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Jax Daily Record Monday, Mar. 22, 201012:00 PM EST

Court suspends Web ad enforcement

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The Florida Supreme Court has agreed with the Bar Board of Governors and ordered a suspension of Bar advertising rules that affect lawyer and law firm Web sites until July 1.

The court last November 19 issued its revised opinion in In Re: Amendments to Rules Regulating The Florida Bar – Rule 4-7.6, Computer Accessed Communications, case no. SC 08-1181. In that opinion, the court said that Rule 4-7.2 would apply to lawyer and law firm Web sites, effective January 1, 2010.

The court opinion meant that lawyers and law firms, on their Web sites, would not be able to refer to past results, use testimonials from clients, or characterize the quality of their legal services — items included on virtually all attorney sites.

At its December meeting, the Board of Governors voted for a six-month enforcement moratorium on the rule to give time to lawyers to be informed about the change and bring their Web sites into conformance.

Bar Executive Director John F. Harkness Jr., wrote to the court after the meeting, telling it of the board’s action. He noted in the letter than any lawyer intentionally misrepresenting information on his or her Web site would still be subject to prosecution under Rule 4-8.4(c), which prohibits deceitful conduct.

“We treat the letter as a motion to suspend the effective date of the (rule change),” the court said in its order. “The Bar’s motion to suspend is granted. The amendments to Rules Regulating The Florida Bar – Rule 4-7.6, Computer Accessed Communications, that became effective January 1, 2010, are suspended and now shall become effective July 1, 2010, absent any further order of this court.”

Since the court’s November ruling, the Standing Committee on Advertising has published guidelines for lawyers to bring their Web sites into compliance with the revised advertising rules. Those guidelines ran in the January 15 Bar News.

Basically, the guidelines advise lawyers they may set up “safe havens” on their Web sites by using disclaimers to create sections where information is provided only at the request of a viewer.

— Courtesy Florida Bar News

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