Is the Florida Bar Raised Too High?

Is the Florida Bar Raised Too High?

On February 15th, the Florida Bar News reported that the Bar Board of Governors has voted to change its advertising rule amendments to ban the use of actors portraying authority figures.  These amendments are currently before the Supreme Court.
This ban would serve to prevent attorney advertising in which actors portray judges and police officers.  It is specifically aimed at commercials that use these “judges” and “police officers” to endorse a particular lawyer or law firm’s services.

What the changes would do.

The changes affect the amendments proposed to rules 4-7.3 and 4-7.5 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 4-7.5 would be changed to read that an ad is considered unduly manipulative or intrusive if it “uses an authority figure such as a judge or law enforcement officer, or an actor portraying an authority figure, to endorse or recommend the lawyer or act as a spokesperson for the lawyer.”

Interestingly, the language of the amendment clearly extends beyond just actors and also prohibits real judges and police officers from appearing in such ads; even though this conduct is already prohibited by judicial canons and by most police departments’ policies.

Resistance to the new rule.

Since 2006, the Bar has tacitly allowed actors to portray police officers in advertising attorney’s services. Accordingly, Tim Chinaris, an attorney who represents the referral service 411-PAIN, was highly critical of the proposed rule change. In a letter to the board, he argued that the use of police in ads has been affirmed several times since the 2006 acceptance, and that the Bar has no credible reason for changing the rule now.

Chinaris went on to argue that the Bar’s motivation for the proposed change is actually the recent criticisms of lawyer referral services, like 411-PAIN, by various state officials and by people testifying at the Bar’s Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services.