e.g., by making a device or important piece of software excessively difficult to use). A client may require the lawyer to implement special security measures not required by this rule or may give informed consent to forgo security measures that would otherwise be required by this rule. Whether a lawyer may be required to take additional steps to safeguard a client’s information in order to comply with other law, for example state and federal laws that govern data privacy or that impose notification requirements on the loss of, or unauthorized access to, electronic information, is beyond the scope of these rules. For a lawyer’s duties when sharing information with nonlawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see the comment to rule 45.3.

[25] When transmitting a communication that includes information relating to the representation of a client, the lawyer must take reasonable precautions to prevent the information from coming into the hands of unintended recipients. This duty, however, does not require that the lawyer use special security measures if the method of communication affords a reasonable expectation of privacy. Special circumstances, however, may warrant special precautions. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s expectation of confidentiality include the sensitivity of the information and the extent to which the privacy of the communication is protected by law or by a confidentiality agreement. A client may require the lawyer to implement special security measures not required by this rule or may give informed consent to the use of a means of communication that would otherwise be prohibited by this rule. Whether a lawyer may be required to take additional steps in order to comply with other law, for example state and federal laws that govern data privacy, is beyond the scope of these rules.

Former client

[26] The duty of confidentiality continues after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated. See rule 4-1.9 for the prohibition against using such information to the disadvantage of the former client.

Amended July 23, 1992, effective Jan. 1, 1993 (605 So.2d 252); Oct. 20, 1994 (644 So.2d 282); March 23, 2006, effective May 22, 2006 (SC04-2246), (933 So.2d 417); amended July 7, 2011, effective October 1, 2011 (SC10-1968); amended May 29, 2014, effective June 1, 2014 (SC12-2234). Amended June 11, 2015, effective October 1, 2015 (SC14-2088).

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