Every attorney, from the new to the seasoned, ought to know his or her state’s rules of professional conduct regarding advertising. Like most attorneys, you may know that sending mailers or email messages to potential clients must carry some disclaimer saying that the email, newsletter, flyer, or other material is an advertisement for professional legal services.
But did you know that some states, like Florida, regulate the emotional context of the advertising material? According to Florida Rule 4-7.2 regarding “Communications Regarding a Lawyer’s Services,” lawyers are prohibited from using “visual or verbal descriptions, depictions, or portrayals in any advertisement which create suspense, or contain exaggerations or appeals to the emotions, call for legal services, or create consumer problems through characterization and dialogue ending with the lawyer solving the problem.”
So what counts as a description or depiction creating suspense, exaggerations, or appeals to emotions? As an example, the Florida Bar considers an image of a dog’s bared teeth accompanied by an informational blog post about dog bite injuries to impermissibly appeal to the emotion of fear. On the other hand, an image of the scales of justice, a headshot of the attorney, or a map of the office location are all permissible images.
Every state’s rules differ for advertising legal services, which is why examining your ethics rules closely is an essential part of your marketing efforts.