Florida Bar Finally Gets The “Internet” Thing

The Florida Supreme Court is set to adopt rules affecting all Florida attorney websites.

The proposed rules recognize that the Internet is the main communications tool that virtually all people use to get information important to them. And contrary to fears of overreaching, the Internet user is an intense researcher who is going to be well prepared on what questions to ask about their matter and which attorney they will hire.

Prior proposed rules included an unworkable pop-up page requiring the website visitor’s name and information before being able to see the rest of the website. The new proposed rules on the other hand are very Internet friendly and join all other industries and businesses who wish to provide consumers with accurate and easy to access information.

Here are some highlights of the proposed rules:

1. Websites are advertising but do not require pre-approval from the bar like radio and TV ads. This is no doubt related to challenges presented by the size, complexity, and frequency of changes of websites. Though websites did not have to be submitted to the Florida Bar for approval under current rules either, the proposed rules specify that websites are otherwise subject to all other advertising rules.

2. There is no requirement for website pop-up disclaimers or visitor click-throughs. To have required this would make websites an afterthought for lawyers. Now they will be mandatory marketing to stay ahead of the competition.

3. Lawyers can reference past results on their website provided that such information is objectively verifiable. This provides more marketing opportunities but is likely an area to be closely scrutinized by the Florida Bar.

4. Attorneys can use testimonials on websites provided:

  • they are made by someone qualified to make the testimonial,
  • they are the actual experience of that person,
  • they are representative of what clients of the lawyer generally experience,
  • they are not written or drafted by the lawyer,
  • the person making the testimonial has not been given anything of value to make it, and
  • a disclaimer is made that prospective clients may not obtain the same or similar results.

The rules provide Florida attorneys the chance to correct any rule violations presented by their website prior to being held accountable or being disciplined by the Bar.

Also, Social Media is now subject to the same rules and is therefore open to testimonials and past results.

Law firms across Florida will be upping their game now. Law firms across the country already have since the ABA is ahead of the curve on a less restrictive use of the Internet by attorneys and more and more jurisdictions are adopting such an approach.

And with pressures from Legal Process Outsourcing (the outsourcing of back office functions to attorneys in India), attorneys must establish a vibrant web presence and an open Social Media profile that is helpful and engaging.

Now more than ever attorneys need informative websites. Here are four steps you can take now to stay competitive:

  • Redesign your website with the goal of making it easy to navigate and easy to understand who you are and what you do.
  • Create helpful content and make it easily accessible from your website. This can be whitepapers, newsletters, and blog articles.
  • Integrate Social Media accounts into your website and stay active on them. Social Media is mandatory for attorneys because that’s just how people are communicating.
  • Start marketing your website and get a specific Search Engine Optimization plan to start getting found online.

The relationship based lawyer who is easily accessible online will be the lawyer who stays most competitive going forward..

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