Florida Bar Board of Governors votes to prohibit actors from reading client testimonials in lawyer advertisements

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the May 2016 decision of the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) to prohibit client testimonials read by actors in lawyer advertisements.

According to an article in the June 15, 2016 Florida Bar News, the BOG debated whether accept or reject a Bar Advertising opinion stating that lawyers are prohibited from using actors to read (and dramatize) client testimonials.  The 2013 revisions to the Florida Bar advertising rules permit the use of client testimonials if certain requirements are met, including that the lawyer not write the testimonial or pay the client for it.  The current advertising rules also permit lawyers to use an actor in a lawyer advertisement if it has the required disclaimer(s).

The BOG reviewed two proposed television advertisements submitted by a law firm.  The first advertisement had the following language in testimonial form: “When I was injured in my car accident, my first thought was: How will I be able to take care of my family? That’s why I called the law offices of . . . . They made sure I could continue to take care of my family with $650,000 in insurance compensation for my car accident injuries.”  The second advertisement had this testimonial language: “I love sports . . . baseball, soccer, all kinds of sports, but after my car accident, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to enjoy playing sports again. I called the law offices of . . . and they helped get me back in the game with a $100,000 insurance settlement.”  Both were to be read by actors.

According to the Bar News article, the chair of the BOG Review Committee on Professional Ethics stated that the BOG committee voted 7-2 to recommend the advertisements violated Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13, which prohibits deceptive and misleading advertisements.   The BOG Review Committee agreed with the Bar advertising staff opinion and the Standing Committee on Advertising which had found that having an actor read a client testimonial would violate the Bar advertising rules.

On a voice vote, the BOG approved the BOG Review Committee on Professional Ethics’ recommendation to reject the proposed advertisements because they violate Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 prohibiting deceptive and misleading advertisements.

Bottom line:  Lawyers who advertise must be aware that the 2013 revisions to the Florida Bar’s Advertising Rules have somewhat dramatically altered the landscape of advertising in Florida.  The rules now specifically permit both testimonials (with certain requirements) and actors in advertisements (with disclaimers); however, in this decision, the BOG made it clear that actors cannot read such testimonials in lawyer advertisements in Florida.

Be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Please note:  Effective June 27, 2016, my new office address will be: 29605 U.S. Highway 19 N., Suite 150, Clearwater, Florida 33761.  E-mail addresses and telephone numbers below will remain the same.  I may also have limited telephone service on Thursday, June 23 and Friday, June 24; however, my e-mail service should still be available 

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
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