West Virginia attorneys differ on new Florida lawyer ad rules

By Chris Dickerson | Nov 22, 2006



CHARLESTON – The head of a West Virginia State Bar commission says he thinks Florida has bitten off more than it wants to chew in terms of lawyer advertising.

Elliot Hicks, a Charleston attorney who leads the State Bar's 19-member Lawyer Advertising Commission, said the Sunshine State's new rules are neither time nor cost efficient.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court adopted new rules regulating attorney advertising that, among other things, force lawyers to clear television or radio ads with the Florida Bar 15 days before they hit the airwaves.

Hicks, manager of the Hawkins and Parnell law firm in Charleston, said his panel considered similar ideas earlier this year when it took up the issue.

However, in the end it recommended only that advertising be truthful and not misleading.

"It creates a mass of bureaucracy that we, West Virginia lawyers, can't fund and don't have a desire to fund," he said. "It doesn't help the problem that people really identify."

Hicks said most people take issue with the frequency of certain lawyer ads or their "annoyance" factor.

"It's not a problem of taste (with most ads,)" Hicks said. "We feel our board is doing a good job of taking the problems ads out of the public's view.

Under the new Florida rules, a lawyer may not air a TV or radio ad without Bar approval. If the lawyer doesn't receive a rejection or comment by the Bar within 15 days of its receipt of the ad, the lawyer may presume it is appropriate.

The provision is distinct from those governing other types of ads, in which the Bar's approval can occur simultaneously with the release of the advertisement.

In print and radio and TV ads, a lawyer can voluntarily send a script or description of visuals prior to their creation to ensure compliance with the rules.

"Florida has a mammoth task," Hicks said of the new rules that take effect Jan. 1. "I think it's going to be so difficult that it will collapse under its own weight. That's what Kentucky has found. When you talk to people there, they are oppressed by the number of ads they have to look at. And there only a few that are problematic."

Charleston attorney Mark Hunt said he'd have no problem with the new Florida rules.

"I'm also a member of the bar in Kentucky, and they have had a rule similar to that for a few years," said Hunt, whose firm frequently does TV advertising.

Hunt also had harsh words for some of the ads people might find "tacky."

"We try to put upscale ads, and we try not to do cheesy things," said Hunt, who also is a member of the House of Delegates. "Some of the stuff you see in some of those ads is going too far. It's over the top.

"This is not the car-wreck lotto. This is serious business. I'm never going to do some of those things."

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