The Florida Bar Revises Advertising Guidelines for Social Networking Sites

    February 21, 2012

    The Florida Bar acknowledges that attorneys and law firms are using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for both personal use and professional networking. Most importantly, the Bar recognizes that social media pages for individual lawyers that are used solely for social purposes, such as maintaining social contact with family and close friends, are not subject to lawyer advertising rules.  The complete set of guidelines are available on the Florida Bar website, and the critical portions of these guidelines are summarized below:

    • Pages appearing on networking sites that are used to promote the lawyer or law firm’s practice are subject to the lawyer advertising rules. These pages must therefore comply with all of the general regulations set forth in Rule 4-7.2. Regulations include prohibitions against any misleading information, which includes references to past results, promises of results, and testimonials, and prohibitions against statements characterizing the quality of legal services.
    • Invitations sent directly from a social media site via instant messaging to a third party to view or link to the lawyer’s page on an unsolicited basis are solicitations in violation of Rule 4-7.4(a), unless the recipient is the lawyer’s current client, former client, relative, or is another lawyer. Any invitations to view the page sent via e-mail must comply with the direct e-mail rules if they are sent to persons who are not current clients, former clients, relatives, other lawyers, or persons who have requested information from the lawyer.
    • Although lawyers are responsible for all content that the lawyers post on their own pages, a lawyer is not responsible for information posted on the lawyer’s page by a third party, unless the lawyer prompts the third party to post the information or the lawyer uses the third party to circumvent the lawyer advertising rules. If a third party posts information on the lawyer’s page about the lawyer’s services that does not comply with the lawyer advertising rules, the lawyer must remove the information from the lawyer’s page. If the lawyer becomes aware that a third party has posted information about the lawyer’s services on a page not controlled by the lawyer that does not comply with the lawyer advertising rules, the lawyer should ask the third party to remove the non-complying information. In such a situation, however, the lawyer is not responsible if the third party does not comply with the lawyer’s request.
    • Lawyers who post information to Twitter whose postings are generally accessible are subject to the lawyer advertising regulations set forth in Rule 4-7.2 as above. A lawyer may post information via Twitter and may restrict access to the posts to the lawyer’s followers, who are persons who have specifically signed up to receive posts from that lawyer. If access to a lawyer’s Twitter postings is restricted to the followers of the particular lawyer, the information posted there is information at the request of a prospective client and is not subject to the lawyer advertising rules under Rule 4-7.1(h). The information remains subject to the general misconduct rule, which prohibits any conduct involving fraud, deceit, dishonesty or misrepresentation under Rules 4-7.1(i) and 4-8.4(c). Any communications that a lawyer makes on an unsolicited basis to prospective clients to obtain “followers” is subject to the lawyer advertising rules, as with any other social media as noted above.
    • A page on a networking site is sufficiently similar to a website of a lawyer or law firm that pages on networking sites are not required to be filed with The Florida Bar for review.

    Please share this information with any lawyer, law firm human resources director, and marketing representative for any law practice in Florida.  These guidelines clarify common attorney advertising questions relating to personal and professional social media use in Florida, and should be included as a supplement to any law firm social media policy. Additional information is available in the Handbook on Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation on the Florida Bar website.  Thank you to Renee Thompson at Mateer Harbert for bringing these guidelines to my attention!

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