“Special” Words to Avoid in Florida Attorney Advertising

When crafting advertising or website content, Florida attorneys of course want to convey their professionalism, skill and legal acumen to clients and prospects. We want people to know that in our field of the law, our experience, training, and talents are such that we are clearly the right choice for someone looking for a lawyer.

The English language affords all of us a plethora of ways to describe our qualities as attorneys. However, the use of certain words or phrases to describe ourselves, if they are unaccompanied by specific facts, can result in serious disciplinary problems.

Use of “Expertise” and “Specialist” Without Certification

In particular, there are two words that have tripped up many Florida lawyers and led to Bar discipline for violating the rule governing “potentially misleading advertisements.” Many lawyers like to claim that they “specialize” in a certain kind of law, or that they have unique “expertise” in specific matters. But use of those words or their variations in attorney advertising may violate Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-7.14 unless that attorney has been certified by a recognized program or organization as being a “specialist” or “expert.”

Pursuant to Rule 4-7.14(a)(4), potentially misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to a statement that a lawyer is board certified, a specialist, an expert, or other variations of those terms unless:

  1. 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;
  2. 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
  3. 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.
Use “Focused On” and “Limited To” Instead

The Rule suggests an alternative for attorneys who wish to convey the fact that they focus on a particular area of law though they may lack certification by stating that “in the absence of such certification, a lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer limits his or her practice to one or more fields of law.”

This Rule is one of many that lawyers need to be cognizant of as they craft their messaging both online and in other media.

Joel Klaits: A Lawyer’s Lawyer for South Florida

I have devoted my career to assisting my colleagues in the legal profession, and continue to fight on their behalf and be there when they need help. To discuss your issues and concerns and explore how I may be able to assist you, please give me a call at my Broward County office for a free, confidential consultation, (954) 722-2500. I look forward to speaking with you.