Florida Bar Rule Barring Truthful Statements About Law Firm or Lawyer Specialty or Expertise Violates 1st Amendment, Federal Judge Holds

On Wednesday, US District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle (Northern District FL) found unconstitutional the Florida Bar’s (the “Bar”) rule prohibiting lawyers from truthfully advertising that they are “a specialist, an expert, or other variations of those terms” unless they are board certified by the state, the ABA, or another state with standards comparable to Florida.  (Rules Regulating the Florida Bar 4-1.14(a)(4))  The law firm of Search Denney, which included on its website that it specializes in mass-tort and unsafe- product cases, brought the case. The Bar did not dispute that the firm has handled many such cases.

The Bar argued that potential clients would be misled into assuming that lawyers who advertise that they “specialize” or have “expertise” are board certified.  The Court found no evidence to support this argument, and even suggested that a better way for the Bar to deal with this concern is to educate the public about board certification, or require a disclaimer.  In finding the Rule violated First Amendment protections on commercial speech, Judge Hinkle also noted that the Rule prohibits every lawyer in the state from claiming expertise in any practice area for which there is no board certification, as well as every law firm from claiming any specialties, as there are no board-certifications for law firms.

You may find the Order here.

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