Claiming that lawyer-advertising rule amendments subjecting Websites and social media to all of the rules’ restrictions “would have subjected Abraham Lincoln to discipline for stating, in an 1852 newspaper advertisement, that his firm handled business with ‘promptness and fidelity’—two words that are no more ‘objectively verifiable’ than those the Bar concludes violate its ethics rules here,” Florida attorneys have sued the state bar under the First Amendment, seeking to enjoin the rules’ enforcement. Searcy v. The Fla. Bar, No. 13-664 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Fla., filed December 11, 2013).
The plaintiffs’ law firm bringing the action contends that the Florida Bar has cited it for expressing opinions on issues of public concern on its Website and blog, including stating that “the days ‘when we could trust big corporations … are over,’ that ‘[g]overnment regulation of consumer safety has been lackadaisical at best,’ and that ‘when it comes to “tort reform” there is a single winner: the insurance industry.’” The Florida Bar also allegedly “found garden-variety statements about the firm’s services and past cases to be ‘inherently misleading’ because the statements do not include all ‘pertinent’ facts of each case, while at the same time refusing the firm’s requests to clarify what facts the Bar considers pertinent.” The firm further contends that the Florida Bar “concluded that the firm’s pages on the social-media site LinkedIn.com violate several of the rules’ provisions because—among other things—LinkedIn automatically lists the firm’s ‘specialties’ and includes an unsolicited review posted by a former client.”
Alleging violation of the First Amendment free-speech protections and that requiring all statements to be “objectively verifiable” is void for vagueness, the plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, costs and attorney’s fees.