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Information that a lawyer makes available to the public about the lawyer or the lawyer's services via the Internet, or similar computer-based technology, is considered a form of lawyer advertising. The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Advertising reached this conclusion after analyzing the issue over the course of several meetings.

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from The Florida Bar News, 1-1-96

Information that a lawyer makes available to the public about the lawyer or the lawyer's services via the Internet, or similar computer-based technology, is considered a form of lawyer advertising. The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Advertising reached this conclusion after analyzing the issue over the course of several meetings.

Specifically, the committee's opinion is that such "computer ads;' including law firm web sites or home pages, are subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct governing advertisements disseminated in the electronic media. The committee's decision, however. is not limited to just web sites or home pages. Any advertising or promotional material that can be accessed, or which is transmitted, via computer falls within these rules. In taking this position, the committee is looking toward the not-so-distant future when, for example, e-mail will become more widespread and lawyers may begin using e-mail to send information to, or solicit business from, prospective clients.

What rules apply to web sites and other computer ads? Some of the relevant rules are highlighted below:

* Ads may not be false or misleading, may not create unjustified expectations about results the lawyer can achieve, and may not contain testimonials.

* Ads may not contain dramatizations.

* Ads may not contain self-laudatory illustrations or statements that are merely self laudatory.

* Ads may not compare the lawyer's services with the services of other lawyers, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.

* Ads must include the name of at least one lawyer responsible for the ad.

* Ad must disclose the geographic location, by city or town, of the office in which the advertising lawyer principally practices law.

* In the case of ads using audio, the information in the ad must be articulated by a single voice, with no background sound other than instrumental music. The voice may be that of a full-time employee of the firm but shall not be that of a celebrity whose voice is recognizable.

* Importantly, an electronic-media ad NEED NOT INCLUDE the "hiring disclosure" language set forth in Rule 4-7.2(d) (i.e., "the hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. Before you decide to ask us to send you free written information about our qualifications and experience.").

* Electronic-media ads, including computer ads, must be filed for review with the Standing Committee on Advertising as provided in Rule 4- 7.5.

A computer ad is exempt from this filing requirement only if it contains no illustrations and nothing more that the limited, basic information specified in Rule 4-7.2(n) (e.g., name, address, telephone number, areas of practice, fee schedule, etc.)

Exactly what must be filed for review? The advertising lawyer must include (1) a hard copy print-out of the ad, (2) a statement of when and where the ad will appear, and (3) a filing fee of $50 per ad. A lawyer who files an ad will receive an advisory opinion from the committee concerning the ad's compliance with the advertising rules. The committee's decision is an initial step in the area of lawyer advertising through the use of computers. Recognizing that there are many facets involved, the committee has formally recommended to the Joint Presidential Advertising Task Force appointed by Bar President John DeVault and President-Elect John Frost, and chaired by former Bar President Ben Hill, that this issue be comprehensively considered by a group including representatives familiar with areas such as advertising, professional ethics, unlicensed practice of law and computer technology.

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