Florida Bar’s Advertising Rules Unconstitutionally Restrict Free Speech on the Internet

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Florida Bar’s Advertising Rules Unconstitutionally Restrict Free Speech on the Internet

Restrictions Keep Public in Dark About Lawyer Services

WASHINGTON - The Florida Bar's rules governing lawyer advertising on the Internet
violate the free speech rights of lawyers by holding them accountable
for reviews that former clients post on consumer Web sites, even though
the lawyers have no control over what clients write, according to a suit Public Citizen filed today in federal court on behalf of a Boca Raton attorney.

The Florida Bar prohibits lawyers from advertising client
testimonials and the results of past cases. The Bar told Joel B.
Rothman, the plaintiff in the case, that his use of Avvo, an online
lawyer directory, violated these rules. Rothman had asked several
former clients to post reviews of his work on the site, but had no
control over what the clients wrote. When the Bar told Rothman that the
reviews were prohibited, Avvo refused to remove the reviews from the
site.

The Bar's rules not only violate Rothman's First Amendment right to
engage in truthful commercial advertising on the Internet, but also
restrict competition by making it more difficult for consumers to make
informed choices on legal representation, said Greg Beck, the Public
Citizen attorney handling the case. Rothman is also represented by
Bruce Rogow, a lawyer and professor of constitutional law at Nova
Southeastern University.

"Reviews from past clients, whether positive or negative, can tell
consumers a lot about a lawyer," Beck said. "Restricting this
information makes it more difficult for consumers to choose which
lawyer to hire. It also gives lawyers less reason to compete by
providing high-quality legal services."

The suit asks the court to declare the Florida Bar's advertising rules unconstitutional.

Public Citizen successfully sued New York disciplinary authorities
over that state's advertising rules, which a court ruled
unconstitutional. That case is on appeal. Public Citizen also has filed
a similar suit in Louisiana. The court in the Louisiana case delayed
the implementation of the state's advertising rules, which had been
scheduled to take effect in December.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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